Reflecting On Deleting Unnecessary Kanji From RTK

4 years ago I wrote a post listing the kanji I said were not necessary to do in RTK. Shortly after I released my personal deck (the Jalup RTK mod) which has all of the kanji removed. All types of disagreement appeared on that post, from “hmmm…” to “you’re crazy.” I thought it might be about time to take a look back on what I discussed there, and whether I still hold the same point of view. Ideas change, and I don’t stick to old ideas just because that’s what I originally thought to be good.

Reflecting On Deleting Unnecessary Kanji From RTK 1

The major 2 complaints that were repeated the most

1. The kanji you remove are the building blocks of other kanji, which affect how the whole story block system works.
2. These kanji aren’t unnecessary and are still used in Japanese.

These are big things, so I don’t take either of these points likely. So 4 years later, with all of the learner feedback I’ve heard, have my thoughts changed?

Sort of…

The problem (and amazing ability) of RTK is that it has the extraordinary power to propel a Japanese learner to victory or defeat. This dangerous power is where my philosophy lies.

Most people that go RTK do it in their early Japanese studies either before ever touching another beginner textbook or at the same time while going through one. Everyone can agree it is a massive undertaking. I’ve recently said that the secret of success is winning the race to immersion and being able to get to what you can enjoy. The beginner phase is what stands in your way of this, and the longer it takes and the more frustrating it is to get past it, the less likely you will ever make it to fluency.

Too many people quit Japanese studying as a whole because they get stuck with RTK. This is what I want to avoid, so by trimming down the kanji of RTK, I’m trying to minimize frustration and time.

So rather than “unnecessary” kanji, maybe “unnecessary right now” might be more accurate.

Reflecting On Deleting Unnecessary Kanji From RTK 2

The more you get into literature and specialized reading, the higher the chance you will actually see them (some still remain extremely rare though). But as a beginner, intermediate, or even advanced learner, your interaction with them will often be minimal.

In RTK, despite usefulness, they still hold a “connecting building block role.” Ultimately, you have to weigh the value of removing some kanji blocks in exchange for getting through it quicker overall.

Course of Action And Alternatives

I think you need to figure out your feeling about doing RTK and decide if you think you can go through it slowly without being frustrated or whether you need to move through it quicker to be able to get where you want to be. My personal view is still that removing outweighs the negatives but I think there are 4 equally good alternatives:

1. Remove them yourself, after you learn them and decide which ones aren’t worth it to you.

2. Remove them but add them back later after you’ve already entered immersion and have cleared the beginner/low intermediate phases.

3. Don’t remove anything, and give the full RTK a try, keeping everything if that works for you. If you find yourself getting discouraged, feel no remorse in switching to the slimmed down version.

4. Don’t remove anything but completely hold off on RTK until you enter immersion and are already enjoying Japanese media.

To aid in this, I have added all the missing kanji in a separate deck which can be merged with the main one effortlessly (thanks to Jacob H).

How did you do it?

Now that a lot of people have actually used the RTK mod, it would be great to hear what route you took? Did you find the removed kanji a good method for you? Or did you add them back in?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Reflecting On Deleting Unnecessary Kanji From RTK — 17 Comments

  1. I actually used RTK a lot later than conventional methods and after a few chapters I stopped. My problems were keywords I never heard before (I used the German version btw) and too many to similiar kanji in one chapter that I mixed up after that.

    Now I prefer a good mix of RTK primitivs and Japanese names for the radicals.

  2. For the most part I found the removals quite helpful. I was really struggling with RTK motivation toward the end, and shortening it by ~300 less common characters helped a lot. Once I’d learned all the primitives, adding new characters as I encountered them in real material was fairly easy and even a bit fun.

    My only real complaint is that I wish the Deleted characters had instead been Suspended (for easy re-adding later), but I think you already mentioned that the Suspend function didn’t exist back when you originally made the deck. Maybe it’d be helpful to integrate the Jacob H deck into the base RTK Mod deck and just Suspend the extra characters?

  3. I’ve gone through RTK a couple times now, and I think that the thing I understand now that I didn’t when just starting out (and that I think is what you are getting at with deleting the unnecessary kanji) is that some kanji are just much more important to learn and remember than others, especially initially. When I was just beginning, I of course had no idea which ones those were – now, having had a lot of experience with them, I have a pretty good grasp of which ones are common or not, and if I’m in doubt I can just check my decks to see how often those kanji turn up to get a good idea of that.
    Looking back, I am wondering if that kind of knowledge would be helpful to those just jumping in for the first (and hopefully only!) time into RTK. Having all the kanji included in the deck, in the RTK order, but marked in some way as to their importance according to usage/frequency, etc., would give the learner an indication of the degree to which they need to focus on and learn that particular kanji. (I don’t know, you could maybe divide them into basic categories like “common”, “uncommon”, and “rare” kanji, with the kanji you previously deleted as the “rare” ones or with a special note like “only used in names” or whatever the particular case, kind of going with the JALUP game theme). Just having that information marked and available would allow you to learn those basic building block kanji which are rare, while understanding that they won’t be helping you with what you read anytime soon.
    This is basically what I do now in deciding how to review my kanji cards when I don’t remember one. If it’s a kanji that I know doesn’t occur very often, I don’t worry too much about remembering it now (I can always do so later), but look it over, mark it probably as “hard” and carry on reviewing. But, if it is a kanji that I know is common and I should know how to write (like yesterday I forgot how to write “he” – 彼), then I make sure and review that one again until I get it. But having that kind of knowledge has only come through experience so far.
    I don’t know, just an idea. I know that RTK is meant to be incredibly streamlined so as to cut out basically all unnecessary information for making that first step into kanji, but I wonder if having just a bit more information might be helpful in focusing those initial efforts without getting overcome or discouraged.

  4. I tried the full RTK multiple times but got stuck and eventually quit my studies altogether. What eventually got me through RTK was the combination of the Jalup Group challenge and the removed kanji. Those few hundred less cards made the challenge approachable even after my failures, and the peer pressure of the group challenge finally pushed me to finish.

    I do agree with Matt though, that it would be nice to add back in the removed kanji and simply mark them as suspended. I already met a few of the removed kanji and would like to add them back in, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  5. Yeah I mean it is definitely possible to just combine Jacob’s additions and then just group mark them all as suspended.

  6. I wonder though if there are even all the “necessary” kanji in the full deck.
    睨苺爽溢桜飴 all of these aren’t in it. Though I’m not high enough a level to determine their usefulness. Some are in common words but depend on whether the kanji is used.

    • Part of the issue as well is just how *old* RTK is. Kanji aren’t static, and which ones are or are not in common use is something that evolves continuously.

      For example, no edition of RTK includes 罠(わな) AFAIK, and it’s neither a 常用 nor a 人名用 kanji, but even so it’s a very common word that typically appears in kanji form.

      In cases like that and many others, you have to make a judgment call as to whether those kanji need to be in your deck, and add them accordingly if so. I’ve added at least a dozen kanji that aren’t “on the list” already, and fully expect to encounter more in the future.

      どれが必要なのは見つけてからのお楽しみ (^^)

    • 苺 and 飴 are simple words, but the kana is used so often. Also the removed kanji is 楼 not 桜 (as the latter is extremely common).

      And using the hiragana for さわやか, あふれる、and にらむ is also common.

  7. I’m completely content with the RTK mod. I also enjoy learning new Kanji, Kanji are probably my favourite part of Japanese study.

    I personally think you reach the point with Kanji where RTK doesn’t cut it anymore. A bit like reaching the point where you need to switch from J-E to J-J.

    At level 50 with quite a lot of Anki cards, adding the card「刹那的な快楽」is a lot more useful than adding「刹な- moment」and 「せつ那- interrogative」 as cards. It also teaches my brain not to panic when confronted with Kanji it hasn’t written hundreds of times?

    So in a nutshell I’m happy with RTK mod plus extra Kanji in my J-J sentences.

    • You bring up a good point that I may have not made clear. Removing them from RTK doesn’t mean you don’t learn them. It just means you don’t practice writing them and don’t associate them with an English keyword. Everyone will be learning hundreds if not thousands of kanji naturally through J-J that requires no RTK. Every removed kanji will eventually be learned.

      RTK is just a kanji entry-level tool.

      • It’s interesting that you say that, because I’ve actually found it helpful and even somewhat enjoyable to keep adding new characters to my RTK deck as I learn new words that use them. It sort of feels like filling out your pokedex – gotta catch ’em all! =)

        • Should’ve reworded that better. If you enjoy it like that, then there is definitely value in continuing it. While its strength is in entry-level kanji acquisition, you can use it any way you want.

  8. I love the mod deck — it helped me defeat the Summer of RTK! That said, my RTK deck currently clocks in at 2141 cards, so I’ve obviously added well over 200 cards back in. (Though I did so after completing the mod deck as-is, for the most part.)

    I think separating the deleted cards into another deck that’s available for download or suspending them in the existing mod deck are both great solutions and would give you the best of both worlds.

    The way I wound up re-adding cards was to use Anki’s “kanji stats” ability to tell me which 常用漢字 were missing from my deck, then manually creating RTK cards for each one. It was… not a quick process, especially since I was also adding Japanese keywords at the same time.

    If I wanted to systematically add the other (non-常用) kanji that I skipped, it would be an extremely tedious process. I would probably import an existing RTK deck, search for dupes, then slowly add JP keywords and fold them into my deck. An existing complimentary deck would save a ton of time.

    • Other random note, now that I’m looking at Jacob H’s deck: I wish the original Jalup deck had a separate field for the JP keyword. It doesn’t really matter too much, but it would be handy for card format customization and making changes to the cards programmatically.

      Also, the fact that Jacob H’s cards use a different note type (with more fields) means that dupes aren’t automatically marked.

      It’s still awesome though, and I appreciate having this new deck to draw from! :D

  9. Hey Adam, I saw that the Anki stats tell you how much time you spend on your deck already. I just wondered how many hours you’ve accumulated over the years?

    • And spoil the mystery?!

      The real issue is that the stats on my deck have had issues for a long time. Not sure if it was due to the conversion from Anki 1 to Anki 2, or just Anki 1 upgrades (at one point early on Damien actually fixed my deck), but the stats have always been off (ex. After 2 years it said I had Y total reviews, after 3 years it said I had less than Y at the 2 year mark) so I never looked at them.

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