Should you Practice Writing by Hand?

I’ve come to the conclusion that writing is not a high priority in time spent learning Japanese.  Now before I start, I still think writing kanji is useful for remembering them when you are going over kanji reviews in anki.  But besides that, I’m not sold on its other uses.

Regardless of your views on the changing digital world and the sadness of the loss of the written word, 95% of what you are going to write in Japanese will be done by computer or cell phone.  And of course that is not just you the Japanese learner.  Japanese (who are no longer in school) follow along the same percentage, with the computer and cellphone causing a massive hemorrhage in the kanji-writing memory.

Of course it does come down to what you want to do with your Japanese.  Below are some of the uses of writing Japanese by hand.  You may want to evaluate how important these are to you in deciding whether to practice writing.

– Greeting cards/letters.  Handwritten messages have a certain warmth and personal feeling to them.
– Filling out forms.
– Writing quick notes/reminders to yourself.  Sometimes quicker than a computer.
– Taking the Kanji Kentei test, or any other Japanese proficiency test that involves writing.
– Deeper appreciation of the beauty of kanji.
– Calligraphy.
– Taking Japanese at school or actually attending a school in Japan.
– Bragging to Japanese how you can write more kanji than them.
– Preparing for an asteroid/alien/zombie/robot/natural disaster apocalypse where computers become unusable.

Here is how I analyzed these uses for myself.  I write a few greeting cards/letters a year, and when there are words I can’t write out, I first type it out and then copy it by hand. Forms are filled out in the same way, except that since forms usually repeat the same commonly asked questions, I can usually remember what I need to write.  I type most notes to myself, but when I do handwrite a note in a rush, I’ll use a mix of kanji I can remember and hiragana/katakana.  I never plan or need to take a test to tell me what level my Japanese is.  I can appreciate beauty without replicating it myself.  Calligraphy is completely different from writing, and would have to be practiced separately regardless.  I’m done with school.  I don’t brag (much).  And finally, if I’m fending off a horde of zombies, I think the value of writing in Japanese will have slightly declined.

Now I’ve waivered a little back and forth on the issue since the beginning of my Japanese studies.  There were times when I practiced writing and did silly writing exercises.  There were times when I used to fill in those annoying kanji box worksheets.  There were times when I wrote out sentences from Anki.  But now I find myself only writing by finger or visually in my head when going through Anki kanji cards.  Of course while my writing isn’t great, I’ve never had an issue.  And yes, even if you are living in Japan (which I did for 3 years), I still believe you will have no issues.

Now I know this is a sensitive topic.  If you ever mention the contents of this post to any Japanese teacher, Japanese person, or someone who has studied Japanese, they will give you a dirty look and tell you the importance of writing.  They will tell you how you can’t truly learn Japanese properly without all 4 elements.  Or most irritating of all, they will tell you that you must know the stroke order of kanji to learn Japanese.  Stroke order . . . the most overly idolized element of Japanese.  No comment.

Make the decision for yourself. If you found any of the uses I listed to be very important to you, then I encourage you to practice writing.  But as I’ve mentioned before, you are limited with your time in your life, and you are limited with your time in studying Japanese.  While I definitely don’t think the writing by hand element of Japanese has little value, I tend to think it is time better spent elsewhere.

However, I would be curious to hear some other uses you’ve found.



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Adam

Adam

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

Comments

Should you Practice Writing by Hand? — 17 Comments

  1. You crack me up! Although, bragging to Japanese people sounds like fun. And unusable computers in a dystopian world is even scarier than zombies. Besides, zombies are not as threatening as they’re cracked up to be. But really, your approach sounds quite sensible. Thanks.

  2. The JLPT doesn’t require you to be able to write any kanji.

    Maybe you should change that to the kanji kentei tests or something? :)

    I completely agree with you. The only time that I ever wish that I could remember how to write more kanji is when I am writing little notes to people, but I can easily look them up on my phone so it’s not that important.

    • Thanks Jen! I didn’t know they didn’t test writing. Shows how much I know about JLPT.

      And I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who does that.

      • The JLPT doesn’t test speaking or writing, so it’s not actually that great an indication of how good your Japanese is – I know people who have passed 1級 who really can’t communicate with Japanese people at all, and I know people who probably couldn’t pass the lowest level but can speak really natural conversational Japanese.

  3. Writing I say is important, but not as important as listening and reading. I’ve noticed that, in any language, you listen, then you reply. If you need to look something up, you definitely need to know how to read. Then speaking comes in. Where does that leave writing? Pretty much last.
    But I think it comes down to what you want in the language. I do write in jp, because I find it fun/interesting. But not much people would find it useful.
    But when it comes out to filling forms,writing letters,notes,journals,replying to short stuff,etc. Writing is vital. But definitely not the most important skill to focus on.
    Stroke order isn’t even important. Since I’ve done RTK, I only occasional check to see if I need re-look since I’m not writing it fast/smooth/right way.

    • No I agree, of course writing has its uses. However as you said, it is last in terms of importance. And if you enjoy writing, then I definitely think it is worthwhile.

  4. Writing is definitely not important as the rest of the skills. I personally write out new words and words not yet solid in my head, if I didn’t do it it’d take a lot less time (I spend 2 hours a day studying with anki) I believe. But I can’t help it, it feels great to be able to write every word I know with kanji. Also, I do am taking japanese classes so, the more kanji the better.

    I intend on going to Japan soon, and I want to take the kanji kentei someday too, this last one just for personal fulfillment.

    About the stroke orders, I do a few mistakes and I’m aware of them, I just continue writing like that because I forget of correcting and it became automatic, but overall I most of the stroke orders are correct. 

    on a side note, If japanese didn’t have kanji, I think I wouldn’t be studying it. I can’t read hiragana only texts because it really tires my eyes out. kanji on the other hand…

    I don’t how there’s people who’d love japanese to be hiragana only, that’s so lame. And just to think that I was once one of those (when I began studying japanese, like 2 years ago), ew. Heisig’s book totally rocked my world when it comes to kanji.

    Btw, I never practised kanji in those kanji box worksheets. That’s so boring! And this is why I think studying from textbooks exercises is beneficial, not only for grammar/vocab/wtv but also for kanji.

    • If you are taking Japanese classes, usually there is a writing component. So if you can’t write, that would either put you at a disadvantage and/or give you a bad grade.

      I 100% agree with you about the importance of kanji. I love kanji, and without it, I think Japanese would fall apart. I just don’t like handwriting that kanji!

      Hope you can make it over to Japan soon. People who know Japanese going over have a completely different experience than those who don’t. So prepare for an exciting adventure.

  5. Since I enjoy writing poems and stories (and when I do, on paper) I think writing will be very worthwhile for me.

  6. I just feel like if you can’t produce it, you don’t truly know it. Tracing things with your finger to review is fine I’d say. I don’t care if I can write a text by hand fluently, but I want to be able to puzzle it out if I want to and get the kanji right, even if it doesn’t look pretty.

  7. Pingback: How Much Attention Should You Pay to Kanji? | betotonbo

  8. I kind of wish I could write by hand sometimes. But then I realised that would probably encompass me having to have a pen and paper to write the target word (I would never ever write the whole sentence out, way too long) every time I do my anki reviews. Which would not only inconvenience me but would mean I wouldn’t be able to do it lying down on the couch! I do, however, make the effort to write my RTK reviews out by hand. Though i tried to spelling some simple words out like 今日 and 日本. Some of the words I could do it pretty easily, others I just could not remember. I wonder if I keep reading it’ll help my writing? I’ve never actively practiced writing 日本、but its kanjis and use in texts has made it one of my most frequent words, and I was able to write it with ease. Same thing happened with 大丈夫, but I couldn’t remember the 今 from 今日. The brain is one interesting dude!

    • Writing your RTK deck reviews out by hand makes a big difference, and you’d be surprised that combining it with a lot of reading allows you to be able write more Japanese than you expect. And sometimes you can just throw in a little writing practice for fun (for example writing out a few J-J cards while reviewing them).

      • I’ve definitely had a few examples where that’s the case, especially words with super simple and familiar kanji. I guess as they get older in my RTK and words become more familiar it’s going to get easier and easier. But when there are 2-3 more rare/difficult kanji it does get difficult without practicing, I might try chucking in some writing every so often on some more frequent yet difficult words whilst reviewing.

  9. I was practicing only with reading, writing and flashcards at first, but I found a lot of the grammar truly sunk in once I wrote it down by hand.

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