You’ve finished some kind of kanji-focused flash card deck and learned all 2000+ kanji. Congrats, you’ve done well. “Freedom!” may be your first thought. You never have to look at them again.
You soon realize that you should not stop your kanji reviews just because you finished learning them all. This defeats the entire purpose of using spaced repetition flash cards to retain kanji knowledge in long term memory. You keep reviewing kanji until the reviews that come in start to fade away over the years. Then you’ll really be free of those kanji reviews.
So why do they feel like they will never go away? And why do you keep getting them wrong?
I haven’t added new flash cards in a long time, but I continue to do reviews. It’s my daily 5-minute commitment for long-term memory. My sentence deck is over 13,000. My kanji deck at around 2,000. Despite this, kanji reviews are the bulk of my daily reviews. And those kanji cards on multi-year intervals? I still get them wrong. You can imagine the frustration.
Sentences disappear over time and kanji remain. This is what tempts people to stop doing kanji reviews. Why keep doing them if they are going to be an eternal thorn in your side?
Marking kanji reviews wrong more often is normal
It took me a long time to accept this. Especially since I consider myself quite the kanji connoisseur.
But it’s only natural. Typical kanji decks (see Kanji Kingdom, RTK, or anything like this) show you an English (or Japanese keyword). From your memory you have to recall that kanji and then either visualize it or write it out. This is hard for one simple reason. You rarely do this in any kind of immersion or natural Japanese situation.
If you hand write Japanese often, this probably doesn’t concern you and you can skip this article. But if you are like me and most people, you will be typing out 98% of your Japanese. Typing out Japanese only minimally helps out with kanji recall memory. Going from keyword to kanji is a fairly dormant skill.
The good news is you aren’t alone. Japanese people face the same issue with age. Japanese people have decades of Japanese reading practice over you. They had handwriting practice for at least a decade when they went to school. But once they graduate and and stop writing by hand, they too forget how to write out many kanji.
Why keep doing kanji reviews?
This may lead you to the conclusion that doing kanji reviews after you finish learning them and for years later seems fruitless and a waste of time. I struggled with the same thought and decided to keep reviewing them. It was one of the greatest decisions I made.
Yes, over the years kanji reviews are still my most mistaken cards.
In return for sticking with them, those mistakes have gone down and my connection with kanji has kept growing stronger and stronger. Despite not doing any other hand writing practice, I can still write out many of the kanji that have been in those reviews. Dropping kanji early on would have put a halt to all of this.
Remember, it’s about minimal time commitment in exchange for great rewards. Sure, if my kanji reviews still took me 30 minutes a day, I probably would not find it worth the extra time. But the way it is now, a 5-minute Anki total to keep refreshing past knowledge is worth it to me.
What to do?
If you plan to continue doing kanji reviews going forward, accept the reason behind the more frequent mistakes, but realize that continuing them produces great value.
This is just one experience though. There are people that just drop kanji reviews sometime after they finish learning them all and have done fine.
How about you? Did you drop kanji reviews after learning them? Or did you continue them? What was the result of your choice?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.