Why your Kanji Reviews Never Seem to End
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.
I randomly ran into a Japanese person yesterday (I live in Germany) while I was practicing writing. I was showing him how I practiced with anki by writing down the kanji of a particular Japanese keyword, and he said “wow, I don’t think I could do that now”, so this is very true, I think.
I only finished my kanji deck a few weeks ago, and I think it will be some time before I even get it down to half an hour a day, I could imagine it will take years before it is just 5 minutes, lol.
Congrats on finally finishing it up.
Yes, it takes a very long time to get it down to 5 minutes :) But it will happen.
Of all the posts you’ve made, this is the one that hits closest to home by far (and that’s a lot considering you pretty much nail it on the majority of your posts!)
I’m almost there: after 8 months and in less than 2 weeks from now, I will have reached the magical number of 2000 kanji. There’ll still be 300 remaining in Kanji Kingdom, but I’m taking a break until summer when I have finished my semester.
I’ve estimated that kanji take up to 75% (usually 1h+) of my review time every day, which is a lot, so I was craving this moment would come. This post helped me temper my expectations; I was thinking kanji reviews would gradually start disappearing like the Jalup Beginner ones (I’m currently working through Jalup Advanced), but it seems that won’t be the case. I can live with that though, I actually like kanji, and the only thing I want is for them to appear less often (which will happen slowly when I’m done with Kanji Kingdom). That way, I will be able to reallocate that time to add more sentence cards/immerse more.
Nice! The final stretch.
Yes, they don’t disappear anywhere near as fast as Jalup Beginner. And while that may sound discouraging, knowing what is going on is better than cursing at your deck :P
But they will decrease. That 1 hour will turn to 55 minutes, then 50 minutes, and so on.
Kanji review is definitely the vast majority of my anki time, but I’m still in the learning stage for new kanji. I’m about 870 of 3000 through RTK Vol 1 and 3, and it can definitely be hard to associate new keywords with kanji if the keywords are kind of vague and I don’t have any current vocabulary with the kanji. I have 71 days left with this learning period, and I should be at least a quarter of the way into Jalup advanced by the time I reach #3000.
Part of what helps motivate me is a project to make my own handwritten kanji poster. I’m doing bits of the poster in 10×10 blocks of kanji at a time, then I scan them so that I can later piece them together.
That’s an awesome project idea to motivate your kanji studying. When you finish make sure you mention it here!
Update: I’m over the 1000 mark, and due to the difficulty of being able to immediately associate a kanji with a keyword, I went for a new approach.
I wrote a script for my anki cards that places the target kanji with 9 other random kanji, in a random arrangement. On the front, the cards show the keyword, and then the random table of 10 kanji. The nice thing is that each time the front is looked at, the random kanji are drawn from all of the 3000 kanji in RTK.
This makes my cards a bit easier and helps target recognition of the character instead of training my brain that I don’t know the keyword and need to look at my hint before I start writing. I still do write out the kanji , either before I look at the table if I can guess from the keyword, or after I recognize it in the table.
Kanji is personally about 50% of my review time and I definitely also have the highest fail rate for my kanji cards. I find that it’s often the ability to tell similar kanji and kanji with similar pronunciation apart that gives me the most trouble, but I reassure myself that this is exactly why I need to practice those particular kanji.
I’ve also tried dropping kanji reviews in the past. I finished RTK when I first started out and then dropped reviews right after. 6 months later most of it was gone because it was never reinforced with reviews and vocabulary. I restarted kanji about a year later and am still working on finishing them again, but now at a much slower pace to keep it from pilling up too much. My vocabulary retention has gone up dramatically by adding kanji reviews again, so consider this a warning to never stop reviewing them :)
Warnings like this from personal experience are always good.
Speaking of similar kanji, it can sometimes be hard to decide what do do when reviewing a kanji that I mistook for it’s near-doppelganger. Setting its interval to tomorrow or 10 years is a weighty decision to make.
I tend to fail those, because I’d rather spend the extra time reinforcing it than waiting X years to fill the gap. I guess that means I get a few more reviews, but it should also have me learn those cards faster.
How many Kanji cards do you review on an average day?
On average my daily total reviews are at around 10-20. Maybe around 30% are kanji.
Let me preface this by saying that no-one should follow my example. I mean it! I’m a bad student. Many have achieved fluency, while I’ve been “taking a break”.
My experience I think is much easier because I only practice recognition. Even still reviews got so bad, they totally derailed intermediate. I ended up quiting RTK for more than two years. When I got back to it I had about 1200 reviews pending. But time and sentences had consolidated many of those characters, and I answered easy on quite a few.
I took my time, and carefully reviewed or improved the stories I had forgotten. I made sure to answer “wrong” anytime I really didn’t have a clue, and to answer “hard” when I made a mistake, but the next review would be within 14 months.
RTK is a long game, so I don’t mind gaps. As long as I stick with it those problems will surface. If I find a problem in sentences, I can always forget the card, and relearn it immediately. Anyhow, I only have about 10 reviews a day at the moment. But RTK is capricious, a few bad days, and I could be back in the dark place again ;)
Thanks for sharing your kanji story! I think most people don’t have a straight 1 to 2,000 success story. I definitely didn’t.
I don’t review kanji much these days. Instead I do the 漢検ＤＳ quizzes. For some reason it feels like downtime to me because of the video game format? I find the quizzes more mentally stimulating than anki reviews. They are pretty tough- technically learning all the daily use kanji should put you at 2級, but right now I can just about manage 5級 (which is only the 1006 elementary kanji). I’m totally addicted though xD
Interesting. Is there something about it that makes you coming back to it as opposed to just reviewing flash cards? Or is it the mere side effect of you doing it on a video game console?
Has anyone experimented with a primitives/radicals deck? At the moment I’m going through an RTK primitives deck, going from primitive to keyword, ensuring I have a good image for them in my head. The primitives seem to be the first thing I forget so in that regard it’s definitely helping. It makes sense to me, if I’m having trouble with some material, to break it down further.
(I’m about a year out of finishing RTK 2000)
Okay, Kanji is something where i fairly lack the skill to remember.
Im on Jalup Beginner 415 and Kanji Kingdom 193.
So yes, i fear that i currently am not fast enough with remembering the Kanji.
I read that it would be good to get the Kanji to the Same amount than the Jalup Decks to get it done correct, but somehow im really lacking the skill of remembbering them.
In contrary to the sentences of Jalup beginner i very often forget them and cannot recall what they look like.
Also it is hard to remember what the look like if i have a Keyword.
Vice versa seems more easy way.
I don’t have a great answer for you as I had already done remember the kanji from heisig before finding jalup so I didn’t do kanji kingdom.
That said my advice would be to get yourself to a level that when you see kanji in beginner your eye can distinguish it. That you are trained enough to not just see random lines/symbols. If you are having a lot of difficulty telling kanji apart then maybe slow down on beginner and do more kanji.
As for kanji to keyword or keyword to kanji I think both can work and have their pros and cons. 90% of people though will say do keyword to kanji. I did kanji to keyword. I don’t regret it, it has worked for me but I may have to redo it the other way one day to learn the writing. For now that’s not important to me.