音記号 (or 音の記号) are the phonetic components of kanji that represent its pronunciation. If you are familiar with these phonetic components then you can approximate the reading of new kanji, even if you have not seen the kanji before.
For example, consider these kanji 静、清、 and 晴. They each have different skip radicals (部首 ぶしゅ), but they share the same 音記号, the kanji component 青. These kanji are read with the “on” reading of せい. In other words, when 青 is used as a component within a more complex kanji then the せい “on” reading often carries through.
Are 音記号 a magic bullet for reading kanji?
Suffice to say, no. They are not a magic bullet, but they are one mean parlor trick. There are quite a few 音記号 with strong readings that hold true for about 80% of the cases. However, there are expectations for many kanji and some kanji have multiple 音記号 readings. Also not all kanji have strong 音記号 readings.
Also when the kanji stands as itself and is not used as a component within a more complex kanji then these rules often do not apply. For example, take 央. Its “on” reading when it is by itself if おう as in 中央 (ちゅうおう), but when it is a component then its “on” reading is えい as in 英語 (えいご) and 映画 (えいが).
Who is this recommended for?
Working with 音記号 is recommended for people who have reached intermediate Japanese. In terms of JALUP levels, adventurers over level 20 will benefit greatly from this kind of study. In terms of JLPT, learners who are working with N3 material and above are in good stead. Particularly to learners who have completed RTK, I highly recommend it.
How can I study with them?
There are numerous ways to study this information. You could create an anki deck based on 音記号. You could make good old fashion paper flash cards or study them from a reference sheet. You could keep a cheat sheet of them around to check yourself as you study or read.
I personally used an online flash card website called Quizlet. Quizlet is a powerful tool for discreet amounts of information you want to study. It allows users to create sets of flash cards and share them with the world. Within the set, it creates various way of study including memory games, multi-facet tests, and speed races using the inputted information.
I invite all JALUP members to use the Quizlet sets that I made. I randomly divided them into groups of 15. They are 4 sets of information with 2 sets of reviews for part 1-2 and parts 3-4 respectively. Also, there is 1 final set that combines all 4 parts.
Do I need to master all of the below listed 音記号?
Having perfect mastery is not necessary to derive great benefit from 音記号. If you could have a general feel of 60%-80% of these readings, it would go a long way towards building an internal “kanji sense.” It would save a lot of toil and frustration later on as you try to overcome the plateau of intermediate Japanese. You could learn together what otherwise would be a war of attrition from random encounters.
Where did you get this information?
I collected this information from two text books.
Show me the 音記号!
Have you ever studied 音記号 before? Do you have any tips or secrets to study kanji more effectively?
A writer for Japanese Level up and a 4th Year JET. Has the ability to consume anime and J-dramas at an alarming pace and may be too in love with kanji.