Kanji and learning what you need to survive

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for ages about my recently-perfected system for learning (and retaining!) kanji. These little buggers have been the bane of my life for the past decade and I’ve noticed that no matter how much I read or speak, actually retaining the correct writing skills in full ahas been virtually impossible. I don’t have a particularly bad memory, but I do only retain necessary information and I guess kanji don’t fall into that category. 

Over the past six months I’ve taken on two challenges:

1) To learn the next grade of kanji (this is 3級 of 漢字検定 for those who are interested) and my strategy for this has been:

  • make a card (postcard sized) with the kanji and vocab on the front and readings on the back (I am hoping these will double up as flashcards in future). Here are some examples:

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  • Practice the new kanji every day (practice is a line of about 15 times in my practice book) like so:

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  • Add the compounds (there are usually 3 suggested usage examples) to the front of the card and practice a select useful number of these
  • Each day, test through the previous kanji (this evolved into twice a week towards the end as it was too much work!)

By doing this I have managed to get through the whole level (I am three cards away) of about 300 characters with a failure rate of one or two at most when I test them. I know these guys like the back of my hand (for the moment!)

 

2) Challenge number two has been mastering all the previous kanji including idiotically simple ones which I was supposed to know ages ago. Obviously I was not learning my grades as thoroughly as I have learned my grade 3s. The only way I’ve found to make brain retain these is to TEST them all on a weekly rotation (there are seven grades up to grade 4 so that’s one grade of testing a day – neat!) which I do in excel by randomising the order. The thing about testing is that it’s uncomfortable and although it’s not a matter of life or death, my brain knows that the more kanji I retain in between tests, the less uncomfortable the next test will be. I’ve been practising in between as well on the ones I’ve failed to get right – adding these to the weekly grade 3 practice – which has been quite a workload BUT the results speak for themselves. I think I’ve been doing this for 5 weeks and although I didn’t record the failure rates the first couple of weeks, I expect they started around the 300-400 mark. Week 3 I had 123, week 4 78, and last week only 47 wrong out of 1323! I have two more weeks to get it down further – I don’t expect to get perfect but 21 would be one page worth of practice which would be easier to work with. I’d also like to get at least the first 4 grades’ worth a guaranteed perfect, so I feel confident with them and don’t get any failures.

Here’s some more practice (hehe I have two whole books of this madness!) –

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(I do this on the train and it gets me some interested looks sometimes!)

The only thing is that I am going to have to do this for the rest of my life to not lose them all again! Which I didn’t quite think through. Next year I’m moving onto the sub-2 grade which means the 3s will be added into my practice, I’m going to have to test 300-odd a day to get through them each week on work-days which is about 40 minutes’ work alone, before I’ve done any practice. I’m hoping that after the first quarter I’ll be able to reduce it down to a 2-weekly rotation, and eventually monthly. Hopefully eventually (after years and years of practice) I’ll get to the point where I just can’t possibly forget any of them 😉

It feels good to have gotten this far though – I definitely know more than I ever have and I’ve really applied myself, and it’s comforting to see the progress as a reward for my efforts.

 

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