Strategies for learning to write Japanese wanted

I am starting a beginning Japanese course at the local college in September, and am looking for those who have experience with learning Japanese to give me some tips on learning to write the language. I don’t need general language-learning tips, as I have studied quite a few languages and have a good grip on an individual learning style that works well for me. Learning Kanji is something that intimidates me a bit, though.

However, I’m not going into this class completely green. I studied Japanese in high school (11 years ago!), so I do remember most of the Hiragana, for example (Katakana is but a distant memory…) We did not learn many kanji, though.

So, anyone been down this road before?

Practice, practice, practice.

Firstly, does the course you’re taking include lessons Kanji? If yes, good, then they will probably teach you the correct stroke orders which will make it much easier to write new characters. If not, get a good Kanji book which shows the stroke orders for the characters.

Then, pick a few every day you want to sit down and study, and then write them each 20 times or so. That will probably be enough to make you remember them.

However, you’ll soon forget all of them if you don’t use them in actual writing, so you’d better put them to actual use or writing them will soon be difficult.

For example, I used to be able to read & write 1,500 characters, but then I moved from Japan and now I can maybe write 100… Word-processors and lack of use did that to me.

Practice, practice, practice is the key. If you do that, the only question is which method is most comfortable for you.

My own method for studying kanji was to make flash cards. On one side, I’d write the kanji, by itself and with any hiragana it gets used with in its kun-yomi form (since that’s how I’d be seeing it in the wild). On the other, I’d write out its readings in hiragana, as well as its meanings in English. My textbook for this was P.G. O’Neill’s Essential Kanji.

I’d do the first ten, writing each one out ten times. I’d then memorize the readings and the meanings. Then I’d shuffle the cards together and quiz myself, first on the readings from looking at the character, then writing the character from looking at the readings. I’d then do the same with the next ten, shuffling the previous ten in with them, and so on and so on. I kept it limited to about 100 at a time so the pile didn’t get too big.

This was effective for learning individual kanji, but not so much for learning vocabulary that uses compounds of two or more kanji. Still, knowing the readings of the individuals makes looking words up in the dictionary much easier.

Are you really interested in learning to write, or you just need to do it for the class? When I was studying Chinese in school, my method for tackling writing quizzes was pretty simple- cram, forget, cram, forget. If you really want to get them down, you’ll have to use them in your daily life, and that’s not likely to happen. Now that I’m not tested on writing, I don’t worry about it at all; I remember the easy ones, and for all the communication I do in written Chinese, I type. Lucky for you, from what I’ve seen Japanese goes pretty easy on kanji, and I guess you can always fall back on hiragana if necessary, other than on tests.

If you’re concerned about just recognizing them, that’s much easier to take care of; you just have to see the characters in context in your life. This is much easier to do as it doesn’t require any input from you. Find some websites and read every day. You have to get to a certain level before this is fruitful, but actually reading something and getting it is equal to many viewings of a flashcard, at least to me.

The textbook presents some kanji with stroke order to learn with each chapter (after presenting hiragana and katakana, of course). We may learn more in class, I don’t know as I haven’t started the course yet. I am interested in becoming at least somewhat literate in Japanese (I know, tall order), so I will do some independent study of kanji above what I learn in the class.

Thanks Sublight, I’ll check out Essential Kanji as a text for use outside the class.

RealTronic, I know how quickly disuse degrades your language skills. I used to be quite fluent in several languages, but since university, my level has plunged like a piano off a skyscraper. They say that it all comes back when you are in an immersion environment, but I’m not sure…

Flashcards are so so so helpful for recognition of hiragana/katakana/kanji. I also use them occasionally for vocab before a big topic test.

Personally, for certain basic kanji and all of hiragana/katakana I found the most effective way to learn them was to make a picture associated with the sound of the character, or perhaps the meaning in the case of the kanji. For me, it was an extremely effective technique. The more stupid and ridiculous you make the mnemonic the more likely you are to remember the character. A lot of good books use this method to teach you the basic characters.

I’ll give you an example of this from my old high school textbook. The kanji for mother, haha/bo, had the mnemonic “Mother has big breasts”. While this may not have been the wisest choice of words for a book used by 14 year olds, I never forgot that kanji from that day onwards! It’s best for your memory if you can make up the mnemonics yourself. However, as RealTronic and Sublight have said, it is important to practise writing each new character at least 10-20 times a day if you want to remember how to write it, not just recognise it.

practice and memorize, be fascinated by it.

Annoy the hell out of your friends and family with it.
"Konnichiwa mom! "
“Konnichiwa! that means hello!” “My sensei says literally it means more like good day, though.”
“sensei means teacher.”
“Look, this is your name in Japanese!”

I owe my family an apology.

If Japanese is anything like Chinese (which it is), you’ll want to practice writing the stuff. Stroke order is quite important. After a while, your hands will naturally go in the order of the strokes when you think of a name. It might be tempting only to learn the easy ones, but you should also practice the more difficult or complicated ones. All the advice I’ve read is good.

I’m just starting to learn it myself, and I’ve found it helpful to learn the origins of the characters. Knowing what various stylized pieces originally symbolized can help you recognize characters, and sometimes even puzzle out unfamiliar ones. Also, the origins of some characters are sufficiently odd or striking to serve as mnemonics themselves (as mrsam pointed out).

I’m just aiming at being able to read it; I don’t expect to ever write it with any proficiency.