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Kanji Beginner?

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default Kanji Beginner?

Post by Laramie Castiel on 10/02/14, 10:26 pm

As learners of Japanese would have quickly realised, kanji is possibly the largest hurdle when it comes to mastering the language. Sadly, it's not very different from any other kind of memorisation-centric study and there are no real shortcuts.

~ Important Notes and Tips ~
Spoiler:
~ First of all, I strongly recommend against jumping straight into kanji. Be sure you have a perfect, or otherwise, a very high understanding of hiragana and katakana. When reading Japanese, kanji is pretty much always combined with hiragana to form sentences. Katakana is less essential, but when using a Japanese dictionary, the "on readings (more information on this below)" are written in katakana.

~ Kanji is very important, yes. However, don't just only learn kanji. It is just as important to brush up on Japanese grammar and vocabulary. I would even go as far as saying that you should hold off on learning kanji until you have a basic-to-moderate understanding of Japanese grammar.

~ Don't overdo it! It's understandable that you want to hurry up and become proficient with Japanese, but it's best to try and learn and memorise kanji at small intervals. Perhaps 20 at a time?

~ Don't rely on flashcards alone- try and find resources that test if you can correctly put the kanji in the right context, or read it correctly in the sentence you're provided with. I'm working on finding these types of resources myself.

~ This guide only covers pronounciation and reading kanji. It does not include stroke orders or help writing the characters.

~ I primarily use Jim Breen's online Japanese dictionary and Wikipedia to help me with explaining certain concepts. Direct quotes will be linked.


~ A brief history of kanji and Japanese scriptures~
Spoiler:
As many of us learning about Japan and Japanese know by now, kanji is one of the many aspects of China that Japan has adopted/emulated into common usage. Knowing this, some of you may have wondered what Japanese writing looked like before the introduction of kanji, and why it has become obsolete. Actually, no established/widespread Japanese scripts existed before kanji!

According to Wikipedia, kanji comes from a Chinese scripture known as "hanzi". In fact, the word "kanji (漢字)" itself literally means "Han characters", and is written using the Chinese for "hanzi (漢字)". Chinese characters were introduced to the Japanese through decorative imports. The earliest known instance of this the King of Na Gold Seal given by Emperor Guangwu of Han to a Yamato emissary in 57 AD. Even so, the Japanese remained illiterate until the 5th century AD.

What about hiragana and katakana, then? They too, originate from Chinese characters. More specifically, sometime in the mid-seventh century, the Japanese employed a scripture called "man'yougana", an all-kanji script that used kanji for its phonetics rather than meaning. Hiragana developed from the cursive (sousho) style of man'yougana, while katakana was developed from the non-cursive style, as a method of shorthand by Buddhist monks. This is far more obvious with katakana than hiragana. For example, the katakana for "ka (カ)" and for "power (力)" are almost clones of each other. Another example is how the katakana for "ta (タ)" is seen in a variety of other kanji, such as "夕 (evening)" and "多 (many)".


~ Terms you're likely to encounter when learning kanji ~
Before you get started on flashcards, textbooks, worksheets or whatever kanji learning resource you have chosen, I recommend that you learn these terms as not all learning resources explain their meanings:

Ateji (当て字 "Assigned characters")
Spoiler:
Similar to how man'yougana was used, when a word is written in "ateji", this means that it is composed of kanji regardless of the meaning of the actual kanji itself. In short, the kanji is selected with an emphasis on its phonetics. An example of this is for the kanji for "Canada", which is "加奈陀 (ka-na-da)". The individual kanji mean "addition; increase", "Nara; what" and "steep". Even though Canada, America and Russia are just some of many examples of countries with ateji, katakana is much more commonly used to write them.

Furigana (振り仮名), a.k.a. Yomigana (読み仮名 "reading kana")
Spoiler:
Furigana are kana that are accompanied directly alongside or above kanji (typically in printed media) to help the reader distinguish ambiguous, difficult or nonstandard readings of the kanji. An example of common furigana usage is in fiction, where introduction of characters with kanji names may be accompanied with furigana, as exotic/nonstandard readings are often used. Another common example of furigana usage is with media targeted towards learners and a younger audience, in which the kanji used would be unlikely to be understood by its demographic. Here is an example of furigana used in manga.

Hyougai kanji (表外漢字 "Chinese characters from outside the chart" a.k.a simply "Hyougaiji" 表外字 "characters from outside the chart")
Spoiler:
Hyougaiji are kanji characters that aren't a part of the Jouyou and the Jinmeiyou list. As a result, there is no exact amount of hyougaiji. Simply put, you could call any hyougaiji "uncommon kanji". Even though there is no "perfect" list, Wikipedia has listed just over a 1,000 of them here


Jinmeiyou kanji (人名用漢字 "Chinese characters for use in personal names")
Spoiler:
This one is quite straightforward. Just as the translation of the name implies, Jinmeiyou kanji are characters that are legally recognised for use in personal names. For a name to be legally valid in Japan, it must be written using the Jinmeiyou kanji, Jouyou kanji, hiragana and/or katakana. Currently, there are 861 Jinmeiyou kanji, 212 of which are already a part of the Jouyou kanji set. If you combine this number with the amount of Jouyou kanji, 2,997 kanji can be legally used for personal names.

Jouyou Kanji (常用漢字 "regular use Chinese characters")
Spoiler:
As of 2010, Jouyou kanji refers to the 2,136 kanji Japanese students are expected to have memorised by the time they graduate secondary school. This list is composed and revised by the country's educational authorities. 1,006 of these kanji have been grouped into "Kyouiku kanji", which are taught to primary school students. The remaining 1,130 are taught during a student's junior and secondary high school years. Those who have mastered Jouyou kanji to a high degree should be able to read a newspaper without too much difficulty, providing that they have polished their vocabulary also.

Kana (仮名)
Spoiler:
The term "kana" is used to collectively refer to hiragana and katakana. The two are grouped together because they're syllabic. In other words, the individual characters don't contain any meaning themselves and compose words and sentences phonetically.

Kun'yomi (訓読み "instruction reading")
Spoiler:
The kun'yomi of a kanji is its Japanese pronounciation and reading of a kanji character. A single kanji can have more than one kun'yomi, while some have none at all.

Kyouiku Kanji (教育漢字 "education kanji")
Spoiler:
A subset of Jouyou kanji, Kyouiku kanji refer to the 1,006 kanji that are learned by primary school students from years 1~6. The educational authorities dictate which kanji should be learned in which grade and how many per year. All Japanese primary school students are expected to have memorised them before graduating. Having a high grasp of kyouiku kanji should help immensely when reading MOST visual novels that don't involve complex concepts (otome examples would be Starry Sky and Uta no Prince-sama). However, if your aim is for near or complete fluency, you'll need to remember more. To put it in perspective, you won't be able to read a Japanese newspaper as well as you'd like.

Okurigana (送り仮名 "accompanying letters")
Spoiler:
Okurigana is the hiragana that comes after the kun'yomi of a kanji for inflection and to help indicate how the character should be read. 99% of the time, okurigana only come with kun'yomi, never on'yomi. An example of okurigana would be "行く" read as "iku", which means "to go". The kun'yomi of "行" is simply "i", and the okurigana here would be the "く (ku)". The "ku" helps inflect "行" to mean "to go". Simply writing "行" is not only grammatically incorrect, but also confusing as it doesn't indicate the context I used it in. Without okurigana, there is not real way to know the tense in which I used it in.

On'yomi (音読み "sound reading")
Spoiler:
The on'yomi of a kanji is the Japanese's approximation of the kanji character's original Chinese pronounciation. Some kanji have more than one on'yomi, but others don't have one at all. This is more common with characters invented by the Japanese (therefore, have no Chinese origin).

Radical
Spoiler:
A radical is a Japanese character used to categorise and identify kanji. At present, there are 214 radicals used to categorise kanji, most notably, in dictionaries. While a technical knowledge of radicals is unnecessary, having a basic understanding of radicals is essential if you want to become proficient in using kanji dictionaries and electronic kanji look-ups. Not only this, but memorising the common radicals can help you in remembering individual characters, and guess the meaning of new ones!

The usefulness of radicals is better explained with examples, so here is one.

A simple example would be for this kanji, "灰", meaning ash. It is composed of two radicals- the one meaning fire "火" and another one, "厂" meaning cliff. Just say if I didn't know how to read this or what it means. Based on the radicals alone, I can understand it has something to do with "fire". I could even have a chance at guessing what it means by just trying to understand the context of the sentence it was in. However, I'd still not know how to pronounce/read it, even if I correctly guessed the meaning. Using an electronic look-up (like Jim Breen's one here), I would check put in the search parameters to include the two radicals. The search results would return with "灰", and I can just click on it to learn its readings and meaning.

So if you come across a kanji you don't know, inspect it carefully and use a dictionary or look-up after looking for its radicals- it will make life much easier!


~ The two big questions: "How many kanji are there? How many must I learn to be fluent in Japanese?"~
Spoiler:
To the first question, the exact amount apparently keeps on changing, so a precise number is hard to gauge. At present, there are about 50,000 kanji in existence. Luckily for us, so many of those kanji is hardly ever used. Of those 50,000, only 13,000 is used in information processing as per Japanese Industrial Standard for kanji guidelines and between 2,000~3,000 are "common use" kanji.

As for how many you need to learn? The short answer commonly is a minimum of 2,000 and up max 3,000. This number is likely an echo of the Industrial Standard's deeming of 2,000~3,000 kanji being of common use.

In 2006, a user named sslaka on YesJapan.com calculated that memorising:

Please bear in mind that this estimation was made in 2006, before the 2010 reform in which the total of Jouyou kanji was increased to 2,136. In 2006, the total was 1,945. Still, I think this calculation is still highly applicable, and would only have a small percentile discrepancy.

100 kanji will enable you to read basic signs
500 kanji will enable you to read 50% of printed material
1,000 kanji will enable you to read 85% of printed material
1,945 kanji will enable you to read 97% of printed material
8,000 kanji will enable you to read 100% of anything japanese kanji in an electronic format (technically 99.99% in printed material as a lot of ancient texts have uncommon one-time only kanji).

This estimation was made based on determining the percentage of words that could be known with particular combination of kanji. For instance, this means that learning 500 random kanji won't give you the 50% proficiency. You would need to learn the 500 most common kanji to achieve this 50%. This shouldn't be a problem, however, as the Jouyou kanji set-up determines that the most frequent kanji are learned quicker (i.e., in one's primary school years) and the less, later on.

So which ones should you learn? Without question, I'd recommend memorising the Jouyou kanji. These are likely the 2,136 most commonly encountered kanji, and would be the most useful. Next, if you're up for expanding your repertoire, I'd recommend learning the 843 (861 including variants) Jinmeiyou kanji. At 2,997, I'd think you'd be set!



~ Learning Resources ~

I intend to update this list if I find anything good, or if someone else suggests some good resources.

Kanji lists:
* All Jouyou kanji: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
  ~ A separate list for Kyouiku kanji (the 1,006 learned in primary school): [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
  ~ To view the remaining 1,130 learned in secondary school, visit the Jouyou kanji list and sort the list by "Grade". All kanji with an "S" in the grade column are the ones learned in junior and high school.
* Jinmeiyou kanji NOT included in the Jouyou kanji list: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
* Hyougai kanji: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
* List of Radicals: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

~ The online flashcards I've made: I haven't completed the flashcard collection, but I'm working on it. I figured it would be a good opportunity for not only myself and a couple of others who asked for this, but for anybody else who wanted to use them. This website also includes options to try and learn the content outside of the flashcard context- you can try it in test form, quiz form, mini-games and many more.

~ Jim Breen's online Japanese dictionary: Here you can search for words in Japanese and romaji, for kanji through radicals and copy-pasting and translate sentences, amongst other useful functions.

~ Memrise.com: Credit to ranimanga. This place enables you to select to learn from a variety of courses made by fellow members of this website for FREE. You can specifically learn kanji here, or you can learn about grammar and vocabulary. You can opt out of courses that don't suit your learning style at any time. I'm not very familiar with this website, but judging by the diversity of courses here, I'm sure you'd find one that will suit you.


Last edited by Laramie Castiel on 11/02/14, 12:06 pm; edited 3 times in total

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default Re: Kanji Beginner?

Post by kyuuichii on 11/02/14, 05:53 am

Thank you nee \(^o^)/ I've learned Japanese in my high school but that only for beginner since in my school more focused in English language instead. Sensei give me a book with only 10-50 kanji in there. we only learn the basic like jkoshoukai, about time, place and a little grammar  sad  I want to expanding my kanji knowledge >,< Nee, please make the list here  Oh you~

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「俺がお前をどう思ってるなんて、口にしなくても分かるだろう?……分かれよ、バカ」
~ My feelings towards you, without speaking it directly, you have understand it, right? ......You've know it, stupid ~

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Post by ranimanga on 11/02/14, 06:15 am

I was and am interested in learning Japanese. I found a website - http://www.memrise.com/ 
It has several language courses made by other users.

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default Re: Kanji Beginner?

Post by Laramie Castiel on 11/02/14, 11:43 am

kyuuichii wrote: I want to expanding my kanji knowledge >,< Nee, please make the list here

What list would you like? For the basic kanji, called Kyouiku kanji, Wikipedia has an excellent list here: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

For list of all 2,136 Jouyou kanji, Wikipedia has it here: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

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default Re: Kanji Beginner?

Post by kyuuichii on 11/02/14, 12:01 pm

Uhm, yeah I've checked the wiki... I mean can you put the list with an example, like a sentence and different use for each kanji  Bert sweating  Ah, maybe you can make a fun mini game to help us in this forum to memorized the kanji easily, nee?  Just as planned

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「俺がお前をどう思ってるなんて、口にしなくても分かるだろう?……分かれよ、バカ」
~ My feelings towards you, without speaking it directly, you have understand it, right? ......You've know it, stupid ~

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default Re: Kanji Beginner?

Post by Laramie Castiel on 11/02/14, 12:09 pm

^ Ah, I see what you mean! If I have time, I'll definitely try something like that. smile

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Post by kyuuichii on 11/02/14, 12:28 pm

great! I will wait nee  :p

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「俺がお前をどう思ってるなんて、口にしなくても分かるだろう?……分かれよ、バカ」
~ My feelings towards you, without speaking it directly, you have understand it, right? ......You've know it, stupid ~

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default Re: Kanji Beginner?

Post by fairth on 28/11/14, 04:31 pm

For Kanji I use Wanikani: It's an app with lessons, then reviews and leveling up (There are 50 lvl which takes around 3years to reach)

This app is really useful, since it begins slowly and then the more lessons, the more reviews pilling up.
It has Radicals lessons, Kanji, and Vocabs.

There is also a phone app, and several websites providing free text to practice the Kanji/vocabs you've been learning with Wanikani.

The 2 first lvl are free (Almost a month practice) and then, it's 10$ a month.
I still haven't finished the second lvl, but I'll probably subscribe for next month.


So... I really recommend it for those who can't remember Kanji, with bad memory, etc...

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Post by Kaimu on 24/03/16, 12:44 pm

Ahh. Thank you: 3 I learned something new for yourself

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Post by icingcandies on 31/05/16, 07:35 pm

wow. this was helpful! thank you so much for the clarification and links!

for those interested, I would recommend getting kanji study from google play store. smile it looks sleek and is useful enough. :3

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