7 Tips on How to Learn Kanji

By OptiLingo

What Are Japanese Kanji?

Kanji are Chinese characters that are used heavily in Japanese, usually to denote nouns, verbs, and stems of adjectives; Sometimes, Kanji are used to represent adverbs as well. With exception to children’s books and other simple writing, reading Kanji is a necessity to understand written Japanese. While Kanji is used for many words, there are exceptions. Some words, such as the verb that means “to be” are written exclusively in Hiragana.

From the beginning, this guide will use Kanji, to force you to practice and learn how to read authentic Japanese script as quickly as possible. Our goal is to learn quickly and efficiently, and in the process, we’ll go over learning techniques and strategies. Mastering Kanji isn’t an easy feat, but the largest part of it is memorization; Work hard and diligently, and you’re sure to succeed.

How can I learn Japanese Kanji?

While you could theoretically learn Kanji through sheer memorization and constant practice, the more practical route is steady, long-term study. Rather than pouring in hours and hours, expecting to reach your goal in days, make sure to review a certain Kanji, or a set of Kanji a few times a day for several months. Don’t practice for hours until you get it right; practice for months until you’re never wrong.

The need of time to come to grips with the information is why we use Kanji right away. Trying to learn Kanji all at once from the beginning would be immensely impractical, and it’s much easier and much more effective to divide the learning process into smaller, more manageable chunks. Beginning with simple vocabulary and the associated Kanji will let it settle into permanent memory. When it comes to the question of ‘ how to learn Japanese Kanji ‘, the answer is dedication, and a commitment to long-term results.

Learning To Read Kanji

While there are paid tutors and programs built for the person wanting to know ‘how can I learn Japanese Kanji’, these aren’t expressly necessary. There are great, free resources available online that provide the means to learn Kanji on their own. Kanji diagrams for stroke order, and Kanji dictionaries are of special use. Careful attention paid to the stroke diagrams will show you the correct order and size of each Kanji, and with steady, long-term drilling practice you’ll learn how to do it right every time.

Most characters have two different readings. One reading that originates with Chinese, and another reading unique to Japanese. Kanji that are drawn from a compound word, for instance, use a different reading from a single word. Specific characters, the most common Kanji, in particular, can have different versions of each reading. Some unusual compound words are even read in a totally unique way, with no relation to the reading of each individual character. Unique readings like these must be individually memorized, but there are relatively few of them.

Some kanji are employed in both adjectives, verbs, and in lone characters. These words come with Okurigana, that is, multiple Kana, attached. The Okurigana displays that in spite of conjugation, that you don’t change the reading of the original Chinese character. Kana makes Kanji far easier to read!

However, the sound of Kanji in a compound word can change for the sake of easier pronunciation. This often entails one sound switching to another, but not in a way that makes the word harder to understand.

Kanji is quite interesting to learn because of the fact that sometimes, multiple characters can be close to synonyms and read in the same way, but employ different Kanji to add nuance and meaning. There are multiple Kanji that each refer to listening, but there is specific Kanji meaning to listen intently, as though listening to a professor, and to listen casually, such as to listen to music. Some Kanji might share a meaning with another, but one Kanji will have a second additional meaning – sort of like how the letter ‘k’ always makes the same sound, but the letter ‘c’ can make multiple sounds including that made by the letter ‘k.’ On occasion, the Kanji will not change and neither will the meaning, but they might be read in different ways. Any of them work, and the decision is based on intended tone, style, and preference.

Interestingly, there’s one Kanji, the 々 that’s used to denote the previous Kanji repeats. This is a very useful Kanji, as it simplifies the process of writing by providing a simple, easily understood method to avoid having to rewrite the Kanji individually.

While these are the fundamentals of Kanji, there are many more details and nuances to learn as you discover how to learn Japanese Kanji. While Kanji may seem complex, and indeed have the potential to be, practical, day to day words will often have a single Kanji associated with them; very few Kanji have more than two readings, so everyday Japanese isn’t so complex as you might think.

7 Tips on Learning Kanji

While there are no easy tricks to learning kanji, the best way to learn Japanese characters is by learning kanji as part of a daily routine of studying the characters. Taking as few as 15 minutes per day will help. The key is being consistent at doing it every day.


1. Learn the Radicals

Radicals are the smaller parts that make up more complex kanji characters. Getting to know these radicals makes it easier to tell the similar characters apart. It is also possible to sometimes guess the pronunciation because characters with the same radicals will often have similar pronunciations.


2. Image Association

One thing to remember about characters is image association. For example, the character that means “stop” looks like a person with their arm to indicate stop. Associating each character with the appropriate image will help you learn their meanings.


3. Use Dictionaries, Books, or Online Resource

As you are learning new characters, look them up in a dictionary the words that use them. This helps you do not lie learn the meaning of the character but how it is used as well. Most resources for learning kanji have some common vocabulary words for each entry that will help you learn the character.


4. Ignore the Order of Characters

In Japan, students are taught kanji in a specific gray related order. There are good reasons for this order, but they have no bearing on how you learn kanji. Don’t worry about the order that any resource gives you just find a place to start.


5. Read Interesting Material

Reading real-life materials that are interesting to you, it will help even more. Read material that you would enjoy without learning Japanese. It is also helpful to watch cartoons and movies with subtitles, it will help you to learn the language in regular usage.


6. Get a Japanese Pen Pals

Because the best way to learn Japanese writing is using it in real life, try finding a Japanese Pen Pals to exchange emails with them. That way you can learn the language but actually using it in real conversations. This will help you in learning kanji more than anything else.


7. Japanese friend Check

One thing that will help you in learning kanji, is finding a Japanese friend who can check your progress for you. This will help provide a check that you are doing it right.


Reasons Why You Should Learn Kanji

Learning kanji is not needed to fluently speak Japanese. As a result, many students of Japanese never take the time to learn it. Given that you can learn to speak Japanese without learning Kanji, why bother. It turns out that there are some important reasons for learning Kanji.

1. Reading helps you learn any language 

Actually knowing a language, requires reading it. This is not a problem for languages where the alphabet is the same as English, but it is for languages that don’t. With these languages, you need to learn to read them as well. Unfortunately, for Japanese, this means learning kanji.

2. Learning kanji helps better understanding.

When you are learning new words it is often possible for you to guess the meaning by knowing kanji. The characters of kanji are similar to the affixes found in English. This means that each character has a meaning such that if you know the meanings it is easier to understand the words.

3. Knowing kanji is not just about language skills

If you are ever going to Japan, you will need to know Kanji just to get around Japan. Few signs are in English, particularly when you get outside of the major cities. Before starting to learn it, finding the easiest way to learn Japanese kanji will be a big help.

4. The best way to learn Japanese writing – The Overall Approach

Sadly there is no simple way to learn kanji. The best way to learn Japanese kanji involves two main approaches. They are memorization as well as real-life activities. Together, these two approaches should work for you.

5. Drilling is not fun but it works.

While not the easiest way to learn Japanese kanji, using flashcards works. You should take at least a half hour a day to study several new kanji characters and test yourself on those that you have already learned. Work on both the reading and meaning of each character. Remembering the meanings is easy but it is much harder to remember the readings because most have two or more reading. When you get to know one completely, remove it from your stack.

There’s a helpful flashcard app that is frequently used called Anki. Using Anki to learn Kanji has been covered in the step-by-step guide by Nihongoshark in his series JapaneseLevelUp. No matter how much you dislike it, the best way to learn Japanese characters dose include rote memorization, so just accept the fact and do it.

6. You also need some real-life interaction to learn kanji

By itself, rote memorization is insufficient to really learn a new language. The best way to learn Japanese kanji is the way Japanese kids learn kanji, learn it. They are surrounded by these characters and should surround yourself with them as well. This way you will get a better idea of the way, these characters are used. It will also help strengthen the word meaning. It will help you to better connect the words and the characters with their meanings.

One way to learn the real-life contexts of kanji is using FluentU. This is a site the teachers Japanese by using real-world videos. When using FluentU, you will learn kanji but using quizzes that have a video context. This provides an entertaining way of learning Japanese that you will retain more easily.

7. Study writing while as you learning kanji

Japanese has about 2,000 commonly used kanji characters. When you have learned these, you can read newspapers and books. There are thousands of additional kanji characters that even most Japanese don’t know. However, knowing these 2,000 characters makes one literate in Japanese. What you need to do is decide on a set my number of characters that you can learn per day.

Why Do The Japanese Learn Kanji?

Some criticize the continued use of Kanji and complex Chinese characters instead of switching to Romaji or a simple alphabet. Alternatively, why not simplify the written language as Korea did? While this guide isn’t meant to debate the merits of Kanji, you must understand that learning Kanji is necessary to understand Japanese if you’re to follow through and succeed in learning.

While switching to Romaji or simplifying Kanji does sound nice in theory, there are good reasons as to why the Japanese learn Kanji, and I believe that anyone who’s learned much Japanese would see the wishful thinking at the heart of proposals to convert to an alphabet. If you try to convert written Hiragana to Kanji, you’ll almost always find at least two different options, and sometimes as many as ten. Korean is a complex language with many different sounds, while the set of sounds in Japanese is comparably limited and avoiding homophones – words that sound the same and possess different meaning – is impossible.

People read more quickly than they speak, and when writing the brain will use visual cues to understand the meaning without reading every letter. A phonic alphabet works for Korean and Latin languages, but Japanese needs the highly distinct, detailed Kanji to achieve the same effect and to portray written communication clearly, and with nuance and tone.