Kanji and Japanese aren’t the same. At least that is how I see it in my head, for better or worse. It is very odd to see it that way so it takes some explaining.
One day I plan to learn Chinese after I learn Japanese. Since kanji is from China originally and the Japanese incorporated into their culture way back a long time ago many of the kanji seem to still be about the same. So it is actually helping with both languages to learn kanji therefore, to me, Japanese is not synonymous to kanji.
If you want to go SAT test with it. Japanese is kanji, but kanji is not necessarily Japanese. So the two are kind of separate, well at least enough that it can help make Japanese easier.
For simplicity sake we will say Japanese is made up of 3 alphabets.
- Hiragana which is phonetic sound for native Japanese words
- Katakana which is the phonetic sound for foreign words, most of the time
- Kanji which is a character that associates a meaning to it
Generally we see kanji as this hard nut to crack because it can have several readings to the meaning. When you combine the kanji in certain orders the original meanings might have almost nothing to do with the word, but the reading is what matters. Basically lots of circular logic that kills your head when learning. While it can be a pain there is hope.
The article title says Kanji Makes Japanese Easy, but all I have described are the complications. So what I want to say is its not really that bad. Learning the meaning of the kanji can go a long way which is why Hesig’s book Remembering the Kanji is so popular and used so much. Because at the end of the day those kanji mean something.
The best way for Kanji to make life easy is to realize that Kanji have a meaning and when you are lost and confused you can use that to your advantage. Lets look at some examples.
The above is a sentence that is kanji and hirigana. The kanji are 私, 魚, and 好. Roughly I, fish, and like. So we can probably infer that the sentence means I like fish, right. Well yes. That is what that sentence is.
Now the next thought is, well not all sentences are going to be that easy and short. I know, but that doesn’t mean you cant try to infer meanings of sentences and pick out parts of sentences to try to better understand things.
One sentence that helped me realize this was this one.
I still don’t have any idea how to read this sentence properly I always seem to mess it up. However, I know that there is poem, write and like. Along with those plus さん I know that someone likes to write poetry.
And here is another example of looking at kanji meanings and getting the sentence.
秋 is autumn and 好 is like so the inference is liking autumn.
Another great thing about kanji is it helps shrink the size of what you read and get words in an easier understanding way. Look at the following both the hiragana and the kanji.
The first thing I see is a ton of kana and it kills my eyes for a moment. After that I see the 3 は. After that I have to sound out the sentence and try to figure out the words and manually separate them since there are no spaces like in English. The kanji is what allows you to have those “spaces” because the kanji can be your words so there aren’t any need for spaces per se.
Also notice that the only things that aren’t kanji are particles and conjugations. This lets you be able to break the sentence into words easily and is the true power of kanji which makes reading Japanese a lot easier.
There is one final thing to look at and take note of. While the above is true there are times where picking things out isn’t so easy. Lets see why.
This sentence says the bicycle is blue. However, without knowing that 自転車 means bike then this sentence will leave you stuck until learn what it is. So kanji is not a silver bullet to Japanese, but it can help a lot especially as a beginner.
Finally, there are many words that have the same “spellings” in hiragana but mean completely different things when seeing it in kanji. Take kanji for example here are two meanings.
Sentence Hiragana: いいかんじ
Sentence Kanji 1: いい感じ
Sentence Kanji 2: いい漢字
The hiragana sentence is the same as the others, but without content you don’t know which. Kanji 1 is “Good feeling”. Kanji 2 is “Good kanji(Chinese character)”. So kanji is definitely beneficial when trying to figure out what is being said. As you learn more vocab kanji helps you keep it straight. Plus the more kanji meanings you know there are quite a few kanji readings which will miraculously fall into place all of a sudden. 誰 (だれ) or who was one of those which just fell into place.
Basically when it comes down to it learning Japanese is all about approach. Learning Kanji separate from grammar and vocab can have different outcomes. I like to think it makes things easier. Since starting to focus more and more on kanji it has sped up my learning Japanese to the point some of the manga I have is getting easier to read without looking everything up.
So remember the 4 key components to kanji making Japanese easier are:
- Meanings of Kanji can help you to figure out sentence meanings
- Kanji helps you to find ends of words and beginning of new ones for an easier time reading
- A lot of times kanji is only used for words whereas particles and conjugation are in hiragana; and katakana is foreign words or pop-culture spellings.
- Kanji is used to distingiush words to help figure out context since many words can have same spelling/phonetic sounds
keeping those in mind learning kanji is a very beneficial thing to do from the get-go. Also of note is that the AJATT method has you learn kanji meanings first using Remembering the Kanji. So this definitely isn’t an idea out of left field.
As a note these are my observations from my learning Japanese for the last year and half along with thoughts from others discussing this very thing. So please give your opinion too about your experiences in learning kanji along with Japanese