Kanji Makes Japanese Easy

by Buddy Lindsey

Kanji Makes things Easy

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.

私は魚を好きです

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.

アンは詩を書くのが好きだ。

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.

秋が好き。

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.

Hiragana: わたしのはははえいごはなしません。

Kanji: 私の母は英語を話しません。

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.

彼の自転車は青い。

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.

Conclusion

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

Related Posts:

{ 4 trackbacks }

JapanSoc
January 10, 2010 at 5:57 pm
Japundit
January 10, 2010 at 6:00 pm
Japanese students imitating Ichiro.m4v | Seattle Mariners MLB Announcer
January 10, 2010 at 9:35 pm
Tweets that mention Kanji Makes Japanese Easy - Dumb Otaku -- Topsy.com
January 12, 2010 at 9:16 pm

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alpha Ralpha January 11, 2010 at 12:18 am

very nice write up, learning the meaning of the kanji can help understand what is being written even before pronunciation is mastered. :)

Reply

2 WCC January 11, 2010 at 12:59 am

I totally agree. When I first started learning Japanese, I (as many do) wondered why all the fuss with learning kanji when you could just learn the kana and be fine.

2 years later, I absolutely abhor the thought of reading hiragana-only sentences and much prefer sentences that use as much kanji as possible.

Reply

3 Kanjiwarrior January 11, 2010 at 1:51 am

Good post! I can't believe how much more accessible Japanese has become since learning Kanji. Not being able to read Kanji left me with only being able to read what was in text books as a beginner, but after doing RTK first I am able to, albeit slowly, branch out to real Japanese media.

The only stumbling blocks I have now are when very little kanji is used: I have to do a couple of passes unless I recognize the words, and when a word is in kana and I look i up to discover that it can have 3 different kanji that all mean roughly the same thing.

However I've made more progress in the past 6 months or so than I ever have with Japanese so far.

Reply

4 DumbOtaku January 12, 2010 at 12:13 am

I have experienced something similar which is one reason that I wanted to post and talk about this.

Reply

5 reesan January 11, 2010 at 6:32 am

It reminded me of a book I bought a few years back called 'Read Japanese Today' by Len Walsh (http://www.amazon.com/Read-Japanese-today-Len-Wel… However this book took a more first principle approach of how the current ideograms evolved from the original pictures first drawn by the ancient Chinese. I guess that, to me, it reinforced that the characters are not just random strokes but they contain meaning based on the picture and they are also contain a few thousand years of history.

Anyways, good post.

Reply

6 DumbOtaku January 12, 2010 at 12:14 am

Thanks for the book link. I will put it in my list of things to get.

Reply

7 Japanese words January 11, 2010 at 9:44 am

Without Kanji Japanese would be difficult to read. As weird as that seems when you first start out, it is really true. In addition to being easily recognizable, kanji are also the "spaces".

Reply

8 gakusei January 11, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Shouldn't 私は魚を好きです be 魚が好きです?

Reply

9 Alex January 11, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Yes.

Regarding the idea that you should be learning Kanji from day one – It's less efficient. While I agree with what Heisig has laid out in RTK, it's not for beginners. Even when you can understand the meaning of individual Kanji, often that's not enough to understand it in a compound. 電卓, for example, just off the top of my head.

I'd recommend getting a basic foundation in rounded Japanese, and then as a low-intermediate student jumping into Heisig full force with other studies on the side to help you get a functional grasp of the entire language. There is no wrong way to study a language, but there are efficient ways.

Reply

10 DumbOtaku January 12, 2010 at 12:23 am

I have kind of mixed feelings of when to start learning. One problem I have had over the last year is japanese being so disconnected from me. Not being able to do anything with it. I am still at a beginner level not quite a lower intermediate from what I can tell. However, jumping into kanji has pushed up the door for understanding more japanese. Maybe waiting a couple of months after starting to start hesig would be good, but I think starting early on is good. Especially since I look at learning kanji separately from learning japanese.

I agree with the problem of doing kanji conjugations and you were able to describe the problem better than me. It can be a problem, but the benifits of knowing them far out way, imo, not knowing the combinations. But like you said different approaches are good for other people.

Reply

11 Ken January 12, 2010 at 2:53 am

I'm not sure what makes Heisig "not for beginners". It's true that understanding individual kanji doesn't mean you know compounds, but the converse is also true: understanding words without knowing the kanji is also incomplete knowledge. You'll eventually have to learn both. Each one allows you to comprehend a different subset of Japanese media.

(Personally, I think the kanji is more valuable, but that could be because I live in a town with more Chinese than Japanese people: I can walk down the street in Chinatown and read all the signs!)

Also, in the realm of learning, the number one component is raw exposure time, and the number one contribution to that is fun. I've found that learning kanji is fun. Reading actual Japanese is *way* fun. Intro classes and textbooks and kana-only media designed for foreign-language students (which my Japanese friends have trouble reading!) aren't much fun, for me. But if they are for you, then obviously that's the path for you.

Reply

12 Michael January 12, 2010 at 12:08 am

Indeed. It should be 私は魚が好きです. I would also say the sentences below are a little odd.:

秋が好き。 This should end in です or だ to complete the sentence correctly. Either that or a girl is speaking (the female speech pattern often omits the final だ and sometimes です).

私の母は英語を話しません。 This says my mother does not speak English, which is grammaically correct, but I have a feeling you meant to say 'my mother cannot speak English'. In Engiish we can use the terms 'does not' and 'cannot' somewhat interchangeably, but it doesn't translate like that into Japanese. If you want to say your mother is incapable of speaking English (due to not having learnt it – etc.) then you should say: 私の母は英語が話せません.

彼の自転車は青い。 Same as above – this sentence needs something like です or だ to complete it. Think of です as being the English 'to be' or 'is'. If you leave out the です, it is akin to saying 'My bicycle blue' instead of 'My bicycle is blue'.

Hope that helps :) Keep up your studying!

Reply

13 DumbOtaku January 12, 2010 at 12:30 am

So part of my problem is 2 fold with doing these.

1) I have not studied the particle が when talking to people about it and reading about it nothing is clear so I drop it after a while because some of what I read starts contradicting itself. I haven't found a good source for learning about the particle が yet.

2) Most of what I write and say is grammatically correct but not functionally correct. That is just part of my level of Japanese. Many sentences I write are more to express a concept that good quality phrasing. I'll get there though. As for endings I recently had a conversation with someone about sentence endings that has me all screwed up in the head about what to put where. Am in the process of re-learning. In the mean time am thinking about just putting desu at the end of everything.

Hopefully those kind of help explain where those sentences come from. I plan to get a lot better in the coming months as I am putting a lot more time lately in grammar because it has now become my weak point.

Thanks for the comment

Reply

14 Andrew January 12, 2010 at 8:40 am

Good post, but as Michael pointed out above, just only knowing the kanji can be just as detrimental as not knowing them. Sure, you can have a sentence that has a specific set of kanji that you know, but without knowing the grammar, those kanji could have an entirely different meaning.It's a tough learning process, and you're making great progress. I hope you can continue to keep up your studies!

Reply

15 Michael January 13, 2010 at 1:49 am

One slight correction. In the last sentence, you used an adjective ending in い (青い). It is correct to end sentences with い adjectives, although you should still use です to end them when speaking/writing politely. However, when speaking casually, you can drop the です from sentences ending with い adjectives.

When using な adjectives though, you need to make sure you add the です or だ to complete the sentence correctly. But be aware that だ has very harsh connotations, so saying something like:

このサンドイッチはきらいだ

sounds strange and overly assertive. It's pretty tricky, but hang in there and come back to these comments when you've progressed a little more. They'll probably make more sense then :)

Reply

16 Zealous January 12, 2010 at 3:45 am

Yeah, it should. Because 好き isn't a verb it's a noun/na-adjective (a noun in this case). So, 私は魚を好きです should really be 私は魚が好きです。

"アンは詩を書くのが好きだ。" Can be translated in a literal sense to "As for Ann, [he/she/it] likes the thing of writing poem(s)." Or, more naturally, "Ann likes to write poems." In this case, の acts as a generic noun that's being described with 詩を書く. So, it just becomes a noun for the idea of writing poems which is then later described with 好き making it say that that thing is desirable/liked.

Reply

17 bakagaijin2010 April 25, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Yes it should be が

Reply

18 Blue Shoe January 14, 2010 at 6:13 am

Interesting perspective. I think that living in Japan you would change your mind, though, as far as not considering kanji to be Japanese. While it might be historically true that kanji come from Chinese, they are everywhere over here and a part of daily life…thus they are for all purposes a genuine part of th language.

Reply

19 DumbOtaku January 14, 2010 at 2:53 am

I understand that for sure. However, for studying purposes I don’t consider the two the same. I see them as two seperate things to learn.

Reply

20 Ryan January 18, 2010 at 7:29 am

Although some bits and pieces of this are grammatically incorrect, no less I understand what you are trying to infer, and by virtue of that, it really does prove a point. You may have used the incorrect particle in places, but it's the kanji that makes the sentence, therefore you are still able to understand the sentence, even if the rest is a little misleading. Which is more or less the same as not understanding a full sentence, but simply picking out the kanji, right?

You make some interesting points, however what I must say is that if you are going to move on to learning Chinese, then be prepared that a great deal of the kanji that you are learning via Japanese will either be a) used in a different context or in a completely different way in Chinese and b) some have been simplified so much that they do not look anything like their Chinese counterparts anymore, therefore it is going to be like starting from scratch when you begin your Chinese studies; and of course, that all depends on which strain of Chinese you choose to learn… Nothing is ever simple, is it!

Reply

21 kevo January 25, 2010 at 12:37 am

I’m Chinese by birth and I am fluent in the language, and knowing kanji made learning Japanese and reading so much easier. You said it best, kanji makes sentences simpler, more elegant, easier to understand (since East Asian languages are full of homophones), and way easier to read. Many Westerners learning Japanese dislike kanji because of the memorization and seemingly random character constructions, and learning hundreds (or for Chinese, thousands) of characters is a pain, but after getting used to them, you really do realize how invaluable they are.

私も漢字が大好きですよ。 漢字をたくさん勉強して!

Reply

22 Robby in Japan January 27, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Nice post on Kanji!

My experiences have been similar: when you start leanring Japanese focus on Kanji. It will make everything so much easier lateron. They will help you read, help you learn more advanced vocabulary.

I always have to laugh when I hear people say they "know Japanese", but then after 5 minutes they correct themselves with "I can speak some, but I can't read or write anything"…

Reply

23 Japanese Level Up January 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Very true. Kanji makes the Japanese world so much easier.

Reply

24 Kanji learner May 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Definitively one very awesome aspect of Kanji is how they compress a lot of meaning in just a very few characters… not like hiragana, or even worse: Romaji! Great post DumbOtaku!

Reply

25 Katherine in Tasmania October 30, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I agree with Ryan, Chinese is very different from Japanese. There are some similarities, but a lot of the characters are completely different. I have been studying chinese for 4 years and have just started Japanese this year. I find that my chinese has helped me a lot with kanji. But I am keenly aware of the differences and I check every time to make sure I am getting it right.

good luck with you chinese studies and your japanese!!!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: