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Methods of Learning the Kanji

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If you know of any method apart from the ones mentioned here, leave a comment and I will add it to the list!

Classroom method/Repetition:

The one that is taught in classrooms across the world, and it is the way the natives learn. Many people will argue that this is a bad method for non-japanese people to learn, while others will defend the traditional way of learning the kanji. If you do use this method, make sure to go from simple kanji to complex kanji. Not from simple meanings to complex meanings! (this is the way japanese children learn. It works for them because of them already being fluent in spoken japanese)

Pros: If you have time to kill, use this method: because it will surely take a lot of time.

Cons: Quite inefficient for most people.


This is a method simlar to the one stated above, except that you aren't writing them. Flashcards are arguably one of the best methods of learning, but on it's own it's a bit on the weaker side. There are people who only use flashcards for learning, but for Kanji that is not really recommended. It's a great tool for learning, but not on it's own.

Pros: Easily organized. You can easily tell what you have learned and what you have forgotten. Combines well with other things.

Cons: Not really a method on its own.

Resources: Anki, iKnow.co.jp, Memrise

Vocabulary & Experience

Again, this is not really a method on it's own, but there are people who uses this as a method on it's own. I would not advise to use this method on it's own either, but I suppose some people may be succesful with it. It's simply so that, you do not study the individual kanji, but you rely on experience and vocabulary alone to learn the kanji. It may/will be quicker than learning the individual kanji, as yu will be learning vocabulary at the same time. But the biggest problem with this is that, the kanji not used often in compound words, you will most likely not learn/remember/see very often at all. Combined with flashcards, it is a working method however. You simply learn the readings and meanings from experience alone.

Pros: Learn a lot of vocabulary, learning in context.

Cons: Probably not much more efficent than learning the other way around. (Kanji first - vocab/experience second)

Resources: Various Anki decks, any vocabulary deck, any vocabulary list

Mnemonics (Heisig)

Arguably one of the most popular ways of learning the kanji in the west-world these days. You will be learning all the kanji extremely quickly compared to many other methods, but you will only be learning one meaning, and you won't be learning any readings. This won't really be a problem, if you count on learning the rest from vocabulary and experience. It may not be quicker in the long run however.

Pros: Fastest method for learning the most common kanji. (Short term)

Cons: You don’t learn the readings. By the way, the readings are the hardest part, so after you are done with this: you got the hard stuff left.

Resources: Heisig’s Remembering The Kanji (A book. Most online bookstores have it, like Amazon)

Mnemonics (Meanings and Readings)

This is pretty much a branch out on Heisig's method: as it's a community centered around the book. However, instead of just learning the meanings of the kanji, you also learn the readings of them in a simlar way that you would learn the meanings of them. Naturally it will take more time than just using heisig's book, but personally I would recommend anyone using the book to use this website aswell, or some other supplement to the book, even if that requires more time. However, if you are into trying to learn the meanings of all the kanji in just a few months, noone is going to stop you from just using heisig's book. Your choice!

I'm personally using this method, as in the book + readings. There are anki decks which has the on'yomi and the kun'yomi readings in them. I would suggest focusing on the kun'yomi, as it's worthless to learn the on'yomi without the corresponding words. (on'yomi is the reading which is used when the kanji is in a compound word. kun'yomi is the reading used when the kanji is used as a word by itself)

Pros: Readings and meanings are both learned. Fairly quick learning.

Cons: Without vocabulary, these things can get a bit messy. Due to some kanji having a lot of readings, you may end up learning some less common/"useless" ones.

Resources: Kanji Koohi RTK + Anki decks/other flashcards

Mnemonics (Meanings, Readings and Vocab)

This speaks for itself. It will take much more time than the two other mnemonics-methods stated above, and you will surely feel like you are behind in your studied compared to people that has already "learnt" hundreds of kanji using Heisig's book. But trust me, over time: this will most likely be the quickest method of learning. Maybe not for the moment, but in time.

Personally I find it easier to focus on one thing at a time, i.e learn the kanji first - then the corresponding vocab. But learning everything at once may work better for some.

Pros: Everything adds up, giving you a stronger foundation on which your kanji/vocab knowledge will lie on. Arguably the fastest method over a long-term.

Cons: Takes much more time than other alternatives, you may end up learning some "unnecesary"/less-common vocabulary if you do not know what words to learn.

Resources: WaniKani, KanjiDamage


Consists of basically learning what every part of the kanji is/means. (Note: Not all radicals have meanings. Asking what one radical means can sometimes be like asking what one letter in a word means in english). There are supposedly 214 radicals at this moment. You could either learn all the radicals before you start learning the kanji, or you can learn them as you study the kanji. The first option could be rather boring in the long run, and it will get you nowhere in your kanji studies for quite a while (but may be faster than any other method long-term) - so I would advise everyone to do the latter one. Atleast then you will have a feeling that you are getting somewhere with your kanji studies. This method is of course not a real method on it's own, since you still need to choose whenever you want to learn only the meaning or the reading and so on... But it can be an extremely handy tool in recognizing the kanji, and breaking them down.

Pros: Makes sense, may possibly be the fastest way of learning the kanji.

Cons: Could get boring in the long run if you are only studying the radicals first. Not a method on it's own, and could take longer time than other methods.

Resources: KanjiDamage , KanjiAlive, WaniKani

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Very informative & useful post, thank you Lasonax!

I have to say that I tried all of those methods and still do, however I really mix up the methods at times :=)

I would like to add that another method could consist in first learning all the "radicals" of the Kanji. There are different lists available online, but the standard now is the list with 214 radicals. It used to be over five hundred back in the days but has then been 'simplified' several times.

So, you could first focus on learning all the radicals and then start learning Kanji. At this point, you would have to choose one of the methods Lasonax pointed out; however, if you already know all the radicals at this point, it might be easier for you to grasp the meaning of a certain Kanji.

Another mixed method could consist in studying the Kanji and learn the radical of that very Kanji at the same time. This might make more sense because studying Radicals in their isolated form can be very boring at times.

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