July 18, 2006

Supermemo - The Revolution in Learning

I apologize that I have not updated my blog in quite some time. I've become consumed in study and "reporting" here took somewhat of a back-seat. I don't "hang out" in this blog, but I do visit the "Japan Today" message boards somewhat frequently (At least more frequently compared to this blog). Please go there (The "Language" section within the gigantic forum) for questions about other stuff relating to Japanese.

Now, onto the reason for this post; for quite some time I've been experimenting with a program called "Supermemo." You may have heard of it, basically it is a flashcard program for your computer. What makes Supermemo different from any other flashcard program or system is that it schedules your future repetitions at the most optimal time (Based on studies on the rate of human forgetting based on the theory of the "forgetting curve"). Each time you review a flashcard, you grade yourself on how well you remembered the desired information (For example, how accurately and quickly you recalled a vocabulary word). The grade-scale ranges from five to zero (Five being "Bright", you 'recalled it almost perfectly' and so on to zero which is "Null," meaning 'a total blackout as far as knowledge about that term goes'). Based on how you score yourself, Supermemo schedules the future repetitions at the most optimal time, therefore meaning the most efficient use of one's time. If you want to learn more about Supermemo, go to "www.supermemo.com", their official web site. There is an abundance of information in regards to human forgetting and how Supermemo combats that problem, I don't want to waste time telling you something you can find much easier to understand elsewhere. But be prepared, the web site is PACKED full of information, so don't expect light reading. Give yourself an hour to read some of the various articles on their site.

Now, what does this program mean for you and me? Seeing as you're reading this blog, I think it's safe to assume you're learning Japanese. So this program could be used to learn Japanese vocabulary. Not only this, but idioms, kanji (See the below paragraph), and just about anything that one can convert into a flashcard can be remembered using Supermemo. I didn't want to "report on it" here without trying it out for myself to ensure the effectiveness. Here is my "report": I currently have 8,255 flashcards in my Supermemo database. Most of them are Japanese vocabulary, others are kanji, others are kanji-town review, and others are non-Japanese knowledge that I want to remember. I have remembered almost everything that I've put into the program. Any flashcards I have problems remembering is mainly because of my own mistakes (Flashcards poorly structured, wrong wording, etc.). By my standards, this program works, and if applied diligently, it can be one of the most invaluable tools you will use (At least I foresee it being that way).

Now how does this have merit in connection with "Kanji-Town"? Quite simply, you forget what you don't review. Kanji-Town is effective in remembering the ON yomi of kanji as well as reinforcing the meanings of kanji onto the student, but if you don't review Kanji-Town, you'll forget the details slowly. So using Supermemo, you break Kanji-Town into a bunch of small flashcards and review them. As simple as that, Kanji-Town can be memorized.

The only gripe I have with Supermemo is how complicated it is to run. It takes quite some time to get used to the poor GUI, and Supermemo is littered with annoying bugs. It is not very user-friendly, but once you learn to tame this beast of a program, you can do some amazing things.


February 24, 2006

Multiple ON yomi Kanji - What To Do?

As someone commented in a recent post, what about kanji with multiple ON yomi? "For example, the Kanji for "celebrate" has two readings: SHUKU and SHUU. How do you account for these? Do you put this Kanji into two different Kanji-Town locations, and if so, does it cause confusion later?"

Here is what you do: "Create" the memorable element(the kanji) in one location (Which corresponds to only ONE reading), and then you take that same element, and place it in another location, making sure you're aware that the element/kanji is in more than one spot. Then when you see the kanji in an unknown word, hopefully you'll remember that there are two ways of pronouncing the kanji, and hopefully you'll choose the right one. If you forget the reading, go back and recall what role the kanji played in a particular location, always doing your best to associate the particular atmosphere of the location with the kanji. You're not going to forget the reading for quite some time (Location is a strong memory aid), but make sure you somehow review that kanji and reading some time in the future and enforce the memory aid, otherwise you will forget the connection like you would anything else you don't review.

If you choose the wrong reading (Meaning you knew both of the readings, but chose the wrong one), all I've done is make sure I know the correct pronunciation of the word, then review it several days later. If I recall the reading of the word several days later, it's a nice 成功 (せいこう) :)

Let's take the example of "祝." This corresponds to しゅく and しゅ. I know that in しゅ (The location which corresponds roughly to a war-zone), that teenagers gather around a certain location and celebrate the fun they are having in the battlezone. I see that image in my mind, and then I recall that in しゅく (The location which corresponds to an elaborate amusement park ride) is where a group of teenagers go to celebrate their being on vacation (Assuming that's why they are at such an amusement park). The manner in which the teenagers celebrate in the amusement park has to look very similar to those in the war zone. I'll compare the two images and "look" closely at what the kids are doing. The kids in the war zone are shooting their guns in the air because they're so happy, similar to how the kids in the amusement park throw their hats and such in the air. If I "created" the amusement park location first, I would make sure that what happened in the warzone mirrored what happened in the amusement park. Once this is done, all you need to do is remember this connection a few more times and you're one step closer to Japanese literacy!

If you have further questions, comments, etc. feel free to ask in the comments section :)

January 21, 2006

This is basically a copy of a post I made on JapanToday regarding a method for learning vocabulary. A friend of mine came over to my house and we discussed Japanese learning stuff, and he revealed to me how he learns vocabulary at a nice speed.

Until now I've tried to use the elaborate "KanjiTown" in an effort to remember vocabulary (Jukugo compounds, to be exact). I have created separate locations that each house many kanji. This has helped me immensely in remembering kanji meanings and readings (Each location signals the kanji's reading), and until now, I've tried to use it somehow to remember new words (Again, compounds. Whenever I refer to remembering "words," assume I'm referring to compounds of kanji). To remember those words I would try to take the kanji that make up the word, remember the meanings of the kanji, and somehow try to create an elaborate string of the kanji meanings until I finally arrived at the definition of the word I was trying to remember.
Let's take an example: 絶命 (ぜつめい). This means "end of life, death." Whether or not this word is of any value remembering isn't the point, this is simply an example.
Now, until now, I would (try to) remember this vocabulary word by remembering the meanings of the kanji that make up this compound. I remembered these two kanji as "discontinued" and "fate." Now I would try to connect these two concepts to bring forth the idea of "end of life," so maybe the thought of someone on their deathbed as they take their final breath. I would try to create a story or definition that would logically connect the concepts "discontinued" and "fate" so that I arrived at "end of life." Maybe this would be someone that receives a letter that lets them know that the "fate" of their life has been "discontinued." Those two ideas connect logically, so it should make the vocabulary word easy to remember, right? It sounds so, but when I would try to remember the vocabulary word, I would have to first find the kanji "fate" and then "discontinue," conclude that it means "end of life," and make sure they are in the right order (It is "discontinued fate," not "fate discontinued", or else you have a word with phonetic components in the wrong order. That's a no-no.). That is quite a few steps to remember a single vocabulary word, and it seems like I'm taking too many steps to remember a simple word. But I feel that because I've gone through the trouble of designing this elaborate town, I need to do my best to use it to the full, so none of my effort is wasted. But it turns out that I was trying to be so efficient with what I've done it was making me INefficent. But because this is the only way I can think of remembering new vocabulary, it was a sort of しかたない sort of situation. That is, until about 25 minutes ago. I was talking with a friend of mine that studies Japanese (If you're reading this: HORRAY!), and he told me that he was having problems with other aspects of Japanese, not vocabulary. 'Really...' I thought to myself. 'I've been studying for quite some time, I've created this whole "KanjiTown" thing, but I still can't pin down how to remember vocabulary words in a systematic way.' So I asked him "How do you remember new vocabulary words?" He explained it to me, but it didn't quite sink in (I'm on medication because my tonsils have recently been taken out, and it turns out that the medication is very strong, which has left me feeling pretty dizzy and hard to retain information and concentrate. So the fact that I didn't get what he was saying is nothing new; OK, back to what I was saying earlier). So when he explained it to me I didn't quite get it, so I said "OK, let's take a random example out of a nearby dictionary." Turning to a random page, I picked out the word "だいりゅうりょう," a word that I haven't been able to find in other online dictionaries. Maybe it's an old word, I don't know. Anyway, I said "Walk me through your remembering of this word." I started to explain the kanji that were used to make up the word. But he didn't seem to care what the real meaning of the kanji were, he said that he always thought of "だい" as big (大), that りゅう was the current of a body of water (流), and りょう was... and I cut him off at this point, the moment everything "clicked" in my head.

Instead of focusing on the individual meaning of kanji as they appear in a word, he has a preset list (Although not written down) of meanings that he assigned to phonetic components (As evidenced by the 大流). Then those three basic elements would interact and connect to the word as we know it in English. So let's go back to our example of 絶命. Let's say that I assigned stuff to each phonetic component: Let's say 絶 is Pikachu from the popular Pokemon franchise. And let's say that 命 is Neo from the Matrix. And also let's assume that as soon as I think of Pikachu, the phonetic sound ぜつ is second nature to me. This will be done "naturally" through simple flashcards if the connection between Pikachu and ぜつ isn't good. So let's assume that it is, and ぜつ and Pikachu are linked. Let's also assume that めい and Neo of the Matrix are also linked in a similar way, and as soon as I think of one, I immediately think of the other.
Let's imagine Pikachu delivering an annoying battle cry as he is about to deliver the fatal punch to the mean and evil Neo. This signals the "end of life" for Neo. This idea, which might seem elaborate, is more less a simplification of what I've been doing the whole time; trying to logically connect images to lead to a meaning. And rather than learning each individual kanji's meaning to remember vocabulary, you assign a meaning to each phonetic component (Which has basically already been done via KanjiTown in my case). And rather than using kanji, you use those basic components to interact with one another (in your head, of course), and the results of their action lead to the definition of the word you are trying to remember. This sounds reasonable because (1) Complex thoughts are hard to quickly "grab" when you're searching for a word to say. If it's simpler, it will be quicker and easier to use. (2) Although making use of mnemonic techniques, it does not (appear) to overuse them to a fault (Which appears to be what I've been doing for quite some time in an effort to remember vocabulary). Although I have yet to truly test how effective this is at remembering vocabulary, I have no trouble recalling the definition of the mysterious word that I can't the definition of. This seems to be a sound idea, and I'll let you know of the results. Perhaps this is another step for the imaginary world of KanjiTown, and it can be put to use by others to make learning vocabulary (another) fun and enjoyable process.

Another post in response to a comment about it:

I'll clarify: this isn't to get help me read better. Reading isn't very much of a problem at all. The problem I have is quickly figuring out what a word is without any materials present. Mnemonics are supposed to be "memory AIDS." Such is the case with KanjiTown. I am noticing that I am starting to forget parts of it, but I still remember the pronunciation of the characters. This is because it is serving its purpose as a memory aid, and it is beginning to fade while still leaving the benefits of itself behind. The reading for 絶命 comes naturally, but if my mind were to go blank, I have a backup in place in the form of KanjiTown to act as a safety net. I will use it as a crutch until the reading comes naturally and I no longer need the safety net, something that fades from my memory naturally.
What you're saying sounds similar to what others told me about studying compounds and learning kanji "in context" rather than a systematic study of each individual character. The problem with this is that until you look up that word/kanji you don't know, you won't know what it really means to begin with. Context defines nuances, but a word must be learned first and related to something I can understand, be that an English word, a picture of some sort, etc. I have a Japanese dictionary used by Elementary/Middle school students, and I plan on using it to get definitions so I get in the habit of relating Japanese to Japanese definitions, so I get more in the mindset of "thinking Japanese." But in order for this to begin working, I must have a "hook" to link the word and definition together; the actual memory hook will fade quickly, but it will leave the connection between the word and definition there. Be that hook a bizarre picture, if it works, I'll use it.

Yesterday before going to bed (And after taking more painkillers), I grabbed my English-Japanese Dictionary and looked up a couple of random words. Those were 庁舎、学舎, and they mean "government building" and "school building." I don't know if they're used today, but I woke up this morning, and the connection between the English word and these words were still fresh in my mind. I didn't have time to look up the words in the Kokugo Jiten, but this brief "demo" leads me to believe it is/will be as effective as it sounds (to me).

Please don't think I'm trying to argue, I'm sorry if it sounds like I am (I'm still a little ぼんやり, I took medicine shortly after I woke up this morning). But I think this might be my "silver bullet" for remembering scores of vocabulary words.


Also, I've learned that a system like this takes a bit of time to establish, because you don't start out with an alphabet of images in your head that corrispond to the hiragana. But as you enforce the images they will come to you quicker. But you only use them as a crutch until you remember the word. Then once that word is solidified enough, you can use it to make other words.

For example: 欺く 【あざむく】 (v5k) to deceive
To link "あざむ" together might be a stretch, so you look up あざ, which means 痣, basically a birthmark. So you leave 欺く alone for now, and learn あざ. Then once あざ is fixed in your mind as a birthmark, then you learn (あざ)むく, and you have less to worry about.
This is outlined at the end of Remembering the Kanji II, I don't know why I didn't try it before...

That's basically what happened. It seems that this method will pick up speed as I use it more, so as that happens (I hope), I'll post it on this blog.

December 08, 2005

Cactus Land - KAKU

This is Cactus Land, which is basically 'the dessert.' But we in KanjiTown refer to it as Cactus Land, so get used to it. Inside of Cactus Land is where the Oasis (Another location) is at.

The MENACING looking CRANE that has traveled from the oasis (It has two apples in it's mouth) lands near to you. It says, "If you can MEMORIZE the following phrase, I will give you something in return." You say, "sure." So he proceeds to say some weird phrase. You repeat the phrase back to him, and he says "Very well. You have memorized my phrase (Like you should when you see things in school). I will now make you GUESTS in my master's TOWER (A pyramid). I ASSURE you that it is better than a tourist-trap-esque rock on top of a turkey cage.

He escorts you to a pyramid with a small hole in it, but when he says mystic words the hole BROADENS when you touch it with your fingers, and you are able to enter.

The pyramid currently has sandmen bringing in the HARVEST of wheat, which is stored in a giant safe. Inside of the safe is a treasure that you feel you must get your hands on. You take one of the husks of wheat that fell from the sandmen's bringing them back and forth. Suddenly the cactus master (Which resembles the cactus enemies seen in the popular Final Fantasy RPGs) sees you, and says "You! Fight me in this ENCLOSED arena (I will receive you into these small city walls), for you must have been very powerful to get inside in the first place." He wears a LEATHER holster that holds his missile launchers. With a HUSK you fight the missile-firing-crowned-samurai-cactus, and defeat him.

The door to the safe opens, and on the top of the safe (inside of it) there sits the BRUSH STROKE kanji. Fighting off sandmen bringing the harvest into the safe, you reach the safe. You climb to the top of the interior of the safe and reach the brush stroke kanji. *STATUS up!* (Each skill tree went up)

The master cactus sees this, and says "SEIZE him! Now!" Sand-dogs now race from the safe after you, but with your new "brush stroke" power, you are able to bring down the sand enemies down just by saying "KAKU!"

The master now uses his most powerful attack: "Cactus monster summon!" I must now ISOLATE the NUCLEUS of all that is in the cactus (Really a tree and acorn). In CONTRAST to the previous monsters, this summoned sand beast is really two-in-one. It's figure sort of mingles with its counterpart. When the two combine, their "skin" becomes more solid.

You use the kaku brush stroke to bring down the beast's left arm, but it grows back shortly thereafter. You decide that you have to run away. You leave the pyramid by broadening the entrance again. While outside you decide to make the tower collapse upon the monster, and this should destroy it. You choose a brick that appears to be at just the right ANGLE, and it causes the entire structure to collapse. Using this kaku-jutsu, you destroy all traces of the pyramid, leaving nothing but a dessert. /end of story

How does Kanji-Town work? How do I create my own Kanji-Town

OK, now that I've found what I think is the answer to my problem, it's time to figure out how to use it. Because no book or group of people had written anything on this method for learning kanji, I was left on my own to figure out how to work this newly discovered system. Shortly after I found this way of remembering kanji my wisdom teeth were taken out (Which might be considered a blessing), which resulted in a week of do-nothing-but-stay-home. I don't watch many TV shows or movies anymore, nor do I play video games very much (Thanks to KanjiTown, we'll get to that later), so during that week I spent many hours exploring for the first time a complete town of Kanji. I ended up with an 80+ page document on my computer which described in detail every event and encompassed almost every kanji taught in the first book of Heisig's series of "Remembering the Kanji." It was a resounding success, and I can recognize many Kanji thanks to this week of exploring. All that is left for me to do is keep exploring this imaginary inter-connected world until I can recognize every kanji I see.

As an artist (I like to draw, although other things take most of my time away from this hobby), very little compares to the satisfying feeling one gets after creating a picture or some piece of art that truly expresses your emotions and draws you into a world that goes beyond the medium you created it on. "This is beyond writing on a piece of paper, this is a window into a world within my mind that I have created." So with KanjiTown, I wanted to do the same and design locations to my satisfaction that screamed "ME!" from the heights above. I did, but I have found that:

KanjiTown + Personalization = Lots of Time

As much as I love creating things, I realize that to create and reinforce my own worlds and locations would take time if they were to became as second nature to me as the locations in Springfield and such. Because I enjoy doing this as an aritst, I don't mind the extra investment of time. I no longer watch much TV anymore because I enjoy these fictional worlds better than those created by others to entertain me (At least for now). But I want to figure out how this can benefit the other learners of kanji, how this can be made easier for them.
Then I thought back to The Simpsons, and the fact that that show has created a world that has a distinct feel to it. Not necessarily the Simpsons, but I had used other various characters and settings from books I had read, movies I had seen and games that I had played when I created the first document of KanjiTown (The 80 page one). Then, another truth suddenly dawned upon me: Every book, movie, television show, cartoon, video game, etc. has been put on this earth to create distinct locations to use in KanjiTown. Maybe this isn't really the case, but these people have already gone through the work and time to create a world distinct from other worlds (Mainly to compete for my viewership, readership, player-ship(?), whatever), so now it one's job to use their hard work in conjunction with KanjiTown to remember what goes on (Provided the person doing so does not feel bad about missing out on "personalizing" thing; I don't think it can be called "selling out" in this case, but I'll leave that up to the learner).

Now that the conclusion has been drawn that every piece of entertainment is made to help make KanjiTown go quicker, I need to make a list of every different thing that conjures up a different image in my mind. Every book I've read, TV show and movie I've watched, every video game I've played (And even those I haven't; remember we're trying to figure out different environments that you've already got in your head) that carries a distinct atmosphere and "feeling" with it. Once I had a nice sizable list of about 300 or so things, I organized those things by medium (movie, book, video game, tv show, etc.). I'll post a sample list in the next couple days, so you get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Then you get a list of as many different ON yomi that exist (There was an index of such in the back of Heisig's Remembering the Kanji II, and this was of much help. I'll create a document of this in the next few days and post it here). Now you take your list of TV shows/movies/etc. and you write those various things next to ONyomi that you wish that they corrispond to. Remember, you need some sort of way to connect the two.

For example: If you wanted to assign something to the reading "KAKU," you need to have some connection between the setting and the ON yomi. I wanted "kaku" to be a dessert, because "KAKU" sounds like "cactus," and there are cactui in the dessert. So all kanji pronounced "KAKU" are to be placed in the dessert. (HERE IS LINK TO DESSERT STORY)

This is what I did, but I didn't use any movies or games to create a "preset" atmosphere. If I had wanted to, I could have taken one of the settings from the Indiana Jones movies (I haven't seen them in forever, though), and create "Indiana Jones - The Adventures in the Kanji Cactus Desert," or something to that effect. Within this setting, the kanji would play a role in Indiana Jones' adventures. I never had problems remembering the "connecting word," because the world is so detailed in my head that I can't easily forget about it.

Now the question comes up: Should this all be written down, or should it simply stay in your head? Maybe it's becasue I consider myself an "artist" I have to have some sort of hard copy of whatever it is I'm doing. Also, when I add new characters to Kanji-Town, I want to be able to "place" them so they fit into the situation properly, and at least for me, this is simpler when I have a document to record what happens.

(Continued later)

Let's say you do this for every kanji that has an ON yomi.

December 05, 2005

What is Kanji-Town? How did it come about? Why should you care?

I, like many students of Japanese have had to face the task of learning the many different characters. Hiragana and Katakana started, and clearly ended when I finished them all; but not is so with the kanji. There are at least 2,000 that one has to know to be considered "literate" in Japan, and these characters, unlike Hiragana and Katakana represent a concept rather than a phonetic word (Which is something that I, as an American male living in the suburban USA, native only to English and sometimes see little bit of Spanish, am not used to seeing). Like scouting out my pray, I studied how they work, and afterwards I felt very overwhelmed at what lie before me. A mountain of characters that have little visible patterns that allow for remembering.

From this point I tried to "make it on my own" and work my way through this sea of characters. Of course, all to no avail. I went through the "Japanese for Busy People" volume 2 and started by learning all of the kanji in Lesson 1. I took each character and wrote it on a piece of paper over and over, reciting the meaning in English and the pronunciation. Over and over and over and over. One I remember seeing was "sky." I wrote it over and over, saying "sky," "sora," "sky," "sora" until I wrote the same character perhaps 60 or 70 times (I frequently suffered sore fingers). And I did the same thing with the next characters, until all 10 or so kanji from lesson one were completed. But when I saw those characters again, in a different location than the textbook, I would say to myself "I know what that character is! What was it...?!" I would rack my brain for the answer, but I would end up so unsure of what I thought was right that I would abandon the idea altogether and give up. So I never mastered the characters I tried to master using this wrote system of memorization, and I never yielded good results after spending hours drilling characters. But, here's the crazy part: When I didn't get it right, I didn't question the way I was memorizing the characters, I questioned my abilities, or in this case, my apparent lack of them. "Why are you so stupid for not remembering this set of lines! Go back to your room and write them again, and no dinner until you get it right!" I would say to myself. So I repeated the same process, over and over, never achieving any sort of good result, and ending up a discouraged person that feels that he has wasted his time (That has to be one of the worst feelings in the world, to feel that the time you've spent existing has brought no benefit to yourself or anything else).

effort + no success = not a happy person.

Enter the "putting kanji off" phase. I didn't need kanji, because I'm a cool Westerner that likes art; I can talk about kanji, but I'm too good for it. Then you realize that "wait, kanji won't go away. I better do something about it." Then you start to think, "Well, I've already tried writing it over and over, and that didn't help at all. There has to be another way to remember these horrible little lines." Then goes the search on the internet for various learning techniques for remembering kanji. Finally I stumbled upon the book "Remembering the Kanji," which outlined a way to remember kanji that has given me more confidence in my abilities than I can type in front of this computer.

The book "Remembering the Kanji" started a very unconventional way to remember those lovable little shapes we call "Kanji." Rather than remembering each of them as they appear in grade level, or as your textbook demanded them, Heisig outlined a system that would start by tacking an English keyword onto each character. No pronunciations. "What the heck, I want to learn to pronounce kanji! This book doesn't help me, so now I'm an angry monkey!" many people thought (And this is the subject of almost every other review on Amazon.com for this book). Heisig believed in the principle "Divide and conquer" when confronting the kanji. Rather than trying to master each aspect of the kanji (Readings and meaning), they were to be dealt with separately. Before you can learn to read a gigantic set of characters that have no rhyme or reason why they are read the way they're read (Which we'll get to later), you have to become familiar with them. This is what the first book did. Assigning various meanings to the parts that make up the kanji (They are called "primitives", which are not necessarily restricted to the set of "radicals"), and you are to take those various components of the kanji and string them together to come to an English meaning.

The kanji studied are no longer a jumble of lines with no meaning, it is now an image in your head. Take this, and multiply it by 2,000 and you have the first "Remembering the Kanji" book in a nutshell. I am convinced that this is the best way for someone that isn't native to the Japanese system of writing, to learn it. But then again, I'm only an 18-year old kid; take my opinions with a grain of salt.

Let's say you finish book one. You've now got 2,000+ characters memorized with an English word, with a nice 90%+ rate of remembering stuff, which is, by all means, awesome. Now that you can decode a Japanese sentence into some weird morse-code like message, you now need to learn how to use all of that knowledge. Enter "Remembering the Kanji" book 2.

Book 2 taught a systematic way to remember the readings of each character. The bulk of the book is spent on the ON yomi rather than the KUN yomi. To teach the ON yomi, Heisig discovered a system of "signal primitives," meaning that when one sees a certain group of primitive shapes (Which one is already familiar with through book one), it is pronounced a certain way. If this principle worked for every character, there would be no need for this web page, but here is where I encountered trouble: The system for signal primitives worked for around 800 characters. That is very nice, but after those 800 characters are done, one is left to their own pure memory power to remember the others. As much as I love the systems implemented thus far to learn kanji, I totally understand that at some point you can't find mnemonics for everything. But I didn't think that this was one of those cases.
I then set out on a journey to figure out a way to systematically remember ON yomi through some manner, which I assumed would be a mnemonic manner. Because Heisig's method of learning kanji was not very popular, I sought help through the internet, mainly through message boards (Forums), and I asked around "How do you learn ONyomi after you've studied using Heisig's method?" and I got mixed responses, but the breakthrough I found was when someone linked me to the following page (http://www.susi.ru/kanji/ChMethod.html) that brought forth the idea of "phonetic grouping" for the kanji. I would group the kanji together that were pronounced in one way, and then create a story that linked them all together. The example story given on the web page didn't work very well for me, but when a member of the forum posted that he/she could 'remember every kanji sitting on a hanger in a closet', or something to that effect, I thought "Hey, this might be what I'm looking for."

Over the next several days, I thought about the whole "location" thing. I happen to be a fan of the show "The Simpsons," a popular cartoon on Fox. Although I don't care for the newer episodes, I have watched my share of this show. And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that Matt Groening and his team of animators have created in my head a town that doesn't exist. When I hear "Moe's Tavern" an image immediately jumps into my mind. Not just the location, the objects around the bar, the people in the bar, and so on. Then I think "Simpsons family room," and another image pops into my mind. Then "Bart's bedroom," "Lisa's bedroom," "Marge and Homer's bedroom," "the backyard," "church where they all attend,": and so on. These locations which are nothing but pictures and drawings are a reality to me. Not only this, but then one thinks of movies, books, video games, etc., and your mind is filled with locations and things that are fake and were created by people.

So the precedent had been set. Others had created a world with a distinct feel to it without it actually existing, and now I must try to do the same for Kanji. I must create a set of locations that each carry a distinct feel to it, so when I see any character, I find its location within this set of locations, which came to be called "KanjiTown."

So I tested this by creating an Ice Rink with the ON yomi "rin." I then "placed" each of the characters in that location, and all of it had to do with an ice rink. I associated it with the various roller skating parties that I had been to in the past, and I had that general "atmosphere" in mind when I was working this out. When I was finished making this ice rink, I sat back and reviewed all of the characters I had learned, and they all had meaning to me, for they were all located within the "Ice Rink," and were therefore all pronounced "RIN." When thumbing through various reading materials, I encountered this character, I immediately thought back to the ice rink, and what role that character played in my exploration of this location. It worked, and there seemed to be no problems in my figuring out what the kanji meant, as well as where it was located (Which instantly signaled how it was pronounced). After all of my searching, I had found the silver bullet I was looking for.

(Continued in post "How does Kanji-Town work? How do I create my own Kanji-Town?" Will be posted in the next day or so...)

The JLPT is over.

I wish I could have taken the JLPT (日本語能力試験) 2級 this year, but my vocabulary and grammer points aren't up to par with what is demanded. I'm trying to solve this by learning about 15 vocabulary words a day (Along with 10 or so katakana words; generally they are much easeier). If you've taken the JLPT, I hope you did your best and I wish the best. Endure the long wait (I did, and I had convinced myself that I had failed; but ALAS! I passed!). Even if you fail, you've figured out what you need to work on, nothing more.

December 04, 2005

My review of "Remembering the Kanji III" by James W. Heisig

This is my review of the final book in James Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" series (Also posted on Amazon.com). This book is the beginning of "the world beyond" 2,000 kanji, and starts you on the road to learning new kanji for the rest of your life.

"First, I'd like to note a couple of things:
(1) This book is no longer available in printed form on Amazon.com at this time. There are no doubt other places where you can buy this book in printed form, and there is always the option of a pdf/e-book version of this book available from the Nanzen institute website. This is merely a review of the product itself, not of Amazon's price or availability (or lack thereof).

(2) This book is intended for those that have finished both Remembering the Kanji volumes I and II. Chances are that most people reading this review have not done this; they are merely curious about what the advanced stages of this learning method are. If you've studied the first two books to their completion, this final book will be purchased regardless of what I say about it. The devotion one has at this point is stronger than anything I could possibly say to convince one otherwise.

What is this book? It is the third volume that expands on James Heisig's kanji-learning system (Which I would call "revolutionary," but I don't want this to sound too gimmicky). The first book tacked an English keyword onto all of the 2,000 kanji. The second book showed ways to remember readings of the kanji. By the time you finished both of these books (properly), you should know more than 2,000 characters, the basic number needed for a literate person in Japan. (I am at the level that I can read most what I would see in a newspaper, although I can recognize most all of the characters.) Once you are at this level, you now have free roam of many Japanese reading materials; the only obsticle you will encounter are kanji that aren't part of the joyou kanji and aren't part of the 2,000+ kanji you learned in the previous books in this series; and this is where book three comes in, as it expands your kanji knowledge by 1,000 new characters. And since only 1,000 new characters are treated in this third book (Compared to the 2,000 treated in the previous books), this allows enough space to cover all of the new kanji in the same manner as books one and two, except it is done in one volume. The first half of the book treats each kanji with a keyword; the second half covers the readings of the kanji.

The benefits are pretty straightforward, but if you've finished books one and two the benefits and feelings of self-accomplishment are deeper than simply a number. It's hard to describe, so let me use an example: Take the kanji for ant (It is pronounced "ari"); this is a kanji covered in this book. The only time you will see the kanji for "ant" is when you are referring to an ant and ONLY an ant (nothing more), but to actually know the kanji that corresponds to "ant" will give you an odd sense of accomplishment, one that you are no doubt be familiar with if you've attainted the degree of literacy given to you if you finish the first two books.

My point? You should be familiar with the sense of accomplishment you get when you study this writing system, and these benefits will continue through the pages of this book, as "gems" of kanji knowledge are given to you one after another. And when you complete this book (Which I have yet to do), your kanji knowledge does not stop. There are many more kanji that exist and are waiting to be learned by you, and this book sets you up to continue studying and to keep learning new kanji. Studying kanji is no longer a dread for me, I enjoy it; I enjoy learning new characters and expanding my knowledge; it has become a hobby that I don't want to stop.
So rather than thinking about this book as the "last book you'll ever need to read" about kanji, it can be one that starts you on an endless path of learning new characters to your hearts content.

For those that have traveled this particular path to study kanji, and have reached the level requiring another book to guide you deeper into the fabulous, frustrating, strange and beautiful world of kanji, be ready for rewards; not unusual rewards in your case (You're already familiar with what they are), but rewards that allow you to continue your endless and wonderful journey through this sea of these unique characters. If you choose to continue, hopefully you and I will meet someday in "kanji heaven," if such a place exists.
Until then."

Any questions about this book or review? Feel free to ask me about it.

My review of "Remembering the Kanji II" by James W. Heisig

Here is my review (Again, I first made it for Amazon.com) for the next book in Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" series. In this book, you learn methods for remembering the ON yomi and KUN yomi for the kanji treated in book I, although the bulk of the book is devoted to ON yomi.

"If you're reading this review, you either (a) have not tried Heisig's method at all, and are curious about the results of the later volume(s), or (b) you're in the middle of studying the first volume, and are curious as to the benefits of the second volume (For the first volume lacks the immediate benefits of modern application). If you've already completed the first volume, you will unquestionably move on to the second volume simply because it's a natural progression of studies. Whoever finishes the first book will be move onto this book regardless of what this review says. But the likelihood of one actually finishing the first book (Not to sound pessimistic) is not very high in the first place. In fact, everybody that I've talked to (In real life, NOT through the internet or through e-mail) that started the first volume of Remembering the Kanji have not completed it. They may have gotten halfway, but it became too hard, and they fizzled out. This seems to be a common thing. So provided you can get through the very tough first volume, this is where the benefits start become pronounced. But without the first book, this book has very little meaning; so you can't skip the first book. Period.

I'd also like you to note that (At the time of writing this review) there are a total of three other reviews here. Compare this to the 30+ reviews of the first book. Why? It is because most that have purchased the first volume of RtK did not complete it. In fact, I feel that many that reviewed the first volume of RtK on this website have not truly tried to use the method, they merely comment about the underlying concept and immediate benefits (or lack thereof). I've already reviewed the first volume of RtK on this web site, so I don't need to explain how I feel about it.

This is "Volume 2" in the series; it therefore assumes that you have mastered volume 1 to a reasonable degree. Volume 1 made you connect an English keyword to some 2,000 kanji; although you could not read a single kanji, they were more fermiliar to you (And completing this course in it's entirety was a very, VERY hard task). You become somewhat similar to a Chinese person that is fermiliar with the meaning of kanji characters in their native language, and all they have to learn is a different way to pronounce them. So volume 1 sort of "levels the playing field" between you and the kanji. But it is only in volume 2 that you truly begin to "play" with the skills you've learned, and hit kanji completely out of the ballpark.

This second volume is a "Guide" rather than the first book, which was a "Course." This is because it mustn't be followed to the "t," unlike the first volume. Here, kanji are broken down into groups, many of which have a similar set of strokes that signal a certain reading (They are called "signal primates"). Although not every kanji is like this, there are quite a few, therefore making it possible to systematically learn quite a few readings. When the system of "signal primitives" cannot apply, common word compounds are used to help remember characters.

The biggest bulk of the book is devoted to learning about the ON reading (or Chinese reading of the kanji). Each frame consists of one kanji, one reading, and one compound to reinforce that one reading. Because many kanji have more than one ON reading, sometimes the same kanji will be seen on multiple frames. The KUN (Or Japanese reading) is not consistent with any rules, so there isn't much of a way to systemize the learning of it. At the end of the book Heisig presents a concept of tagging each phonetic element with an image, similar to what was done with volume 1. Combine the phonetic elements, combine the images, and come up with a memorable story or image to connect the two. Eventually you will forget the story or image you used to connect the two, and you'll just remember that such-and-such word has such-and-such meaning. I have yet to try this, but it seems to fall into place with his other kanji-learning methods.

This book builds upon the flashcards you were supposed to have made when you studied and reviewed the kanji from the first volume. There is a flashcard program called "King Kanji" (Google it) for your computer or PDA. When you download the program, flashcard files of every single Heisig kanji are included. Using their "lesson creator" feature, I am creating flashcards of the compounds introduced in this second volume. I prefer this way of creating flashcards rather than by hand. They're much easier to keep track of. (A program called "Stackz" is also good for creating and reviewing vocabulary introduced here).

What am I getting out of this book? I'm reading compounds I've never seen before, I'm seeing kanji in my head when I hear or speak a word, I'm remembering vocabulary at a very quick rate. This book (As well as the first volume) have played a vital role in my understanding of not only kanji, but the Japanese language as a whole. I no longer have to gaze and wonder about this elaborate system of writing; the ability to truly understand it is now within my grasp. Just the self-confidence and sense of accomplishment this has brought me is enough to merit me buying this book. Although I'm still working my way though this book, I've gained a degree of knowledge and ability that I would have never dreamt of. Assuming I continue to make progress like I am now, literacy is no longer a passing thought, it will be an achievement.

Learning kanji can be one of the single most difficult tasks for the Western learner of Japanese. With this book (Along with the first volume), this doesn't have to be the case. If you wish to be literate in Japanese, all you need is right here. No, this is not some magical tool that will make you literate in a week; your progress will depend entirely on how much work you put into it (See my review for book 1).

Quite simply, Heisig found the door to Japanese literacy. All you have to do is be determined enough to open it."

Questions or comments regarding why I said what I said? Feel free to ask

My review of "Remembering the Kanji" by James W. Heisig

I reviewed the three books in James Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" series on amazon.com (Maybe you've read the reviews before). Here is the first of those three, focusing on the first book (Keep in mind, you are not meant to learn the readings in this book)

"I'm 18 years old, and I've graduated slightly earlier due to homeschooling. This evening I finished this book, the first in a series of three books designed to make me literate in the 2,000+ symbols used everyday in Japanese society. After seeing the results of the first book, I truly feel that I am on my way to Japanese literacy.

If you've read one of the many reviews, you probably understand that this book doesn't teach you a single pronunciation of a Japanese character, but rather you tag an English keyword on to all of the Japanese symbols treated in this book, leaving the pronunciation for later.

Why do this? If you aren't noticing quick results in your Japanese abilities, what's the point in learning it? It's true that every single word I've learned will be of no immediate benefit to me if I try to pick up a Japanese newspaper, article, etc. and try to read it. Many have the misconception that in order to "master" the Japanese written language, one must study and "master" the characters individually, and over a period of time, accumulate lots of characters in one's lexicon, therefore allowing the student to read lots of stuff (Makes sense, right?). But our minds don't think like that. (Assuming everybody reading this review is a native to a Roman character based alphabet, or something pretty close to this) We are not used to recognizing little squiggly lines, let alone understanding a concept and multiple pronunciations simply by looking at them. Yet each and every Japanese textbook you'll find on the market supports the idea of mastering each character individually, a method that might seem to be the ONLY method to bring immediate benefits, but requires lots of work and constant drilling of a character. This method is deemed (By the author) to be ineffective and a waste of time.

So what does this book do for our situation? Rather than assuming that we can make the connection between a jumble of lines and the meaning of a character (Which every text book somehow assumes we can do), the kanji are broken down into smaller fragments, and each are tagged with a word that represents an idea, concept, thing, etc., that we are familiar with, such as a hill, the sun, or a baseball bat. Adding these various building blocks together, you form new concepts, and in turn, new characters. True, most these "building blocks" probably don't have a relationship whatsoever with any sort of root meaning, but this isn't the point. The point is to take something you aren't familiar with (Lots of lines), and to make them familiar to you (An image, a picture in your mind). Using these familiar images, you guide yourself from the tagged English word to the Kanji (Or the other way around). No, you will not be able to pronounce any of them when you're finished with this book. But you will be able to identify and tell the difference between even the smallest of nuances. You will look at kanji in a completely different way.

I can't speak for others, but progressing through this course to it's completion was perhaps one of the toughest tests of self-discipline and concentration that I've done in my life. You don't simply "hop along for the ride" to understanding kanji. You will tread through this sea of characters until you've used up every bit of strength your imagination can muster. The only people I've talked to in real life (Not via e-mail) that have attempted this course have either not yet completed it, or have given up with it altogether. This isn't a "learn Japanese kanji in 4 minutes a day" sort-of course. This is a massive undertaking, and must be treated as such, lest the student fizzle out, like so many seem to have done. This is not a book for someone that wants to "get their feet wet" in the sea of kanji. Rather, it is for the serious student, one that is willing to make a commitment (And a big one, at that) towards literacy in Japanese. If this isn't your goal, then I suggest you find another book.

Before you stands a course that requires great stamina, determination and willpower to accomplish. The benefits might not sound like much, but by the time you've finished this course, you'll be on a new plateau of kanji understanding, one that can lead you to literacy. If you "Google" the words "James Heisig Kanji," you'll be able to find a "demo" of the first couple hundred kanji covered in the book. Give it a try. And depending on how much you're willing to work at it, you've either found for yourself a precious gem or another useless rock."

Comments? Questions? Feel free to ask :)