December 04, 2005

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

Here is my review (Again, I first made it for 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


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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3:11 AM  
Blogger rowan said...

Hello. Thanks very much for your post. I was wondering what the second book was all about, having finished the first one cover to cover (now you make me feel special). I now have the confidence to order it off the net sight unseen (local libraries don't have it). I'll let you know how it goes.

10:45 PM  

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