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Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007
Self-study sites welcome you to the world of kanji
When I first suggested in this column using Internet resources for learning kanji in 2001, a Yahoo search yielded 12,700 hits for "kanji learning." That number has now reached a staggering 1.4 million. New, sophisticated online kanji self-study resources are increasingly enabling foreign kanji learners to take charge of their own learning at home.
Belgian Web designer Fabrice Denis has created the Web site Reviewing the Kanji, an online community for devotees of James Heisig's controversial best-selling kanji learning textbook "Remembering the Kanji." Why controversial? Well, Heisig advocates a divide-and-conquer approach, and he recommends learning the shapes and meanings of all 1,942 joyo (general usage) kanji before tackling their myriad pronunciations. (To learn more, view the first 125 pages of his textbook gratis online. "Reviewing the Kanji" offers a virtual flashcard program.)
The program remembers your errors and creates personalized reviews of the flashcards based on how many times you have got them wrong. You can also cut and paste any Japanese text onto the site and all the kanji you've added flashcards for will appear in a different color.
Users can also record their mnemonic-based stories using Heisig's keywords, electing to make each one public or private; see stories others have shared; vote on which offerings are the most helpful; and participate in the site's active forum. Recent themes include Japanese reactions to the Heisig Method and encouragement of middle-age learners embarking on serious study of kanji.
Heisig fans will also want to check out Kanji Gym, designed by German Vittorio Verlag and Heisig himself. Their free software application for reviewing characters lets you review any lesson from "Remembering the Kanji" and repeat the characters that gave you trouble. It can be used on both PCs and Macs and on hand-held devices running Palm OS. You can draw a character on a scratchpad and compare it to the correct answer, save any notes that you have typed in to help you remember individual kanji and view animated stroke orders. Kanji Gym operates in English, Spanish, German and French.
Kanji learners not using the Heisig system will find help at Purdue University's Kanji Wiki, where they can share hints and stories for remembering kanji. Kanji Wiki can also accept graphic files of visual mnemonics.
If studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which is held in December, is starting to give you the yawns, visit Charles Kelley's Online Japanese Language Study Materials site. Kelly's flash quizzes, including one on kanji compounds frequently used in newspapers (and in JLPT questions), are a blast.
Kanji lover Eve Kushner provides an informative and entertaining take on the intriguing logic of kanji compounds in her weekly blog, Kanji Curiosity.
For some kanji comic relief, Hanzi Smatter, a blog dedicated to exposing the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture, including meaning-challenged kanji tattoos, is highly recommended.
In the early days of my Japanese study, "reading for pleasure" meant either suffering the boredom of children's picture books or struggling — with constant looking up in paper dictionaries — through the adult books I yearned to read instead. Today, two decades later, any kanji learner with access to a computer can easily develop a daily habit of reading Japanese using Todd Ruddick's indispensable rikai.com site. Simply enter the URL for any Web site — or cut and paste any text — and the reading (in hiragana) and meanings for every kanji in the text will pop up in on your screen as you move your cursor over them. An equally amazing tool is Hiraganamegane, which returns your desired Japanese URL in printable form with furigana (kana syllables written beside all kanji to indicate pronunciation).
Do yourself a favor and place some of these sites in your Web browser's favorites list today. Thanks to the wonders of cyberspace, kanji learners have never had it so good.
Kanji Clinic's previous articles can be found at www.kanjiclinic.com
Reviewing the Kanji: kanji.koohii.com
Remebering the Kanji: www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/miscPublications/pdf/RK4/RK4-00.pdf
Kanji Gym: www.kanjigym.de/main/cms/cms.html
Kanji Wiki: tell.fll.purdue.edu/KanjiWiki
Online Japanese Language Study Materials: www.manythings.org/japanese/
Kanji Curiosity: blogs.japanesepod101.com/blog/category/kanji-curiosity/
Hanzi Smatter: hanzismatter.com