I notice as I'm going along the Japanese course that it jumps right into complex kanji right away once you get past hiragana. Wouldn't it make more sense to start with some radicals and build on them so we can learn to read new kanji ourselves?
In German we would say, that "this would break the frame" of the course (beyond the scope of the duolingo goals), because teaching and learning kanji a really complex and time consuming matter. May be they could create a 'Kanji special' tree, where people can learn to read and write kanji and kanji compounds. But is this possible for about 3.000 - 5.000 kanji? You will need at least about this quantity plus many kanji compounds (reading is also complex, with rules and many exceptions) to read simple real life texts and newspapers. The Duolingo course can only provide a peek into this fascinating topic.
I would suggest, you should try to learn kanji on your own, if you are interested in it. For this course it may be enough, to look at the provided kanji over and over during the exercises to recognize them after a while. This would be much easier and quicker, than trying to actively memorize and beeing able to write them. There are so many different methods to teach and learn kanji, that Duolingo can´t master it together in a language teaching course.
The provided kanji in the course aren´t so complex and as far I´ve seen, they all are in the list of the Jōyō kanji. Additionally are some of them radicals by themselfes. (i. e. 人、木 or 口). After a while, when the students getting used to them, they will recognize, that more complex kanji are often build from less complex kanji and that some of them often or even always at the same position in a kanji. Then they will recognize also more and more complex kanji. Important is, to read Japanese texts very frequently (i. e. by daily exercise with the duolingo course).
Yes, newspapers shall use kanji out of the jōyō kanji list and I´ve seen, that japanese newspapers also use furigana for irregular readings or uncommon words. But you´ll need also the jinmeiyō kanji - surely not all of them, but it is good to know them, to read Japanese names. Together they are about 3.000 Kanji, that you will certainly need. And you will see and need some more kanji in real life. Not all necessary actively, but passively.
Japanese people have to learn about 2.000 kanji in the first 9 years in school, but during this time, they will passively learn more kanji while reading books (as far as I know, Japanese people like to read) and they will learn much more afterwards in the university.
There is a common test in Japan and also abroad, called 'Nihon Kanji Nōryoku Kentei' or shortly 'Kanken', where for the first level you have to have a deep knowledge about over 6.000 kanji. You have to know, how to write them correctly, all on-yomi and kun-yomi, which is the main radical, how use them in words, how to use them in kanji compounds usw. But to be honest, the percentage who could successfully finish this grade is less, even in Japan.
And I have to correct you, the JLPT N5 is the lowest test, I think, you meant the JLPT N1, isn´t it? N1 is the hardest and you have to know not only the jōyō kanji and their readings (on/kun), but you also ave to know over 10.000 words and a deep knowledge of the japanese Grammar.
But the problem by learning to read kanji is not only the quantity of the characters. You have to know all readings, some on-yomi and some kun-yomi per kanji and you have to know, when you have to use the correct spelling.
In Chinese it could be more easy although you have to learn more chinese characters, I think, because as far I have heard, one character has one idea and one spelling (aside from some assimilations).
This is one of the main problems in the actual Japanese from English Duolingo course. And how would you teach to write and to read all readings of the kanji in a system like Duolingo? How would you program this? It is far from the scope of the actual courses. But it may be an interesting project :-)
I agree that jumping straight into complex kanji after hiragana is a bit of an odd way to go about it, as it is probably overwhelming. Many of the kanji that are taught to Japanese children, when they first start learning kanji, are radicals. They do learn a few relatively complex kanji in their first year, but the highest stroke count they go to is 12, if I remember correctly, and that one kanji is literally the same 4-stroke radical, three times. So I'd assume that that would be the best way to go about it.
However, please do note that there are quite a few kanji that you cannot reliably tell the meaning of by observing the radicals. The real meaning behind those kanji have absolutely nothing to do with the radicals that they are comprised of. I'm not sure how far the course will go in terms of kanji, but I'm sure this will become extremely apparent at some point in the course.
but the highest stroke count they go to is 12, if I remember correctly, and that one kanji is literally the same 4-stroke radical, three times.
You mean perhaps 森 ? ;-) I love this kanji and the way, it was built:
Tree 木 Grove 林 Wood 森 Forest 森林
Interestingly you can here see some problems, they have using kanji in the course.
The tree kanji is pronounced 'ki' in Japanese (kun-yomi), but in connection with other characters i. e. as 'moku', as in 木曜日 (mokuyōbi), the grove kanji is 'hayashi' and the wood kanji is 'mori' in Japanese, but in connection with others, they may be pronounced as 'rin' or 'shin', like in the compound for forest: 'shin-rin'. But not in all cases. There are some rules (i. e. using mainly on-yomi, when you have a compound of kanji), but this is not correct for all cases.
Another point: The chinese characters (kan = chinese, ji = character) have defined meanings or better ideas, but as the Japanese adopted and adapted them into their own language and during this process, the ideas and meanings changed for some of them. So you can´t be certainly suggest the meaning of a kanji compound by only knowing the idea of every kanji, the word is written of. This may work in most cases, but not so rarely it does not.
I agree with you, that this may be too much for a language course on Duolingo.
I believe so. I could be wrong. I could also check, but I don't really want to look for my kanji dictionary right now, the bed is too comfortable.
We'll just say you're correct.
Honestly, when I first started learning kanji, 林 and 森 always confused me. Like I recognized them immediately, and never mixed up the readings, but I thought they meant the same thing, so I never understood how to decide to use one, or the other.
Another problem is that one cannot always figure out the meaning of a kanji just by adding the radicals together.
For example, in 明, one may guess that it means brightness based on the radicals: the sun on the left, and the moon on the right. However, how to guess 暗? Sun + stand + sun? Sun + tone? [Spoiler: it actually means 'darkness'. The 音 part on the right merely marks its sound in ancient Chinese. ]