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Is there a "right" way of learning Kanji?

So I just got Duolingo on Friday and I can surely say that I am really enjoying the lessons that they give for Japanese learners.

But as I move on from lesson to lesson, i'm starting to notice kanji being thrown in. I've probably memorized around maybe, 3 kanji's so far? I can name almost all kana and am now moving towards grammar, but how would I be able to memorize kanji characters? Is there a "right" way of learning Kanji?

February 26, 2018



Hi and welcome to DuoLingo! I hope you enjoy it!

Unfortunately, the Japanese course, being in beta, is not really good for learning kanji. You can learn to recognize the ones that are thrown in, but it tends to be confusing, and just remembering what they look like is not enough if you're serious about it. Why don't you better try some of the materials AnathBurne posted here: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/26347933

Good luck!


Thank you so much for the resources! :)


All thanks goes to AnathBurne. ^^


Here are three concepts that are critical to learning Kanji. Sorry for the long post, but this should get you started on being able to study them on your own.

Radicals/Parts: You can think of radicals as "sub-kanji" that are put together to make up more complex kanji. Example: 語 has three parts 言 + 五 + 口, and you would write them in that order when writing 語. 言 means "say" 五 is the character for 5 口 means "mouth" 語 means "language"

The good news is, if you have studied katakana, you already know several simple kanji characters and radicals! You may already recognize 口 as "ro" in katakana, though the kanji has different sounds that you can easily learn. イ is another part that shows up a lot.

Kun-yomi reading (訓読み): This is typically how the kanji sounds when on its own. You can think of it like the name of the specific character. Example: The kunyomi reading for 口 is くち. This will help you look up a character in a dictionary.

On-yomi reading (音読み, 音 means "sound"): The onyomi reading is typically how a kanji can sound when grouped with other kanji. It's best to learn this reading by learning compounds such as 日本語. Kanji can have more than one onyomi reading, so watch out when learning new compounds, and sometimes there are exceptions where the kunyomi reading is used in a compound. Example: The onyomi reading for 口 is こう or く depending on where it is used.

Go to Jisho.org (this will be your best friend for learning kanji) and type "#jlpt-n5 #kanji" to get started on easier kanji. When you select individual kanji, you can see an animation of the stroke order. I highly recommend physically writing the characters to help them sink in, especially with ones that look similar to others. You'll train your eye to recognize the differences faster.

This has helped me to learn several hundred kanji so far.


Wow haha, why be sorry? These are great advice! This will definitely help me out in the long run. I'm probably not gonna completely focus on kanji just yet. I actually don't know where to move on after learning almost all kana's. I'm going more towards either grammar or maybe just read Japanese textbooks and see where I can go from there.

Anyways, thank you once again for these wonderful tips! Cheers.


Yeah don't focus too much on it in the beginning (students in Japan learn them over many years), but one area where it will definitely help you in the long run is vocabulary. Especially with words that sound the same. So if you can, try to practice the kanji for new words that you pick up as you go along. Some textbooks might have what's called "furigana", which are tiny hiragana characters printed above the kanji so you can see how it's pronounced. Keep an eye out for those in your studies and use them to practice as well.

When I first started learning Japanese, I put off learning Kanji because I thought it would be too hard. I can tell you from experience that once you start recognizing radicals the characters become much less intimidating, and you'll wonder why you didn't start sooner. :P


I doubt that there is a singular "right" way to learn the kanji but there are several different methods that seem to work well for people and make it easier to retain the knowledge in a useful fashion.

One way to learn kanji is to learn it "in-context" as you encounter kanji in new vocabulary. Basically, every time you come across an unfamiliar kanji, look it up in a dictionary or other resource (I recommend jisho.org, an excellent on-line Japanese dictionary with amazing depth of content). Learn the meaning and pronunciation of the new kanji in conjunction with your new vocabulary and review it along with your vocabulary. The upside of this method is you are only learning kanji that you are using and actually need to know. The downside is that it isn't very consistent, so you will be encountering some very complex kanji early on along with much simpler kanji. As you learn more kanji, you might struggle to distinguish between similar kanji, although the vocabulary/context should help.

Another way to learn kanji is to learn "out-of-context" using a more systematic approach. There's two main approaches that I've seen. The first is to follow along with the standard kanji taught to Japanese primary school students. These kanji cover basic concepts, like colors, numbers, and common objects, but some of them can be quite complex, structurally.

An alternative approach that is pretty common for adult language learners is to break down the kanji into simpler structures and learn the easier forms first, then build on that foundation. These simpler structures are called "radicals" and once you know what to look for, you will see them repeated in many complex kanji. This structural approach focuses on learning how to "read" the kanji and usually uses mnemonics to help recall complicated kanji using a story or strong image. The upside of this method is that it builds on prior knowledge and makes it easier to recognize common elements in unfamiliar kanji. The downside is that it takes a long time to reach the more complex kanji and some of those kanji are very commonly used. So a structural/mnemonic method will give you a solid foundation but it can be pretty slow going.

Personally, I think the best method combines elements of all three approaches. Start off with a structural approach to build a solid foundation, learn basic kanji for core concepts like numbers/colors/common words, and always look up any unfamiliar kanji that you encounter while studying new vocabulary.

There's over two thousand kanji in common usage, so it will take you a LONG time to learn them all. There is no method that will make it super fast or super easy, but there are many resources available to make it less difficult.

I recommend checking out the web application WaniKani or the book "Remembering the Kanji" if you are interested in a more systematic approach to memorizing kanji. There are other options, but those are the ones I'm personally familiar with.


Duolingo Japanese is only in beta, so if you want to learn kanji now, you can start from the first grade elementary level kanji. Kanji is not necessary for beginners because of the sheer number of characters so don't worry too much.


I think the "right" way is just learn them with vocabulary but also learn how to handwrite them (it's not that difficult and you'll notice how many patterns there are) because it then makes it easier to recognize them if they're similar to some other kanji. And then if you learn some new vocab that utilizes kanji that you already know then that's how you'll learn it's other readings so don't bother trying to remember all of them with the kanji. And don't try to force learn too much kanji right away too, it's gonna make it feel overwhelming.

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