How to learn Kanji?

All the kanji are hard to learn, any tips on learning them?

August 29, 2018


As someone who knows most 2000 常用漢字 (じょうようかんじ) and has been working on them for two years straight, I can say there is no "right way" to learn them. You just have to "get down to business" , as they say.

So , here's the tips:

  1. Do a little bit everyday, doesn't matter how much. If you learn one kanji a day, that's great in my book

  2. Start small. Don't go straight to 薔薇 or 憂鬱 , start with 日. Consider learning some radicals first, for example 人 is used in kanji like 例、倍、体, etc...

  3. Try to learn words that have those kanji. If you've learned, say 出, learn the word でぐち (出口)

  4. Don't get frustrated/overwhelmed. It will all make sense eventually (most notably when you get to about 600-700 kanji)

  5. If you can, write them down, it becomes easier (imo) to memorise them. I will include a site where you can copy and paste kanji and then print them (I sadly do not remember where I found it and who its creator is)

  6. Make sure to review them. Either the old-fashioned way or just read something on Wikipedia

  7. Understand this is a very lengthy process. Don't rush

Optional : You might be interested in "Remembering the kanji" by James W. Heisig, it helped me a lot in cementing my knowledge. It's not for everyone, in the sense that it teaches you ONLY kanji and their English meanings. In case you decide on buying it, you should supplement it with Kanji Koohi

August 29, 2018

LangAddict's comment is perfect, but I just want to add that the app "kanji study" is a wonderful way to both learn to recall meanings and write kanji. I do it on my train ride to school every day, and it helps a ton. Even if you are not learning the pronunciations, learning the kanji with the English meaning will make your life a million times easier when you eventually do get to those words.

August 30, 2018

2 Years? How much Japenese do you know?

August 30, 2018

I honestly don't know, but I'll probably take the N2 next year. It's worth pointing out that out of all the languages I studied Japanese was hands-down the most intensive one. Especially this summer, I was pretty much in "Japanese mode" most of the time.

A youtuber named MattVsJapan explains it way better, but I basically tried immersing myself in the language 24/7 (obviously, not really 24/7, I have a social life too). The only thing I don't agree with Matt and the AJATT (all Japanese all the time) method is about talking to people, you should do that in my opinion.

August 30, 2018

Can you pinpoint which of Matt's videos might be the most useful? (I just looked at his channel, and there are 54 of them, so a filter would be most welcome.)

August 30, 2018

Definitely start with this video which briefly explains what you need to know. Do not ignore meditation, it's surprisingly beneficial and clears your mind when you need to focus (when studying). In my opinion, pitch accent is not mandatory.

This one which shows why people are a bit "turned off" by the idea of AJATT

And I'd also include this . I know not everyone likes to read but reading helped me a lot over the years.

I know AJATT might feel a bit "elitist" method but trust me, it gives results. It's kind of the same principle that Steve Kaufman applies, albeit more extreme.

If I were to sum it all up, it would be "Listen as much as possible", "Read everything you can" and "I know it's hard...but just deal with it".

Also worth pointing out that I don't consider myself an "advanced learner", I have a lot to learn. There are people who aced the N1 and were not fluent by any stretch of the imagination, Matt himself interviewed one of them. N1 does not equal fluency

August 30, 2018

Learning kanjis takes a lot of time. Japanese people take 9 years at school to learn the about 2000 basic kanjis (Jōyō) but it's possible to learn them in about 2 years if you are motivated. is a very good website to learn them (but it's not free after level 3 — about 80 kanjis).

August 30, 2018
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I recently tried WaniKani, it wasn't for me. I think it would be better suited to someone starting from scratch though.

August 30, 2018

Interesting - can you say a bit more? I have heard really good things about wanikani and was thinking about signing up later this year.

August 30, 2018
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WaniKani has an enforced pace, the material can be browsed at any time, but the guided lessons and tests that unlock the levels are guarded by a timer.

It is necessary to begin by learning WaniKani's names for the radicals which are not standard (not that the standard names are great) and not always intuitive, before learning any kanji or vocabulary.

(I also found that the radicals varied in appearance between devices, to the extent that I didn't always recognise them as being the same.)

Because these radical names must be learned first, (and because the higher levels are locked behind a subscription,) there is no way to do any kind of placement test and so start learning new kanji straight away rather than battling through kanji that are already familiar.

On a less objective point, I did not like the style of the mnemonic stories that were presented, though I think they might be less objectionable to others.

I don't think that it is a bad system, but it didn't align with my goal of strengthening my recognition and recall of the Kanji that I have recently encountered.


August 30, 2018

Ah I see - thank you very much for replying. I might have a similar problem then (e.g. the mnemonics Marugoto offers don't work for me at all).

I guess I'll do the free levels and see how it goes.

August 30, 2018

I learned the meaning of all 2000s Joyo kanji (the meaning, not the pronunciation) in less than 3 months by using Anki following this guide: It will help you a lot when you try to actually learning the vocab and grammar.

August 30, 2018

The first graders in Japanese schools must learn 80 Kanjis. They are not hard to learn which is why the school education begins with these ones. I know basically all of them. Next step is to learn the Kanjis for the second grade.

August 30, 2018

Try to use word cards. You can make them yourself (from paper etc.) or use programms on PC or smartphone. If you use PC I recommend you Anki. On Anki's website you can find and download already made word cards with kanji. I started using Anki 3 days ago and I'm satisfied with it. Also I think it's very easy to use. Then I use note and write new Kanji or words many times and try to remember them.

Sorry for my English, I'm just learning it so I can't clearly explain, but I just recommend you at least to try use Anki.

August 30, 2018

you could get a kanji book or an online one where you can write. I've found that writing them out helps a lot especially to learn and recognise them in both English and Japanese. good luck :)

August 30, 2018

Kanji looks hard, is hard, and everyone has their own way of "coming to terms with it" (as I call it). So, it really depends on how much Japanese you know, whether you've tried studying Kanji before, what kind of methods work/don't work for you, etc.

For me, I only care about the Kanji that are relevant to my life. Some words have a Kanji form, but might not be used often in everyday life (ex. the kanji for あなた, the polite "you" is 貴方, but it rarely comes up in everyday life) But something like 日本 on the other hand, you might want to learn.

I really like the online dictionary (idk about others, I've always used this one), because it will usually tell you whether words are "usually written kana alone" or etc. So I would recommend double-checking with a dictionary if you're unsure of which Kanji you need to learn and which you can skip for now. (That's if you're just casually learning and not going by a Kanji list or something of the sort)

If you have trouble understanding how Kanji characters are "built", you can try learning radicals to see if it will help you. Or, just use radicals as a way to get used to basic Kanji characters/"basic Kanji shapes."

But personally, I find that the most effective way of learning to use and recognize Kanji is to, well, use it. Type stuff in Japanese, and the Kanji will appear. If you're not sure whether it's the right Kanji or not, toss it in the dictionary. (Or, look stuff up in the dictionary and take a look at what the Kanji form looks like.)

Because individual Kanji characters are almost always combined with other Kanji or hiragana or both to make different words, so I don't really see the point in taking the time and effort to learn the pronounciation/meaning of each individual Kanji on its own (unless it is in fact used entirely on its own).

Ex. 今日 = kyou, meaning "today" 今 (kon, kin, ima), means "now" 日 (nichi, jitsu, hi, -bi, -ka), can mean day, sun, Japan, or be a counter for days

今 is not pronounced "kyo" and 日 is not pronounced "u", yet when they are put together, they are read as "kyou" and that's just how it is.

So if you're going to learn kanji individually, I would definitely recommend taking what you learn with a grain of salt...

The reality is, you will probably never learn "all" the Kanji out there, so it's more important that you learn the ones you need.

If you like reading manga, try picking one up in Japanese and start learning some kanji that comes up in everyday conversation. (be warned though: Some manga speech styles are not your everyday Japanese, or not about everyday topics, so you might accidentally come across some odd Japanese if you're not careful)

Or you can use any source for reading Japanese with Kanji.

There's this Japanese news site that includes furigana with all the Kanji: It might be intimidating if you're still a beginner, but if you're hitting lower-intermediate/intermediate+ level, you can try to find simpler articles (there are all sorts of different news topics, not only on Japan but also some international ones as well), or find a topic you're interested in and try reading (with the furigana) and listening to it. The recordings are pretty slow.) No need to "study" every single Kanji in the article, but if you were to read 10 articles on music, you might be able to start identifying some common music-related Kanji? (The main use for this is just further exposure, to practice and see what you're using in-action as opposed to just seeing it in a textbook.)

August 30, 2018

I'm also struggling to remember the kanji, and I was also finding it hard to find a simple resource where the kanji was shown, with its constituent radicals, and the different readings. I stumbled across this site, and it's helping me a lot. :)

September 1, 2018

I asked my Japanese colleagues and they said that they encounter kanjis that they don't know all the time. One said that she used to look them up, when she was still in university but stopped doing that with the years. She just accepts that she doesn't know pronounciation or meaning. What they also told me is that due to hardly ever writing by hand (bc of smartphones and computers) they have trouble with writing kanjis by hand.

So for me that helps me with being patient and not to hard on myself.

September 2, 2018

I have also heard that the younger generation is becoming less and less adept at Kanji (probably because they don't have to write it as much nowadays). Even if you don't know all the Kanji in a book/article, it is still possible to read/understand (or at least get the gist) of something just by using context clues!

September 2, 2018

I'd suggest to picking basic kanji (since you're new to kanji) and selecting 5 at a time to write and memorize so that you can retain it. is an amazing website i'd suggest you to use since it's not only a dictionary but it'll give you example sentences, how to write kanji, and even show you want kanji is learned in each grade.

September 4, 2018

Out of curiosity, has anyone tried using Tinycards to learn kanji? We're doing a bit of research on how to get better at kanji in Tinycards, so I'd love to hear your thoughts. (Brutally honest feedback is very much welcome.) Thanks!

August 30, 2018

I haven't yet but I'm intrigued. Do you have any specific Tinycard decks in mind?

August 30, 2018

I've been dabbling with decks like this one:

At the moment, we don't have any official Duolingo kanji content in Tinycards.

August 30, 2018
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I did try using a kanji deck that someone else had shared (Kanji on one side, meanings on the other), but both the selection of words and their meanings were a bit random, maybe because there are just too many to choose from.

I'm forming the opinion that it is not always helpful to try and take each kanji in isolation and memorise that it can mean a, b or c and be read as x, y or z (or X, Y or Z) depending on context. The Duo Japanese course still has the infamous bug with 中, which is introduced in the name 田中 (Tanaka) and in 中国 (China, "chugoko") then later appears in a round of match the pairs where the word tile reads ちゅう but the voice says なか and not a week goes by without a new learner posting a new discussion about it (maybe I'm exaggerating). A tiny cards deck that caused similar confusion would not be a good idea.

I'm not all that familiar with the process of creating tinycard decks, but I do like the idea of having cards that have a kanji and a context on the front (kanji alone, in a compound, kanji as a plain verb, etc) and then the fact on the reverse is the meaning and the reading for that kanji and context.

I'd be happy to see that introduced for all the vocabulary in the Duo Japanese course, rather than have card for each kanji from the course and some esoteric and random out of context translation on the reverse.

August 30, 2018

Interesting! I had a similar experience back when I was studying Japanese more seriously - I picked up kanji much faster if they appeared in words I used often and saw in my day-to-day life.

I've also noticed that exact same problem with ちゅう / なか ... !

August 30, 2018

Makes total sense to me - it's why I don't feel motivated to work through "Remembering the Kanji" and instead prefer to study kanji as I encounter them.

August 30, 2018

I will take a look. Thanks for mentioning it.

August 30, 2018

hey hayden if you can speak french i can give you this bye ;)

August 30, 2018

write the characters down and what they sound like, then you can recall even more

August 31, 2018

or play games in the language to get a better understanding

September 1, 2018

I like StickyStudy --

December 5, 2018

I also made several decks in TinyCards if anyone is interested:

December 5, 2018
December 8, 2018
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