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Apr 24, 2012

Handwriting Kanji

When it comes to learning kanji, it's easy to be overwhelmed. For most of us, the days of learning how to write our alphabet are far behind us, so we can't really remember what it's like to have to learn symbols. Add to this the complexity of many kanji and it's no wonder that foreigners shy away from learning Japanese, or at least from learning how to write kanji. This article is all about why you should overcome that fear and start writing.

Learn faster, remember better

When learning the kanji for the first time, if you don't write them, then you won't really understand. Writing out a kanji and thinking about the stroke order changes the kanji from a complex jumble of lines to an ordered process. Going through the process several times when learning a kanji will get you acquainted with its form and its feel. It changes the kanji from something foreign to something familiar - something that you can recreate at any time. Without writing, learning the kanji would be a very slow process indeed.

Enforce differences to increase recognition

When you actually write out kanji while learning or reviewing, it forces you to think about the elements that make the kanji. Instead of halfheartedly taking in the kanji as a whole, each element has to be processed in order for the kanji to be written. What this does is makes it much easier to remember and distinguish kanji, which is an extremely important skill. By taking a few extra seconds to put the kanji to paper, you're greatly increasing your awareness of the stroke order and the form of the kanji, so you'll get a much greater benefit from studying.

You won't be useless when away from your computer

Unless you intend to avoid all situations where handwriting Japanese is required, you're going to need to be able to write kanji. If you completely rely on a computer and never practice writing out kanji, then when you finally find yourself needing to do so, you'll only have vague ideas about how the kanji are formed. Even if you can read book after book and recognize every kanji with no problem, when it comes to writing you'll get stuck. Reading and writing require different skills and levels of awareness, so each domain of Japanese requires its own practice.

You'll develop an intuitive feel for kanji

As mentioned already, writing forces you to think about kanji, but it's worth adding that this thinking occurs at several different levels of consciousness. While you're writing, you'll be actively paying attention to what you're doing. This raises your conscious awareness of how a kanji is formed and what elements form it. What you may not realize is that you're also growing more familiar at a subconscious level. If, for instance, you are learning the kanji with Heisig's book, then you'll be subconsciously connecting the keyword and story to the kanji as you practice writing. So when you encounter the kanji later on, even if you can't consciously recall its meaning or how to write it, you'll have an intuitive understanding. This intuition is one of your greatest assets, so it's worth developing.

So if you've been avoiding writing the kanji or had not even considered doing so, hopefully you'll give it a second thought. Handwriting the kanji really does make learning much easier, so your efforts will be well rewarded. 

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. hello owner of this site. I've read allot of your post on learning Japanese. I'm currently on the kanji stage, I've been about 2-3 months and have gone through 1220 kanji so far. i have a question that i cant seem to get an answer, sometimes when i see a kanji i cant remember right away the keyword but, since i'm all ready bilingual (spanish and english) its easier for me (sometimes) to relate the keyword to a sense of reaction or thought when i cant remember the keyword (when reading). should i work more on learning keyword or just relating it sometimes based on the story i made.

    sorry about the double post...

    1. The keywords aren't really that important. They'll give you an idea of what the kanji means in most situations, but not much more than that. The important thing is that you can see the keyword and remember the kanji (be able to write it), not that you see the kanji and remember the keyword. If you can recognize the differences between kanji and be able to write them when you see the keyword, then you're doing fine. Don't worry too much about being able to remember keywords while reading, just focus on learning the words.

      Hopefully that answers your question. Feel free to ask any more that you may have.