Spoiler: Learning how to write was so much easier after knowing how to read
Last summer I had a conversation with a Japanese woman in a hotel lobby.
While on the topic of kanji, she asked me:
- Are you able to write the kanji that you can read?"
- Oh… no, I’m currently only focusing on learning how to read. Besides, Japanese people have told me that writing by hand is very rare nowadays and if you’re able to write using a keyboard, that’s all you’ll need."
- Well, I think that you should learn how to write someday because it is still good to know…"
I remember thinking to myself “yeah right, maybe when I’m fluent and bored with other aspects of Japanese I’ll consider it”.
But somehow, this small comment that she made stuck with me and shortly afterwards I embarked on my journey towards being able to handwrite 2000 kanji.
Why 2000? Cause that’s the lovely round number that’s being thrown around everywhere.
I sat down and literally spent two full days creating an anki deck that would make the process as smooth and pain free as possible. I managed to accomplish my goal in 6 months by adding 10 new kanji to my review pile everyday (〜45min studying a day).
I already knew how to read 2000+ kanji before starting and my vocab knowledge was around 10k words. I found it to be a much more pleasant experience learning how to write after actually being familiar with what I wanted to put down on paper.
I came up with a method that I had yet to encounter and decided to give it a shot. Maybe a deck like this exists somewhere already but I haven’t come across one so far. Feel free to make your own.
- I grabbed 3 vocab words (from wanikani) for each kanji
- Replaced the requested kanji with its kana version
- Kanji and stroke order diagram on the back
This forces you to recall on your own while quickly giving you clear clues regarding which kanji is being asked for + there’s no English translations involved. You’re doing it all in Japanese.
You can also go full kana in the front and highlight the requested kanji if you want. ぜったい instead of ぜっ対 when asking for 絶.
My deck currently consists of all the kanji taught by WaniKani while also including others that I have encountered in the wild accumulating a total of 2239 kanji. I am not sure if I will post the deck for public use since it is deeply tied to WaniKani’s way of ordering kanji and there might be copyright laws concerning the matter.
- I get up 1 hour earlier every morning to do my writing practice. I found that practising in the evening was less effective since my accuracy would drop if I had a tough day and came home exhausted.
- I write in a notebook with square pattern in order to easily balance the kanji
- I usually only write down the words on the front of the card once and then move on to the next card.
- If feel that I can’t write the kanji comfortably, I write the words once more.
- Around 45min every day
PROS AND CONS
- You get much better at distinguishing between similar looking kanji 緑 縁
- You can write letters, take physical notes, fill out forms, etc
- Look up words in dictionaries using stroke order, writing them down, etc
- It becomes easier to read handwritten Japanese
- Rather time consuming
- Not incredibly necessary skill to learn (can get by with kana + using phone dictionary)
- Frustrating at times
- Low sense of reward as you go
I must say that after learning 1500 commonly used kanji, learning the rest of the 500 felt like a chore and a waste of time. The kanji became more obscure and even my Japanese friend saw what I was practising and said:
“Wow, there are so many kanji here that I can’t even write… 頑張って”
We all know that even Japanese people have trouble remembering how to write all the kanji they were taught in school and I’m also fine with forgetting a lot of them. But at least when I google a kanji that I’ve forgotten, I’ll be able to remember it with just a quick glance.
I am extremely proud of myself due to the fact that I managed to go through with the daunting task of writing kanji and I can finally remove it from my list of future things to deal with. If you are wondering whether you should be practising handwriting or not I say give it some time and don’t rush it. You can start once you are able to read and that’s ok.
I attempted to learn handwriting alongside reading and it was just far to slow and painful for me.
new character, new meaning, new kun- and onyomi, learning a stroke order + the vocab
Learning how to write was so much easier after knowing how to read