Random, probably useless thoughts about my personal experience with kanji as someone who started Chinese as a child
As someone who grew up bilingual (English and Chinese) with English as my main language – so yes, I know my experience wasn’t the same as most people’s here, but I feel it can still tell us something about a possible approach to all this – I’ll acknowledge that the name for that in Chinese does include the concept of ‘side radical’ in it, but if you asked me to explain it in English, I would just say ‘person radical’. It’s such a mental habit that you’ll notice that even if I see something like 水 as part of a kanji on the forums, I don’t call it a ‘water radical’ even though technically, in English, it should be. I just think of it as the ‘water character/kanji’. Perhaps I’m underestimating the difficulty of grouping related concepts and symbols for most people, but to me, it’s always been something like ‘this bunch of things all mean “fire”, and they look like this or like that in this or that position in an kanji’. I see a meaningful component and think ‘this means that’. Period. And that’s how I was taught kanji from the very beginning. The way I think about radicals as being different forms of a single (usually simple) kanji has remained the same, and I’ve gone from struggling with characters to knowing a few thousand of them very well. (Of course, with components with no clear meaning, it’s not as clear, and I might instead think, ‘I think I’ve seen this before in…’ or ‘hm, this looks like…’.)
As for ease of memorisation… I know that everyone has different experiences, but
- knowing etymological radicals usually makes remembering meanings easier in my opinion, because there’s a greater proportion of kanji meanings that can be deduced from meaningful radicals; that often makes for shorter mnemonics that don’t rely on illogical leaps, which are much simpler for me, personally – and for that matter, it’s not rare for people to post queries on the forums about how they’re confused that what WK taught them doesn’t seem to line up with kanji meanings/usage
- I think a lot of etymological radical meanings are significantly simpler and more common (as words) than anything used by WK, so again, I think they’re easier in that sense – a common word is much more likely to come to mind than a rarer one
However, perhaps it is harder for people to learn things when there’s an overlap in the keywords used for memorisation (though, again, doesn’t WK separate radicals from other things to begin with?), so what I find simpler is not necessarily easier for everyone. (Still, there’s a whole stack of kanji compounds on WK with exactly the same meaning keywords even though the kanji used are quite different, so doesn’t that problem still exist? Radicals tend not to have overlapping meanings, so this isn’t as much of an issue with radicals.) Also, of course, many classifying radicals have no clear meaning (or they have specific meanings, but they’re really obscure), so those aren’t particularly great to learn.
Just my two cents, but I tend to find that direct links between pieces of information I’m trying to learn make them significantly easier to remember, and also allow me to spend less time on creating mnemonics. The more there is intrinsically ‘embedded’ within what I’m trying to remember, the less work I have to do. Etymological radicals tend to work that way; made-up ones don’t. Perhaps it’s just a matter of how each learner thinks about kanji, but I’d like to point out that I was taught this as a child with very little Chinese vocabulary and kanji knowledge who communicated in English most of the time, so I’m not entirely sure why one approach would be harder than another in terms of initial study. My experience learning and explaining kanji makes me feel that knowing etymological meaning tends to be more effective for remembering kanji in the long term, if only for radicals with clear, consistent meanings. (The obscure ones can be memorised any which way, in my opinion.)
Of course, if one approach works better for you than the other, stick with it by all means, but I sometimes wonder if etymological radicals seem harder to (so many?) people mainly due to a lack of explanation, or due to overcomplicated explanation (e.g. if I were making a review system that included etymological radicals, 亻would simply be marked – on the card – as a radical, and the keyword would be ‘person’, unless the learner prefers to include ‘radical’ in the keyword). The technical names I know in Chinese clearly exist primarily to describe general shape and position, and are in fact very efficient, and it seems Japanese technical names are similar; it’s translation that makes them seem unnecessarily clunky, because in either language, their names point clearly back to source kanji and meaning.
It’s obviously harder to teach kana readings using source kanji readings (because both the information to be learnt and the basis for memorisation are new information), but wouldn’t learning keywords of some sort be roughly the same regardless of the keyword, so long as both keywords are fairly familiar? (This is obviously just my way of looking at things, so feel free to share your experience.)
This though, I have to agree with – I never learnt the Chinese pinyin readings for radicals, and I can’t be bothered to. If I have to learn anything formal for a radical, it’ll be the Chinese or Japanese technical name, not the one-syllable short name. The technical names are descriptive; the one-syllable names are nearly useless.
I know I’m just being a stickler here, and it’s probably my Chinese speaker pride talking, but most kanji were imported from China (‘made in Japan’ kanji aside), and most of the ‘original’ radicals are from the Kangxi Dictionary. If ‘origins’ are the question, they’re not ‘Japanese’, unless we’re talking about some of the terminology, which is indeed specific to Japanese (and Chinese and Japanese do indeed use different kanji for some of the names of types of radicals).
Anyway, I do think that it would be great for people curious about (or familiar with) traditional radicals to be able to use them in WK if they want to, but the fact is that WK mnemonics are built around WK radical names. In that sense, there isn’t much of a point for WK to add these names by default. If you’re willing to create a script that adds them, that would be wonderful, but I think the people who use it would primarily be people curious about etymology or who are interested in making their own mnemonics using those radical names. Otherwise, it might not be all that popular.
EDIT: To make up for my rambling, I’ll share something that’s hopefully more useful:
For anyone who does want to look into traditional radical names, maybe this is a good place to start. Clicking on the ‘Importance’ heading to sort things that way provides examples of some of the most common traditional radicals, most of which have clear meanings. I don’t think all of them are helpful to memorise (e.g. I’ve never thought of the top of 介 as a form of 人), but they do come up a lot.