I’m currently doing a ton of work, and preparing an article for Nerdy Goodness regarding the new The Last Airbender film, but I decided to take a break from everything and review this rather controversial method for learning the Kanji, despite the fact that it’s Friday and I should be doing a Friday Review. The method in question, Heisig’s infamous Remembering the Kanji Volume 1. Why? Because, I myself have struggled with Kanji in the past. Heck, I struggle with Kanji in the present! Anyway, I was desperately looking for a method that would help me remember them (you’ve gotta know 2,000 of the things, you know). Although I learn best by repetition, it just wasn’t cutting it. I know a lot of kanji just from regular use, but when I don’t write them often enough, I just can’t recall them! For me, I think I’ve found the answer in Heisig’s method. In fact, I like it so well, that I’m going from the beginning onward rather than finding the trouble kanji and remembering them.
Kanji is one of the most difficult things for a student of Japanese to overcome. The sheer number of them is intimidating, and just looking at them will give even the most headstrong among us shaky knees. However, it is absolutely imperative to learn at least the 2,000 most commonly used kanji, and that’s what Heisig tries to teach us. He uses stories and scenarios to link the kanji to a picture in our minds, which is how the human mind naturally remembers things anyway. So, why doesn’t everyone like this method? Here’s a few reasons, and why I think that these reasons shouldn’t stop anyone from using this book.
1.) It doesn’t teach you the readings.
This is probably the most common reason this book is slammed. There is a second book for the various readings, but I find that learning to just recognize the kanji is more important to a beginner, or even an advanced student, than all the different readings. We can pick up the readings very easily, but just remembering how to write each kanji and what it means is a feat in and of itself and needs to be dealt with early on – something I failed to do and am kicking myself in the pants now.
2.) It doesn’t actually teach you any “real” Japanese.
By this, I mean, “You can’t say the kanji out loud.” It links each kanji to an English word, or meaning, and goes from there. This is probably a good thing at this point. Given that the book is intended largely for beginners, whose vocabulary is probably minimal, you want to be able to connect the kanji with an English word. It’s just much, much easier. Once you overcome the hurdle of being able to recognize the kanji, obtaining vocabulary is much easier. At least, that’s how my own mind seems to work.
Those are pretty much the two most commonly used arguments against the Heisig method, but I find them irrelevant. The point is, this is a great way to learn the kanji, especially for us self-taught people. Heisig himself says that this book could hinder you if you’re taking classes, but since I’m not taking any, I can’t exactly say whether this notion is true or not. I’ll probably be taking classes in the future (I’ve recently decided upon a drastic career change: turning from a computer programmer into a painfully introverted teacher of the Japanese language), but by then I’ll, hopefully, be able to recall the most commonly used kanji right off the top of my head!
So, do I recommend this book? Yes, I do. It’s a great book for kanji (be sure to make those flashcards out!), and will be a huge asset in your studies. There’s a ton of naysayers out there, but I think it’s a great book. There’s actually three books. The first (the one I’m reviewing) deals with the most common kanji, the second helps you recall the various readings of said kanji, and the third teaching you 1,000 more kanji. I hope to review the other two books in the future, although I personally feel it’s best to learn the readings through context.