Many learners of Japanese find learning kanji one of the most daunting aspects of their learning journey.
Methods and resources for learning kanji abound (websites, books, apps for mobile phones), most of them are based on a systematic study of individual kanji or compounds through lists, flashcard decks or mnemonic techniques.
Neither one of these methods or resources is necessarily better than the others. Their effectiveness only really depends on a single factor – the way you learn best.
If you already know what your preferred learning style is and you happen to be someone who needs context in order to remember things, as I do, I’m sure you’ll find what I’m recommending here useful.
Why ‘typing’ helps you remember the kanji?
Simply because typing in Japanese requires you to pay close attention to the three main pieces of information in a kanji word – meaning, pronunciation and shape.
Meaning is extrapolated from context (thus helping you remember the single words that make up the text you use), pronunciation is practised through input in rōmaji into your keyboard, and shape is practised through having to recognize and choose the right character among the alternatives that the software suggests (and there are tons of homophones too!).
Unlike flashcards and other activities which may end up becoming tedious and/or are not in line with your learning style, this simple activity is fun, lets you save a lot of time, and allows you to learn in a more natural way.
Suggested ways of using ‘typing’ to reinforce kanji knowledge
Here are a few ways I’ve used typing in the past to study kanji myself, and which some of my students use regularly. As you will see, most of them can be practiced at any level in the language with benefits which are not only confined to kanji acquisition.
1) Copying out dialogues from your textbook
Target Level: Beginner, Intermediate
How to go about it: Once you’ve finished studying a dialogue in your textbook and you know all the new structures and vocabulary in it, you can simply practice by copying it out in a blank Word document.
If you prefer to not look at the text in Japanese while typing it out, you can add an extra step where you write the dialogue in rōmaji first, and then you practice by typing out the text a second time based on the rōmaji version.
Benefits: This activity helps your brain not only retain all of the new pieces of information you encountered in the text (structures, vocabulary, etc.) but it also assists you in reinforcing the link between pronunciation (rōmaji) and shape for all of the kanji which are contained in the text.
2) Typing out short excerpts of what you’ve read
Target Level: Intermediate, Advanced
How to go about it: Choose a text you have read (it could be a part of a story, a news article, a chapter of your favourite manga, etc.). Simply go over each sentence and type it in a blank Word document.
Benefits: However simple this activity may seem, it helps you reviewing what you’ve read in terms of grammar structures and new vocabulary. Again, regarding kanji compounds, it helps you internalize their meanings, pronunciation and shapes.
3) Transcribing from audio (dictation)
Target Level: Beginners to Advanced
How to go about it: You can use any material for which you have both the audio and its transcript (a dialogue in your textbook, a podcast, a news article, an audiobook, etc.). Simply try to write down what you’re hearing and then check for mistakes.
Benefits: This activity helps your brain reinforce connections between auditory input (in terms of sounds and pronunciation) and written form (rōmaji and kanji shape). It is also beneficial for improving your listening skills.
4) Create your own texts
Target Level: Beginners to Advanced
How to go about it: Open a blank Word document and just type in whatever you feel like (it could be just a bunch of sentences if you are a beginner, or a full text if you are at an Intermediate or Advanced level). Diary entries could also be a great idea. Try to use words you don’t know by looking them up in a dictionary.
Once your text is ready, post it on Lang-8 where native speakers will give you feedback for free.
Benefits: This last activity not only helps you learn new kanji words (alongside their pronunciation, meanings and shapes), but is also very useful for developing writing skills even from a beginner stage.
Also, when looking words up in a dictionary, you will often find many different options for the same word, and some of these will be archaic and no-longer used by Japanese people. Getting feedback from native speakers will help you to get a good sense for natural word-choice and turns of phrases.
Have you ever thought of ‘typing’ in this way?
So, this is my take on acquiring kanji in a more natural way.
I’d now like to hear from you.
Feel free to leave a comment below with your kanji learning experience or share this article on Facebook with people who could benefit from it.
Talk to you soon!