The GeneticKanji Learning System
GeneticKanji system teaches Japanese characters by components, based on the
order of frequency as outlined in the 学年別漢字配当表 the chart of characters
issued by the Japanese Education Ministry that determines the grade
level at which the first 1006 Kanji should be taught.
unlike many other systems of learning Japanese characters, the
GeneticKanji system teaches all subcomponents of a complex character
before teaching that complex character. Paradoxically, Japanese primary
school students learn 線 before 泉, which reflects usage
frequency, but misses the opportunity to use 泉 as a tool to remember
the composition and pronunciation of 線. GeneticKanji teaches the logic
of character composition. Instead of learning 線 outright and trying to
memorize it, GeneticKanji teaches the five characters that build up to
the logic of composition aids recall of characters taught by
GeneticKanji, and students who learn the logic of composition will find
themselves equipped to better remember new kanji after completing the
Arranged in order of frequency and teaching the logic of
composition, GeneticKanji makes the most effective use of a student's
study time. Working at a pace of
five characters a day, with this step by step systemic approach, a
student can complete the primary school set in less than a year.
継続は力なり。keizoku ha chikara nari.
taught myself to read over 2000 characters over the course of two
years, spending 10-15 minutes each day devoted to memorizing them, using
the step-by-step process that GeneticKanji teaches. The step-by-step
technique is very good for recall. The key is to do a little every day.
I found I could effectively memorize only five a day. If I missed a
day, I couldn't make it up by studying ten the next day. Can't spare 15
minutes? The average TV show has over 15 minutes of commercials. How
about when you're standing in line? on the train?
Types of Characters
There are six types of characters:
the following explanation, “pronunciation” means the original Chinese
pronunciation of the character. In Japanese, this corresponds to the
sino-japanese on 音 reading. Most characters will also have at least one native Japanese kun 順 reading.
- Pictographs, or shoukei (像形). These characters are picture of what they intend to represent. Examples include man 人 or tree 木
There are about 200 pictographs and ideographs that can be combined as follows:
- Ideographs, or shiji (指事). These represent an idea, like up 上 or down 下.
- Meaning-meaning compounds,
or kaigi （会議）. These include rest 休, which shows "man" and "tree" both
component characters contribute to the meaning of the character.
borrowings, or kasha（仮借）these are simple borrowings of a word to
represent a homophone, like “foot” 足, pronounced soku, which is also used to write “enough,” which is also pronounced
- Sound-meaning compounds, or keisei (形声). These
borrow a character to represent a sound, and use a meaning component to
clarify which homophone it represents. One example is the word for “to
point” 指 shi、wherein 旨 (pronounced shi) suggests the pronunciation, and the symbol for hand扌contributes to the meaning. These characters
are by far the most common, making up some 80% of all kanji.
transformation, or tenchuu (転注). These include “to think” 考, which
comes from “old”老、taking the top part 耂 and altering the bottom, to
represent thinking as an extension of being old - something an old sagacious grandmother might do.
Be Conscious of the Components
For example, when writing “spring” 泉, think “white” 白 and “water” 水.
Learn the Meaning
root meaning of a character is common to all of its readings and to its
use in compounds. Once you learn how to write a character, and its
meaning, you will be able to read and recognize characters in context,
though you may not know how to pronounce it. This is how people with a
Chinese language background are able to read a Japanese newspaper
without being able to pronounce all of the characters on it.
Learn the On Reading
characters have on and kun readings. On
is based on middle-chinese pronunciation, and kun is the native Japanese reading
of the character. The on reading is often more useful when learning a
character, as it indicates the pronunciation of a character that uses
it as its sound-component (as in 泉 above), and is also the reading
generally used in Kanji compounds.
reading is the
native Japanese reading of a word, and is used when reading a character
independently. (For 泉 it is “izumi.”) I believe that even if you do not
make a concerted effort to learn these here, you will natually learn
them in your studies of spoken Japanese.
© 2008-2010 Jason Yang