Read The Kanji

I'm conducting my kanji studies from a list of kanji and definitions from a set derived from a book called Read The Kanji (RTK) by someone named Heisig. I've never really liked the way RTK works, though, because it uses one-word definitions for each kanji. To be fair, RTK is tailored for beginners and it does this, I believe, to make them easier to remember, to not complicate things. As I study, I generally check the definitions of the new kanji that I came across in Koujien (広辞苑), 大辞泉 at Yahoo!, or WWWJDIC, which usually clears this up pretty well.

For some kanji, the single-word-definition approach pretty much works fine, but for others, it's severely lacking. The one that I just came across, and that inspired this post that I really shouldn't be taking the time to write, is 裁 = tailor. Well, yeah, it does have that meaning too, but I feel pretty confident that it's more often used (or at least used about as often) with the meaning of judging, such as at a trial (e.g., 裁く, 裁定). (See 大辞泉) In a case like this, I believe that both meanings should be made clear to the learner.

This, again, is why I like to try to use tools intended for Japanese people, using English tools as auxiliary too. They don't skimp on the definitions at all and you don't rely—or at least rely less—on translations.

Note: I am not referring to the great website Read The Kanji, which I wholeheartedly recommend. It's a totally separate tool for sharpening your kanji skills and I'm not using it nearly enough. (Shoot ... I logged in and just barely got the first one, 騒音, right. The meaning was obvious but the reading almost—almost—escaped me.)

Update: I've noticed that the words that Read the Kanji use might be the same as the first term in WWWJDIC's kanji dictionary. That's odd. Now I'm not sure if this means that WWWJDIC's dictionary is partly inspired by RTK, or if perhaps this list is not from RTK. Whatever the case, the one-word approach remains insufficient.


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Jonathan said...



Herm said...

I don't think the actual name that you give the kanji is all that important. The benefit, for me at least, has been that the method forces me break down each kanji into its components and think of a story which etches the kanji into my memory. Once I am able to hand write a kanji given its keyword, adding additional meanings is very easy. And actually, after a while, I tend to forget the English meaning all together. I just see the kanji, and have kind of a sense or feel as to what it means by itself . . .I guess other radical based study methods would do the same . . .

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the comment, Herm. You make a very good point, I think, in that the point of the system is to etch the kanji and its parts into your mind and that the meaning is somewhat secondary.

These days, when I study kanji, I tend to focus on the meaning and the composition equally, but I've noticed recently that I'm leaning more toward remembering the composition than the meaning.

So maybe I've been shortchanging the system some. Thanks for the food for thought.