Learning Kanji

My teacher told me this morning that I need to learn another 52 kanji before the exam in early December.  She believes that I can learn 4 per lesson.  4 doesn’t sound like a lot but today we worked really hard and it took 30 minutes per kanji.  Each kanji can have more than one way to pronounce it and more than one meaning.  As well as understanding it I need to be able to draw it.  Some are simple like “katana 刀”, or complicated like “kazu 数”.

The 4 kanji took up my whole lesson.  This gave me no time to work on the other parts of the exam and, given that kanji is only 25% of what I need to know, this is not going to be a winning strategy.

The other problem with learning Japanese through kanji is that they are not always relevant to my daily life, making them difficult to remember.  Today I spent 30 minutes discussing Japanese swords.  We didn’t have problems when discussing katana, the Japanese swords, but my teacher’s English is not good enough for her to know the difference between daggers, blades, and knifes.  This means getting out dictionaries and trying to find sentences that adequately describe the meaning.  Sometimes these sentences lead us off on strange tangents.  At one point she said, “Robin Hood used this instead of a sword”.  And I’m left trying to work out the connection between Samurai swords and the weapons that Robin Hood might have used.  The word she was looking for was dagger.

We also spent much too long trying to work out what “meitou” means.  The direct translation is “famous sword”.  But what is a famous sword?  I thought it was something like “Excalibur”.  A sword that had a name or was used by a great warrior.  My teacher believes that it is a sword created by a famous sword master.  Whatever it actually is it’s not a word I’m going to be using very often if ever.  I can remember it today, as it irritated me, but I will have forgotten it two weeks from now.

I know I need to learn kanji but I wish that they were taught in a different order.  Today’s lesson reminded me much too much of the Eddie Izzard sketch on how French is taught in UK  schools.  Only the Japanese equivalent of, “the monkey is on the branch” is, “the Budhist monk wore black robes”.

2 Responses to “Learning Kanji”

  1. Jessica Marie Says:

    Reading this makes me grateful that my words are useful, even if I have no language immersion. Though I was getting annoyed at having to talk about my college campus.

  2. karen Says:

    I get fed up with the whole college thing as well. And having to learn the meaning of words like “sophomore” as American English is now being taught in Japan.

    Immersion certainly is useful but given that Japanese has nothing linguistically in common with English it ends up being really frustrating. You hear the sounds and the words all the time and they are meaningless. Eventually you switch off and hear nothing at all.