Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Studying Japanese kanji

I have a "practice" test for the JPLT later this month. It isn't especially important, and like most such tests, it is overly focused on grammar and form. However, I use it as a motivator to see my strong points, and especially the weak points that I may, or may not, focus on improving.

One of the biggest challenges is learning kanji. There are over 2,000 of them which Japanese high school graduate must learn. For someone working full time who is still learning and improving his/her speaking ability, this presents an enormous challenge. I have heard that it takes roughly 10 years for a non-native speaker without the use of Chinese characters in the native language to master kanji.

By the time I graduated college, I knew about 400-450. Most of these ---plus others which I have since learned---I still remember, at least the basic meanings. So if I see them, I generally understand what is written. I have forgotten how to write a lot of them, and it takes constant practice to remember. Even then, my written kanji are so poorly written that most Japanese have some difficulty reading and understanding them.

To make things even tougher, the meaning, as well as the reading changes when 2 or more kanji are combined. So one has to remember the combinations too.

I suppose I could just forget about learning kanji, and not read much Japanese. However, I don't see how anyone could live in a country over the long term without being able to read. I read tons of books and magazines in English, and would like to be able to do so in Japanese too.

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