In an effort to try and finally plug up the gaping holes in my Japanese literacy, I bought JLPT1-level kanji flash cards, i.e. the ones that should put me at official Japanese literacy. I’d gotten a ton of mileage out of my JLPT2 cards, even passing the exam in the process, so I know they do the trick. Right now I’m prioritizing reading over writing, so issues of being able to recognize but not replicate aren’t quite as big a deal for me.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s difficult to just memorize a kanji flash card. The ones I use, from White Rabbit Press, have all sorts of useful details on them. They have pronunciations (even more obscure ones), they have multiple examples of usage, and of course a picture of the kanji itself. The potential trouble lies in the fact that, not only are there varying pronunciations depending on whether the characters are being used in compounds or along with hiragana, but in many cases words will have very abstract and sometimes even contradictory meanings just from centuries of history and its influence on the language. The kanji 唐 (pronounced “tou” and “kara”) originally referred to China’s Tang Dynasty, but it can even refer to China itself or Arabic or just mean “foreign” in general.

Reading the characters in isolation also only helps so much, as you mainly encounter them in compounds and in sentences. As a result, I find that it’s more important to introduce myself to the kanji just to get their images in my head, and then to read as much as I can (manga counts!) in order to just get accustomed to recognizing them in the middle of a sentence or on a sign. One problem, of course, is that my reading material and the kanji I’m studying are not part of a greater package so I can’t just study some words and then read the relevant article which tests those abilities.

This is actually why textbooks and workbooks and especially a solid curriculum in a structured class can be so helpful. It immediately sees if you actually know what you just learned. Alas, I have no such materials to work with, but for now I’m content with what I have. Even if I don’t end up absolutely mastering these kanji, I know I’ll at the very least be in a position to improve.

PS: I know Joyo is being replaced, I just forget what the new one is called.

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