Column #88 Kanji Clinic, The Japan Times, October 16, 2007
"Online kanji learning is buzzing like never before"
Back in 2001, when I first suggested in this column using Internet resources for learning kanji, a Yahoo search yielded 12,700 hits for gkanji learning.h That number has now reached a staggering 1.4 million. New, sophisticated online kanji self-study resources are increasingly enabling foreign kanji aspirants to take charge of their own learning at home.
Belgian web designer Fabrice Denis has created Reviewing the Kanji (http://kanji.koohii.com), an online community for devotees of James Heisigfs controversial best-selling kanji learning system, gRemembering the Kanji.h Why controversial? Heisig advocates a divide-and-conquer approach, and recommends learning the shapes and meanings of all 1,942 joyo (general-use) kanji before tackling their myriad pronunciations. (To learn more, view the first 125 pages of his textbook gratis at http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/publications/miscPublications/pdf/RK4/RK%201_sample.pdf).
Denisf site offers a virtual flashcard program for reviewing Heisigfs key meanings and the shapes of over 3,000 kanji. The program remembers your errors and creates personalized reviews of the flashcards based on how many times you have got them wrong. No more piles of cumbersome paper flashcards! You can also cut and paste any Japanese text onto the site and all the kanji youfve added flashcards for will appear in a different color.
Users can also record their mnemonic-based stories using Heisigfs keywords, electing to make each one public or private; see stories others have shared; vote on which offerings are the most helpful; and participate in the sitefs active forum. Recent threads include Japanese reactions to the Heisig method and encouragement of middle-aged learners embarking on serious study of kanji.
Heisig fans will also want to check out Kanji Gym (http://www.kanjigym.de/main/cms/cms.html), designed by German Vittorio Verlag and Heisig himself. Their free software application for reviewing characters lets you review any lesson from the book and repeat the characters that gave you trouble. It can be used on both PCs and Macs and on hand-held devices running Palm OS. You can draw a character on a scratchpad and compare it to the correct answer, save any notes that you have typed in to help you remember individual kanji, and view animated stroke orders. Kanji Gym operates in English, Spanish, German, and French.
Kanji learners not using the Heisig system will find support at Purdue Universityfs Kanji Wiki (http://tell.fll.purdue.edu/KanjiWiki), where they can share mnemonics for kanji. Kanji Wiki can also accept graphic files of visual mnemonics.
For reviewing kanji pronunciations, the score-tracking flashcard system at Collin McCulleyfs KanjiLab (http://www.epochrypha.com/japaneseold) canft be beat. Examples of compound words containing each kanji and sentences demonstrating their use are included.
If studying for the upcoming Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is starting to give you the yawns, pop on over to Charles Kelleyfs Online Japanese Language Study Materials site (http://www.manythings.org/japanese/). Kellyfs flash quizzes, including one on kanji compounds frequently used in newspapers (and in JLPT questions), are a blast.
Kanji alive, developed at the University of Chicago, offers an introduction to kanji (http://kanjialive.lib.uchicago.edu/) that does an excellent job of explaining all the fundamentals of kanji. This is a must-see for kanji newbies, but even seasoned learners can pick up new insights. The site also offers a kanji look-up tool with many user-friendly features, including cross-references to various textbooks and stroke-order animations.
Kanji lover Eve Kushner provides an informative and entertaining take on the intriguing logic of kanji compounds in her weekly blog, Kanji Curiosity (http://www.evekushner.com/writing/?page_id=81). Make your Nihongo more erudite by spending some time at Four-Character Idiomatic Compounds (http://home.earthlink.net/~4jword/index3.htm); native speakers are impressed when foreigners can pop these gems into their written or spoken Japanese. And for some kanji comic relief, Hanzi Smatter (http://hanzismatter.com), a blog dedicated to exposing the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture, including meaning-challenged kanji tattoos, is highly recommended.
In the early days of my Japanese study, greading for pleasureh meant either suffering the boredom of childrenfs picture books or struggling -- with constant looking up in paper dictionaries-- through the adult books I yearned to read instead. Today, two decades later, any kanji learner with access to a computer can easily develop a daily Japanese reading habit using Todd Ruddickfs indispensable rikai.com site (http://www.rikai.com). Simply enter the URL for any Web site-- or cut and paste any text, like emails--and the pronunciations (in hiragana) and meanings for every kanji in the text will pop up on your screen as you move your curser over them. An equally amazing tool is Hiraganamegane (http://www.hiragana.jp/en/), which returns your desired Japanese URL in printable form with furigana (mini-hiragana written above the kanji) to indicate pronunciation.
Do yourself a favor and place some of these sites in your Web browserfs favorites list today. Thanks to the wonders of cyberspace, kanji learners have never had it so good.
To read other columns on kanji learning tools in cyberspace, go here and here.