The problem with Remember the Kanji(Heisig method)

OK, so Heisig shows up in basically every beginner thread. There are lots of people who swear by it, and those who don’t generally prefer to not talk about it because it’s…different.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t give it an extensive look. I looked over the first book for the most part and read bits and pieces from the second to see what it’s about and it’s..well…weird. Let’s take each aspect into consideration, shall we?


There are lots of people who use them so they have to be on to something, and I do use mnemonics for a few Kanjis myself(but only the really obvious ones. For example 森、林、親.) They just make sense, you know? Or they’re cute(I find it adorable how the kanji for parents is “they who sit on a tree and look at you”). But finding a mnemonic for 元?A bit too much. I think it takes more time to learn the mnemonics than the actual kanji, and the fact that you learn them without context or readings is just silly, if you ask me.

The order

OK, I get why it is tempting to learn certain kanji before others. “Hey look, I learned日, 昌 AND 晶 today!” does sound better than “I extensively studied 日”, indeed. But getting to really know 日 is worth much more than remembering a few kanji which have it as a radical. Because seriously, 日 is kind of in a gazillion words, whereas you won’t run into 昌 too often. Do you “know” it? Sure! Will it help you in any way? Not so much.

It’s all rather simplistic, innit?

I mean, Kanjis aren’t really stand-alone you know? They mingle with others, they have a different reading according to each interaction, they can be inserted into compounds which completely disregard their stand-alone meaning, thus confusing anyone who learned it. Not that you shouldn’t learn the stand-alone meanings, but they ain’t gonna help you much in the long run.

Am I the only one who noticed that RTK fans are usually beginners?

I’ve seen advanced users recommend RTK, usually with a “I never liked it but others did” attached. It could be an OK add-on. But as the only means of studying? Definitely not. I think the fans of a method tend to shape up my opinion of it a bit. I try to not let it get to me(otherwise I would have completely disregarded Heisig), but it does have a bit of influence.


Did you use Heisig? How did that work out for you?


7 thoughts on “The problem with Remember the Kanji(Heisig method)

  1. Hi Zgarbas,

    Take a look at [1]”Thoughts on Studying Kanji with Heisig” – it’s kind of reply to this entry in your blog.

    Inny Jan


    • Hello 🙂

      In the meantime I started doing RTK myself(mainly thanks to the koohii forum. I regret not finding it years ago, who knows how much better my Japanese would have been by now…). I did skip the English keywords part, though, which is costing me a lot in terms of time (progress is much slower), but hopefully it will help me more in the long-run, and gets rid of my issue with it this way…


      • [quote=Zgarbas]
        I don’t think I’ve ever learned kanjis from minna since obviously that was a bonus and I would focus on vocab. I’d only notice the kanjis when they were ones I had already learned, which brings me to…
        (Didn’t work? Ahh, that’s not, I guess 🙂 )

        If kanji were not used in Minna no nihongo from the beginning, I would have a different opinion about this book. But as it is, I find the book *extremely* valuable. The claim from the authors is that after you complete the course (I’m not done yet) you acquire basic language skills in all departments (and I appreciate that heaps). Also, kanji wise, the less common characters are filtered out for you, so you don’t waste time for the less common kanji, which you do if you do Heisig the usual way at the very beginning.

        I can see why you skipped kanji study when you worked with this book – what can I say? Well, maybe that Heisig’s mnemonics are a real game changer.

        Inny Jan

      • (ah, I just realized you’re the same person from the thread! funny how that works).

        I finished the course. I like Minna, but you don’t really get skills in all departments. For one it only works the input =). It does give you the basic grammar patterns&conjugations, but it’s not comprehensive, and vocab it’s about core 2000+bonuses if you do the extra bits. After both books you’re about at N4 level with big chances of encountering new stuff at the exam. Grammar wise I felt it lacking when it came to particles but good when it came to verbs and fixed structures.

        We never used it for writing and, imho I don’t really see how the kanjis in it would stick to you unless you’ve already studied them. They’re pretty small in size so I don’t see how you could *learn* them off it, or even recognize the finer lines without knowing what to look for. Each with their own, I guess.

  2. 1. Re: Grammar, agree, but couldn’t you complement that with Do{B,I,A}JG?
    2. Re: Output, shadowing 会話 gets you those basic patterns for your output.
    3. Re: Kanji, agree, you don’t use that book for kanji *study*. Did you hear about Heisig? 😉

    • 1. Yes, but you can (and should) complement everything with that :P. Just saying how it is as a stand-alone
      2. Again, you can shadow anything, but imho shadowing minna in class did almost nothing for my speaking ability. Then again shadowing hasn’t really helped me, so it might be just me.
      3. You got me confused now since I thought the conversations tarted because you said he shouldn’t do heisig before minna…

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