This is yet another one of my quirks.
I keep seeing people saying they know 1548 Kanji. And it confuses me. I mean ok, the fact that people keep track of how many words or kanji they know confuses me as well, but how do you KNOW a kanji? I mean, seriously. In my head it’s like this.
Recognition. Ok, you recognize a Kanji. This takes practice and Heisig is great for it. You might even know a meaning or two for it, but for now let’s focus on recognizing. Usually recognition is one of those things built in time, where rather than study the important thing is to get used to them. And then sometimes you THINK you recognize them when in fact it’s something just very similar. I mean sure, it’s easy to recognize a kanji when surrounded by other different ones, but maybe you won’t if it’s surrounded by similar ones. Also, some Kanjis are just too goddamn similar for my own good. I have a hard time telling a 土 from a 士, for example。 And then you have the various fonts and suddenly nothing is recognizable anymore.
Meanings. Ok, you’ve learnt to associate a Kanji with a meaning. Maybe 2-3 meanings. What about the ones with 5+ stand-alone meanings? What happens when it gets into a compound and it loses its original meaning? I remember when during one of my first Japanese exams I came out very confused and started asking my colleagues “wtf does highschool school long mean?”(highschool principal). It’s because I remembered 長い but not -長 as a suffix for a leading position. And that’s a pretty obvious one. I was also confused by 生け花 during the same exam.
Readings. Ok, sure. You look at 上 and you can read it. It’s うえ, right? Sure. Stand-alones are ok. Some stand-alones have more than one reading but you can manage that thanks to the helpful okurigana. I know 上．No prob. And then you randomly open the dictionary an realize it has like 20 alternate readings. Sure, the beginner book in which you learned it says it has 1-5(depends on the textbook), but that’s cause it’s all you need for a basic understanding. Then things get more complicated and new readings should be known. It would be weird to teach someome all the possible readings during their first month of Japanese, after all.
Readings 2. I never remember which is the 訓読み and which is the 音読み. I think it matters. Does knowing all the alternate readings and which is kun and which is on add to important aspects of knowing a kanji?
Okurigana. This one time during the N5 we had to select the proper okurigana for 小さい. No one saw something as simple as that coming, and afterwards we were all confused. I think we all got it wrong. This goes well with readings, but you can’t really know a Kanji without being able to pair it with the proper okurigana for the situation.
Writing. Another biggie. Sure, for the most part it’s only difficult when you’re a beginner, since after a while you know how to write most radicals and how to follow the general rules, but every now and then some weird-looking fella shows up, like nothing you’ve encountered before. And let’s face it, since writing can be hard/boring/timeconsuming/whatever to practice, it is also easily forgotten(I’m very bad at writing, for the record). Sure, I can recognize a 歳 a mile away, but when writing it I will probably forget something important.
So when do you KNOW a kanji? When you can do all of these? Because if it’s like that then I don’t know too many. Or maybe I’m just not good at getting this.
BTW, there are a few user-friendly kanjis, don’t get me wrong. I love 電. I really do. It’s insta-recognizeable, easy to write whilst having a high enough stroke number to make you feel special(some people care about that, I hear), only one reading regardless of what you combine it with, and -best of all- as soon as you see it in a compound you know what that word is about. I can safely say that I know 電 and….maybe 10 other Kanjis? Though let’s face it, I only recently found out that 一 can be used for 一男(kazuo). Even 電 might be keeping things from me.