How I Scored 100% on All My Kanji Quizzes

In middle and high school, one of my favorite classes was Japanese. I had a wonderful sensei, and I was excited to learn something I could apply to playing role-playing games that hadn’t been released in English yet. Unfortunately, I never ended up playing Bahamut Lagoon or Mother in Japanese, mostly because there were so many other Super Nintendo and Playstation games for me to play, and by now pretty much all of the Final Fantasy games have been released in English.

But if nothing else, I still enjoy continuing my Japanese studies, and I picked up some great study skills, one of which I will share with you right now. Every week, we would have a kanji quiz, which consisted of several components, including:

  • Given the hiragana reading, write the kanji and show the stroke orders.
  • Given a set of sentences, for each underlined compound and individual kanji, write out the hiragana reading. For each underlined hiragana reading, write out the kanji.

At the start of the week, Sensei would give us a selection of kanji that would be on the quiz. We used a book called Japanese: The Spoken Language (the version we used is available at Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Japanese-Written-Language-Field-Test/dp/0887272037).

It might seem odd, but I actually enjoyed the quizzes, and pretty much every week, I got a perfect score, because I liked studying for them. But my study technique was pretty straightforward.

Writing in My Spare Minutes

Whenever I found an extra couple of minutes, maybe as I ate lunch, or while waiting for gym class to start, or during a commercial break, I would pull out my kanji list and a piece of paper. Even a scrap of paper or the back of an envelope would work. I would write out each kanji at least 10 times, numbering the strokes so that I knew the write order. After the first 10 times, I would then cover each kanji up, and try to write it from memory. If I made a mistake or messed up the stroke order, I’d circle it (in red ink, if I had a pen), and then wrote it out another 10 times. The next time I came back for another practice session, I would start with the kanji I had circled. Of course, I didn’t always get through all of the kanji in every session, but you’d be surprised at what even a few minutes of focused practice here and there can do.

Be a Copycat

For each reading passage and practice sentence in the book, I would take a clean sheet of paper and and copy the sentences out, just as it was written in the book. I know a lot of my classmates probably thought it was overkill, but just getting in the habit of writing everything out is great practice. Of course, not all of the words would be on the kanji quiz, but the practice made sure that I had all my possible bases covered. In addition, it really helped me when final exams came around, because the sentences had kanji and vocabulary from older chapters as well as the new ones for the week. I got a chance to constantly review all the old words each week by copying all the text, so when the end of the semester came, I hadn’t forgotten everything I learned in the first weeks. To paraphrase the old saying, if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.

Don’t Just Fill in the Blanks

By the time we got to high school, we were using a new book that was all in Japanese. For some of the homework exercises in the book, there were “fill in blank” or multiple choice questions. I could have just written the answers directly in the workbook, just circling the the right selection or writing the missing sentence fragment. Instead, I wrote each entire sentence on a separate sheet of paper. Again, it gave me extra practice, and it also kept the workbook clean, so that I could always come back later and redo the exercises, without having the answer written right there.

Conclusion: It’s All About Repetition!

What I’ve written might seem obvious, maybe even too easy. Perhaps I overdid it, but it worked! I know that these days, unlike my time in middle and high school, we have so many resources available on smartphones and other devices, and it’s certainly handy to study electronic flashcards or play games on mobile. But nothing beats the practice of writing and repetition. In his book, Confessions of a Japanese Linguist: How to Master Japanese, writer Shane Jones explains his method of mastering kanji, and I find myself nodding in agreement when he emphasizes how he spent much of his study time writing out the characters the old-fashioned way, in a plain spiral notebook.

So if you want to become proficient at reading and writing kanji, don’t just really on apps and flashcards. Pull out that pen and paper and get to it!

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Cloudy Heaven Games

Cloudy Heaven Games

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I am an independent game developer and computer science tutor. https://cloudyheavengames.itch.io/ Twitter: @cloudyheavengms