Learning Kanji and Japanese Vocabulary with Mnemonics

I mentioned in my last post that one of my goals is to go to the Tokyo Game Show. Having spoken to a developer who actually exhibited a game there a few years back, one thing I keep in mind is that most of the people I meet there will probably not speak English. Of course, I wouldn’t have assumed they would anyway, because the event is in Japan, but some people expect that in big cities like Tokyo, there’s enough English-speakers for visitors to get by without much Japanese. Maybe this works for tourism, but for business, I want to make sure I am as prepared as possible.

For that purpose, I’m working hard to improve my Japanese. But it can be hard to get my language studies in during the day, when I’m also tutoring, working on game development, and doing everything else to run a game business. If you’re like me and pressed for time, or even if you’re a student and want a quicker way to learn and retain more vocabulary and kanji, consider using mnemonics.

As you might know, mnemonics are patterns or stories that you associate with a concept, to help you better remember it. If you’re unfamiliar with them, here’s a link that better explains what they are and provides some examples: https://www.learningassistance.com/2006/january/mnemonics.html. What I will discuss here are two tools that I’ve used that have really helped me pick up kanji and vocabulary quickly.

The first tool is an app called Memrise. Available for smartphones and desktops, it’s a great way to learn and review everything from kanji and vocabulary to grammar. You can choose from different courses, which are basically sets of vocabulary or other items, grouped by themes. One of the distinguishing features is that for each study item, you can select from a list of memes that other users have contributed to help you remember the item. The meme can be a photo with captions, or even just a mnemonic sentence or phrase. If there are no memes, or if you’re feeling creative, you can create your own. Memrise also keeps track of your daily streaks, which helps keep me motivated to complete a study session every day (my longest streak right now is over 735 days…I’d be hurt if I broke that streak!). There’s a paid version that gives you additional study modes, but honestly, even with the free version, it’s really been a help for me. You can get started at memrise.com.

Recently I also started using a website called Kanshudo.com. There’s a lot of great features to this site, many available for free, but for now I should highlight the method it uses to help with kanji. In the site’s own words: “Kanshudo works by breaking each kanji down into components, and putting the meanings of each component together into an easy-to-remember sentence known as a mnemonic. “ Any time you do any exercises or games with kanji or vocabulary, with one click you can look at a detailed breakdown of each kanji. The Kanji Builder game lets you combine the individual kanji components into a character, and if you need some help, you can quickly view the mnemonic sentence, as well as the most useful vocabulary word associated with the kanji. My approach is to play a game like Sentence Complete or Word Match, and each time I encounter a kanji I don’t remember, I click on the details, do the Kanji Builder after viewing the mnemonic, and then do the Drawing Practice exercise to help seal it in my memory. If you do the exercises and look at the reading selections, the site gives you plenty of chances to reinforce your knowledge, and if you have forgotten a kanji, it’s easy to get right to the Drawing Practice to review. It’s all presented in a very handy format, right at your fingertips, which makes it easier to practice. Plus you get points for every study exercise you do, and if you get enough points you get coupons for the Pro edition. You can learn more about Kanshudo at https://www.kanshudo.com/kanshudo_system.

So those are two tools you can get started with if you’re interested in mnemonics for enhancing your Japanese studies. There are surely others, such as the book Remembering the Kanji. I haven’t read that book, but I understand it’s another great resource. I’ll add more as I find them, and if you know of some, please let me know!



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Cloudy Heaven Games

Cloudy Heaven Games


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