How Kanji Should Be Used by Students

A lot of Japanese-learning resources will spoon-feed you kanji. Japanese teachers do this a lot, too. They’ll write like 90% of words in hiragana and katakana only. I’m not sure if this is meant to be encouraging, or insulting, or what. But I think it’s a misleading waste of time.

Let’s say we have a sentence like the phrase we just looked at in the previous lecture:


Aside from the fact that you’re unlikely to come across such a common, casual Japanese phrase in a Japanese textbook or classroom, even if they did write it, many courses would present it in hiragana only:


Phrase books and whatnot will dumb this down a step further and write it in romaji:

mou toshi da naa.

There is one glaring problem with this—Japanese people would never write this phrase these two ways. This, in turn, means that the phrase, when written in romaji or only kana, is not authentic Japanese. As far as I can tell, there are only two ways that Japanese should ever be written for students. First, we can write kanji with furigana (i.e. hiragana on top of kanji characters), like this:


Or, we can write the full Japanese as it is likely to appear in Japan, with phonetic spellings appearing below it, like this (with kana):

もう とし だ なあ

Or like this (with romaji):

mou toshi da naa

In my learning materials, I always use one of these last two methods. The main reason is that you should start getting exposure to Japanese words as they are written in the real world as soon as possible, slowly building up your ability to see kanji the same way you see letters of the alphabet. This is really important, so I’m going to rephrase that one more time:

You should always practice with Japanese written the way that Japanese people actually write it.

By doing so, you will improve your ability to naturally recognize Japanese words without having to disassemble any characters.

Every time you see Japanese written in any place, please try to read the full Japanese first. Trying and failing to read it is a step towards being able to read it effortlessly at some point in the future. In other words, you’ll come to see Japanese characters the way that Japanese people see them. I know for a fact that it is possible, because I don’t think about characters at all when reading these days. In fact, I often use characters to help me skim through large Japanese texts without thinking about individual pronunciations (and it works).

Anyway, enough about kanji. Let's get this course over with already!

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