I was so close to the end today that I had to push through and finish. My schedule is normally 35 new Kanji per day, but today I did 78.
And what a sweet victory it is.
The system teaches the 1945 basic "Joyo" kanji as well as another 97 useful kanji for a grand total of 2042 characters. They range from one stroke (for the number one) to twenty three strokes for the character for specimen
The system, called Remembering the Kanji by James Heisig, is totally ingenious and easy to follow. It's based around identifying primitive elements and making stories around them to remember.
For example, take specimen. The left hand side of it means gold or metal. The right side means oversee. So to remember specimen I think of someone overseeing me giving a urine specimen, since it's gold, for a drug test. Kind of weird, but weird stories stick.
Gold was learned by combining easier words, and so was oversee. Oversee is made up of slave, reclining, floor, dish. So I imagine a slave reclining on the floor of the kitchen, overseeing the other slaves cleaning dishes.
That sounds a bit complicated, but once you get into it it's very easy.
Like Emergency said, it can be done. Two thousand forty two characters in two months means that you have to average 34 a day. I don't remember exactly when I started, but it was within a day or two of my two month goal.
You don't just learn new ones, though, you also review old ones. The best software to do this with, by far, is Anki. You start out with very few review cards, but eventually you have 200+ per day.
One day I did nothing and was welcomed with 400+ cards the next day to catch up. Three days I waited until it was too late and only did review, no new cards. Three or four days I did way more than the 35 (stupid idea, in general), up to 120.
Anki says I worked for 165.37 hours total. Rescuetime says it's only 72 hours. I have no way to account for that disparity, but to me it seems like somewhere around 140-150 hours, not counting time spent reading the book and memorizing (maybe another 30 hours total).
I flipped over 14,647 virtual flashcards.
Besides the 2042 kanji, I learned a lot. First are some lessons ONLY applicable to other people wanting to learn Kanji, next are lessons that translate to other areas,
FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO DO THIS:
- Just do it. Start today. It's easy and fun at first, and by the time it gets hard you will already be reasonably committed. The system is so elegant and clever that you always feel the time is worth it.
- Use Anki. It offers no way to "pause" your learning, so you HAVE to be accountable and do it every day. Write out your answers on paper for a while but once you get going you can just do it in your head
- Do a fixed number of cards per day. Don't follow the lessons. I followed the lessons for a while and the 120+ card days will kill you. Also, some lessons are inconsequentially short. Thirty five cards was manageable and will get you done in two months.
- Use http://kanji.koohii.com to come up with stories. They usually have better ones than I could come up with, and it's much faster. The book's stories are pretty weak, but you should study with the book AND the site because the book has extra meanings and info.
- Study early in the day, as soon as you get up. I tried to do it right before bed and it's MUCH harder. Usually I would have a ten % drop in performance.
- The character meanings and drawings are VERY similar to Chinese. I picked up a third year Chinese student's reader and could get the gist of everything very easily. This is gratifying.
- This is all about the dip. If I hadn't read the book, I may have given up. Twice I thought "this is pointless, I have other stuff to do, who really cares if I know kanji?" because I had monster 300+ stacks of cards to do. Did I feel that way before getting in? Do I feel that way now? Nope. Commit, push through, enjoy the fruits of your labor.
- It's amazing to see how the brain works. To think that two months ago I couldn't read more than 20 or so Kanji, and now I know over 2000 is inconceivable to me. I love learning things quickly.
- Two hours a day is nothing. I watched less movies, no TV, and wasted less time online. I could see that time being siphoned into something productive. It was almost never an impediment on my life, and now I have tons of useful knowledge. Is there ever a good excuse to do mindless activities when stuff like this is out there?
- Most shirts and tattoos that people have with Chinese/Japanese characters say really dumb things.
- Japanese city and neighborhood names aren't as mystical as they sound. Harajuku, for example, means Meadow Inn. Sounds like a suburban subdivision, doesn't it? Tokyo means "Eastern Capital".
- Breaking huge tasks into smaller chunks makes them easy. I know this, but forget it. This reinforced it.
The journey is far from over. I'm going to do a month of review, which means 100-200 cards per day. I want to make sure that I have all of them solidly committed to memory, and I know for a fact that I probably only have 80-85% really well in there.
The system teaches you the meanings of the words, but not how to pronounce them, and not the multiple meanings or compound meanings. Months after the review months will be spent on that.
Still, knowing the meanings is a huge start. I could probably make sense of any sign, menu, or map. I have the framework now to learn vocabulary properly.
Above all, this experience reinforced the value of getting to the finish line. It was hard, though not as hard as I expected, and it feels great to have finished it. More than anything this post is a cathartic marker of having finished something tough.