1. Learn the Radicals

Kanji are not just written stroke by stroke, but also radical by radical. It’s like building or putting parts of words together. If you try to just memorize kanji stroke by stroke, it may take a long time. A shorter way to learn Kanji is learning radicals first

Here are some examples of how to learn kanji using radicals:


Name さんずい きへん ひへん にんべん
Meaning water tree fire person


 Name ごんべん いとへん てへん うかんむり
 Meaning word thread, string hand Roof, house


Look at 「氵」. It is called さんずい and the meaning is related to water. For example it is used for 「海・うみ・ocean」, 「酒・さけ・alcohol」,  and「池・いけ・pond」.

What about 「木」? It is called きへん and the meaning is related to ‘tree’. 「林・はやし・grove」, 「桜・さくら・cherry blossoms」, 「橋・はし・bridge」, etc.


When you learn kanji radicals, then you can guess what the kanji that they form mean. When you see 火, ask yourself: Might it be something related to fire? 亻is maybe something about a person? This is very important and a much faster way to learn.

Japanese people know those meanings. I know the way Japanese people learn kanji and the foreign people's vision of how to learn kanji is a little different, but to know the meaning of radicals absolutely helps you.

Let’s look at an example:

As I mentioned, kanji consists of radicals written together, so「話」has two radicals.  One is on the left side, and the other is on the right side.



As you can see, most radicals can have multiple pronunciations.

The radical「言」, named  ごんべん, is related to words. 「舌」(した) means ‘tongue’, so the meaning of 話 is something close to word and tongue. 話 is pronounced はなし which means “story” .


2. Understand Pronunciation: 音読み(おんよみ) and 訓読み(くんよみ)

There are two ways to read kanji, 音読み(おんよみ)and 訓読み(くんよみ). 音読み is originally from China and it does not make sense when you read only in 音読み. It needs other kanji to assist. For example, 話 is pronounced as わ in 音読み but only わ by itself does not make sense, so you need to add more than one kanji such as 会話(かいわ・conversation).


On the other hand, 訓読み does make sense either as it is or with 送り仮名(おくりがな). 送り仮名 are the accompanying kana that follow the kanji. So in 訓読み, 話 is pronounced as はなし(story)when it’s by itself or as 「はな」when combined with 送り仮名. In this case, the 送り仮名 is 「す」, so then it makes 話す「はなす」(to speak).


Japanese people do not care about which is 音読み and 訓読み, but I have heard that trying to memorize these pronunciations separately could be easier for foreign people.
If you want to know how to learn kanji faster, you should pay attention to the pronunciation.



3. Don't Rush Yourself

I understand that when you start learning kanji, you may want to learn 常用漢字(じょうようかんじ)as quickly as possible. These kanji are used in our daily lives, but I would like to tell you that you do not have to hurry so much. We have about 2,136 常用漢字, but if you can learn just three kanji a day, you’ll be able to learn 1,095 kanji in a year. You will memorize 2,190 kanji only in two years!


Remember, Japanese people spend nine years learning kanji (ages 6-15), and we keep learning other kanji for many years after that. You may think studying kanji is the hardest process, but it is because you are in a hurry to reach to an advanced level. Studying every day is more important that finding how to learn kanji quickly.  Take it easy and you will memorize some 常用漢字 somewhat automatically while you are studying Japanese. You can try to study Chinese for the next challenge when you master Japanese kanji!


Small image of 「話」provided by author

Hero Image by Spencer Wharton