- it is important not to create cognitive overload by trying to learn too many things simultaneously
- breaking things in to chunks helps us manage our learning
- spaced repetition is the key to long term memory creation
- taking in information can be assisted by using prior knowledge as a building block
I have some practical experience of this as it relates to the study of Japanese. What was most striking about my last trip to Japan was home much more intelligible everything was.
In the period since I'd lived in Japan I had actually been studying Japanese - something I hadn't done a great deal at the time as I hadn't really intended to remain connected to the country forever. Subsequently, getting on trains, walking the streets or looking at things to buy, the strange squiggles, markings and etchings that had silently passed me by the first time suddenly began talking to me. With a hundred or so kanji under my belt everything seemed to make a little more sense. I had a hook upon which to hang a few words and with that I was able to unlock vastly more than I knew, simply because the few that I knew gave me a lever on the possible pronunciation.
That said, it recently occurred to me that if I was to get through the remaining 三級漢字 for the test I would need to find a different approach: trying to learn the strokes, the meaning, on on-yomi and kun-yomi, plus some of the main words a kanji appears in fails to meet a few of the key criteria I mention above.
SO I set myself the goal of, in twenty five days, learning all the meanings at least (too little, too late) as a peg upon which to build.
Today I stumbled on Heisig and his "Remembering the Kanji" approach, thanks to Carlie, who looks to be about to try out his system. It wasn't the first time I'd seen his name - a challenge was laid down by Tae Kim a while back, which I thought nothing of.
Kim's criticism is that the kanji in and of themselves don't mean anything in Heisig. Heisig simply introduces the 1,945 jouyou kanji by meaning and strokes. Japanese readings don't even get a look-in until volume 2 of his book!
I can see why Kim's sceptical - it is possible to 'learn' all the kanji you need in everyday life in Japan without learning a single word of Japanese - but I can also see, from a professional stand point, very compelling reasons why Heisig's approach makes a lot of sense. Heisig argues that one reason that Chinese and Korean students find learning Japanese easier is that they are familiar with the meanings for kanji, even if they don't know the language itself. His approach levels that playing field, or so he claims.
I think the system is worth closer scrutiny for several reasons:
- the whole book is broken up in to manageable(-ish) "chunks" of between 10 and 130 kanji
- they are ordered so that what you have learnt will help to make sense of what is to come
- the system relies on spaced repetition
- you are only focusing on learning two things for each kanji - strokes and meaning
There are problems with it of course:
- learning all 1,945 jouyou kanji is all well and good, but at my level I am unlikely to need them, or encounter them to ensure learning continues
- maintaining spaced repetition going forward would require testing yourself at 60 a day, everyday, just to make sure you view every one once a month
- motivation is likely to be tricky as it would probably be unclear at times exactly where the benefit was - without an equally intensive vocabulary campaign to follow or run concurrently you may never need many of the kanji for years to come, if at all...
If you're interested, you can download a sample of the first 250 or so kanji covered, and at the Reviewing the Kanji website you can track your progress and see useful stats about your progress (if you visit my other blog, Learning Rocks, you'll see why the application of IT to learning at there site, and their attempt to leverage the online community of learners, is so exciting to me).