So, you start off wanting to learn Japanese for any number of reasons. Mine was culture and travel. Yours might be anime or movies.

“How hard can it be?” you ask yourself. “It’s now almost all English words in katakana and a few connecting Japanese words, right? I can do this in 10 days, like this book ‘Learn Japanese in 10 Days’ says I can!”

Photo via Good Free Photos

The thing is, a lot of Japanese schools will not attempt to tell you any different. In fact, they treat kanji carefully around their beginner students, like they will render these 外国人students weak and helpless, like kryptonite.

Teachers create the same kanji slide everywhere. “This is a tree! See how simple kanji are? Tree!”

They usually throw in the on’yomi and kun’yomi readings, without going into too much detail about why this  kanji needs four different pronunciations, or why they are written in katakana AND hiragana. In a good school, you might get the explanation that one is from Chinese pronunciations, and one from native Japanese language.

Then, they get back to the ongoing saga of how Tanaka-san was late for the train and has to apologize to his boss. Phew! Another kanji down, only 2,135 to go!

To be fair, most students want to avoid seriously studying kanji as long as they can, so this kind of explanation is just great for them. They can go home and tell their friends and family that they can now write those funny-looking Japanese characters. Everyone can ooh and aah.

I think dealing with kanji should be like dealing with a cranky dog outside your house. What you don’t say to someone encountering the dog for the first time is “Oh, look! He has fur and he is soft! Why not hug him?” What you should say is, “He’ll bite you if you approach him the wrong way, but if you softly sing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ while holding out this dog treat for a year, he’ll get to know and respect you.”

In my next post, I’ll talk about how I approach studying kanji.

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