When I first started studying Japanese, I told myself I couldn’t ignore kanji, even though every first year Japanese textbook I’d flipped through did exactly that for most, or all, of the textbook.
I forget how I came across WaniKani, but it seemed like the best way to learn kanji, in conjunction with a full course in first year Japanese grammar and vocabulary. And used like that, it’s really great.
The first man to make the kanji less terrifying was Heisig. As legend* has it, he locked himself in a tower surrounded by a moat, which was filled with kappa, and learned the meaning of every kanji by inventing clever mnemonics for each one. Then he astounded his Japanese professors by being able to provide the meaning, but not the pronunciation, of any kanji they threw at him.
*(Legend details might be slightly incorrect.)
I’ve only read the first book (PDF link). His method here was to use imaginative stories for each kanji, so you could associate a word picture in your mind with each character.
胆 Gall Bladder
The pieces in this character should be easily recognizable: on the left, the element for part of the body, and on the right, the character for nightbreak, which we have just met. What all of this has to do with the gall bladder is not immediately clear. But all we need to do is give a slight twist to the traditional biblical advice about not letting the sun set on your anger (which ancient medicine associated with the choler or bile that the gall bladder is supposed to filter out), and change it to “not letting the night break on your anger” (or your gall)—and the work of remembering the kanji is done. And the improvement is not a bad piece of advice in its own right, since anger, like so many other things, can often be calmed by letting the sun set on it and then “sleeping it off.”
- created by rewriting a decent Japanese-English kanji dictionary, and
- runs out of imaginative stories created by Heisig very early, making you do all the work of thinking them up from there on.
Anyway, this book was not for me. Not learning pronunciation does help with quickly learning only the meaning, but why would I want to wait to learn pronunciation?
WaniKani offered both pronunciations and imaginative stories, so basically they made Heisig better, and online.
They also had a companion product, TextFugu, which I subscribed to, but which really didn’t offer much more than the Genki I textbook I was using. But then, came the announcement of EtoEto.
EtoEto. The grammar online learning system to end all online learning systems. Screenshots of the design looked amazing. Of course I signed up! WaniKani was so good, this was bound to be another home run!
Time passed, and EtoEto was still in development. Then people got to put their names in to be alpha testers. Soon I got my invite, and I was really happy.
The final design was three parts, one for beginners, one for intermediate students, and one for advanced students. Material in the beginner and advanced parts were being created fairly quickly, but the intermediate section, well, about zero content. And that was the part I was interested in.
Still, I was not worried too much. WaniKani was a great service, and they were going to do great things with everything on EtoEto.
And then Koichi, the head of Tofugu, and the driving force behind WaniKani, TextFugu, and EtoEto, dropped this little bombshell.
That was in January, 2016. People started asking questions after that about what was happening. In response, they offered this Trello board. Which had its last update in January, 2017. Which, at the time of this post, was almost eight months ago.
Since then, nothing. No communications. Total silence.
Still using WaniKani, because it’s still great, and because I need to learn kanji. But I’ve given up hope on EtoEto being a valuable resource for me in the intermediate stage of learning.
I get the impression Tofugu is quite a small company. I don’t know what’s going on internally, but I’ve worked for small companies, so I know about people and time being stretched really thinly.
But no communication is a terrible problem.
So what am I trying to say? I guess use WaniKani, and if you see TextFugu/EtoEto, think before you jump in there too.