kanji learning

Researchers have found that university level students studying Japanese take three times as long to reach the same level of proficiency as students studying languages such as French, German or Spanish. Educated guesses suggest that the reason for this is that difficulty understanding kanji slow down interpretive reading in Japanese. Kanji has long been understood as the most difficult part of the Japanese language to master for foreign students, particularly those whose first language is alphabetic. Lower proficiency kanji learners were often better at keeping on track with study than those at higher levels – because their goals were more short-term (learn enough kanji for a classroom test) than those at higher levels, who often had longer term goals of learning 1000-2000 kanji in order to graduate or achieve other such important goals. This meant that those students often felt the colossal task as ‘overwhelming’ which easily leads to feeling frustrated or wanting to give up, causing progress to slip.

People learning kanji tend to learn it the way elementary students in Japan do – via lists, rather than comprehensive reading. While learning kanji in context may slow down the number of kanji they can learn at a time, it should also help with their comprehension skills as well as helping the kanji to stick in their minds, as it is placed within contexts. However, this difference calls into question something else – are the students learning in order to pass tests, or are they learning in order to actually conquer the language? If the former, list study may be their most viable solution. But if the latter, I would argue that placing kanji within the context of words or sentences will help long term memory and give the learner a better all-round knowledge of the language.

“Learners who set short-term and specific goals made 50% more progress than students with general goals or distant goals.” (p. 101)Short term goals are a major feature in game mechanics – in most games the goal is simply ‘get to the next level’ or for something like an RPG the storyline is broken down into shorter missions, which change or become available as you achieve the last one.

It is important to consider shifting the focus away from testing new kanji with quizzes to learning kanji for communicative purposes.


REF: Harbon, L. & Rose H. (2013) Self-regulation in second language learning: An investigation of the kanji-learning task. Foreign Language Annals, 46(1), 96-107. retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=b0753317-dee9-4e4b-b34a-e86e6d0f7b3b%40sessionmgr111&vid=1&hid=104


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