Japanese learning

How does kanji learning work?

Learning kanji consists of three components:

According to psycholinguistics, there are three aspects of informational processes involved in processing kanji: orthography (grapheme), phonology, and semantics. Recent psycholinguistic studies in Japanese (Flores d’Arcais, Saito, & Kawakami, 1995; Wydell, Patterson, & Humphreys, 1993) and in Chinese (Perfetti & Zhang, 1995; Tan, Hoosain, & Peng, 1995) have indicated that all of these types of information seem to be involved in word identification.

Japanese Language Educators’ Strategies for and Attitudes toward Teaching Kanji (2002), 229

What learning methods are there?

The conventional strategies used for teaching and learning kanji are categorized as rote, contextual, and mnemonic or memory.

Japanese Language Educators’ Strategies for and Attitudes toward Teaching Kanji (2002), 230

Mnemonic methods

The keyword method

The keyword mnemonic is well known in the educational literature for its effectiveness in accelerating learning speed and in boosting immediate recall of second-language vocabulary. A keyword is a familiar word that bears an acoustic resemblance to a novel word. For example, to remember the English equivalent of the French word eglise (church), one might use egg as the keyword. The mnemonic benefit is provided by generating an interactive visual image linking the two words (e.g., a church built of eggs). Presumably, subsequent presentations of the novel term will elicit the keyword, which permits access to the image incorporating the translation equivalent.

Keyword Mnemonic and Retention of Second-Language Vocabulary Words (1992), 520

What methods work best?

A study conducted by Flaherty and Noguchi (1998) on the “whole-kanji method” and the “component analysis method” was administered to adult L2 and FL learners; it demonstrated that the component analysis method promoted significantly improved memory compared to the whole-kanji method.

Japanese Language Educators’ Strategies for and Attitudes toward Teaching Kanji (2002), 238

The keyword method is not so good

The findings consistently indicated that long-term forgetting was greater for learners instructed to use the keyword mnemonic than for learners engaged in rote rehearsal.

Keyword Mnemonic and Retention of Second-Language Vocabulary Words (1992), 520

How many kanji must be learned?

It is not necessary to know every word used in a text to understand it. Laufer argues that chances are best with >95% coverage:

The results of the study suggest that reading academic prose is likely to be greatly affected by the lexical knowledge of the text. A chance to become a `reader' is significantly higher if the lexical coverage of the text is 95% and above, that is if 95% of the text's word tokens are familiar to the reader.

What Percentage of Text-lexis is Essential for Comprehension? (1989), 319

Others argue that no such 'threshold' level of coverage exists:

Our study used a direct comparison of coverage and comprehension, and it seems that each increase in vocabulary coverage between the 90% and 100% levels offers relatively uniform gains in comprehension. This finding is in line with earlier studies by Laufer (1989) and Hu and Nation (2000), which used more indirect approaches to the coverage–comprehension relationship.

The Percentage of Words Known in a Text and Reading Comprehension (2011), 35

Though in any case, the real figure is probably somewhere at or above 95%:

The results suggest that the degree of vocabulary coverage required depends on the degree of comprehension required. For our advanced participants and our measurement instruments, if 60% comprehension is considered adequate, then 95% coverage would suffice. If 70% comprehension is necessary, then 98%–99% coverage was required. If the goal is 75% comprehension, then the data suggest that our learners needed to know all of the words in the text.