You have been studying Japanese for a while and you mastered Hiragana and Katakana. You can read Japanese in Hiragana pretty much and pick up some cool Japanese words. I know you may want to take another step and learn Kanji.
But is it really necessary?
Let’s talk about that.
What is Kanji Anyway?
Kanji is considered to be THE hardest part of learning Japanese by many people including us Japanese!
Unlike Hiragana and Katakana, Kanji is not phonetic which means Kanji is a system of symbols that speak for ideas and words. As well as each Kanji has different meanings and its way of being pronounced depends upon how it’s used in a sentence.
Most of Kanji was inspired by the Chinese and they look quite similar. We share some words but the majority are different with small detail changed like 氣 and 気 (which both means spirit)
A lot of Kanji is made from how they looked like.
For example, 月（つき(Tsuki) which means the moon）was created based on how the moon looked like. 🌙月 🌙月🌙🌙
How Many Kanji Are There?
According to Wikipedia, there are more than 50,000 Kanji. But almost none of the native Japanese speakers know anywhere close to this number.
Despite this huge number, Japanese people learn about only 2,000 of those in school from elementary to middle school. High school is not mandatory for Japanese and therefore, some native speakers may only know those 2000 words and have no problems living and working in Japan.
I personally can read many Kanji since I used to love reading Manga as a child. However, if I need to write down, I don’t think I can write more than 2,000 Kanji.
As technology allow us to write in less time and everything we type is automatically converted into Kanji, you don’t need to remember how to write them. But I still need to make sure if I’m using the write Kanji for a sentence I’m writing.
For, example, if I want to send a message “It’s very hot today” and I type あつい(Atsui) in Japanese, these four types of Atsui will appear 「暑い」「熱い」「厚い」「篤い」.
The correct one for that sentence is 「暑い」. This means “hot” and is only used when you talk about the weather.
So the Sentence will be 「今日はとても暑いです」”It is very hot today”
The second one 「熱い」 also means “hot”. However, this one can be used when you talk about heat, temperature, or passion.
「このスープはとても熱いです」”This soup is very hot”
「彼は熱い男だ！」”He is a very passionate man”
The third one 「厚い」 means “thick”.
「この本はとても厚いです」”This book is very thick.”
I don’t even know the last one「篤い」.
So if I came across 「篤い」while I’m reading, I would probably just have no idea what that means. Also it is so hard to find the meaning of Kanji if you don’t know how to pronounce it. I now know how to pronounce 篤い as “Atsui” because I was typing Atsui and 篤い came up. But I would have had no idea if I just had found it on a book or the internet.
Why Learning Kanji is useless?
Learning Kanji is useless?
Useless is a little too big a word but it is partly true. But I do believe that Kanji is only useful for some people.
Here is why.
It Depends on Your Goal.
I said learning Kanji is a waste of time. But it does not mean you shouldn’t learn it. It just depends on your goal. Let’s talk about your goal of this learning Japanese journey.
If you want to live in Japan and work with Japanese people where you’re required to write emails and read them in Japanese, yes you will absolutely need Kanji. I will create some blog posts about how to study Kanji in the future so we can learn Kanji together!
Because we do use Kanji every day in every writing. Unless you can read more than 2,000 words, it is almost impossible to work in a Japanese company except for a language teacher.
But if your goal is to watch and enjoy anime or just simply want to have a casual conversation with us in Japanese, you do not need Kanji at all.
Even if what you want to do was to be fluent in Japanese, you could reach that level without having seen any strokes of our Japanese writing system.
My Vietnamese Friend Speaks Japanese Fluently Without Studying Japanese
So if your goal is just to watch anime and make Japanese friends, you do not need Kanji at all. I actually have many friends who are not Japanese and speak very good Japanese. Surprisingly, some of them cannot even read Hiragana and Katakana.
I asked one of my Vietnamese friends who speaks Japanese really well “why is your Japanese so good? Did you study in school?”.
She answered, “No, I never study Japanese. I just learned how to speak by just talking to my Japanese friends“. She told me in very good Japanese. She cannot read and write Hiragana and Katakana but her speaking is so good that I couldn’t just believe it.
Even though her English is fluent, She never talked to me in English. She always 100% of the time talked to me in Japanese. Because that is the only way she could improve her Japanese proficiency. Although she may fail the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, it does not matter to her because she just likes speaking Japanese and making more friends.
For this reason, if you are like her, I think learning Kanji is just a waste of time for you. You will be able to speak Japanese very well by having a chat with me in Japanese!
The Readings of Kanji is Just Too Much
Even though I said all the things about how learning Kanji is a waste of time if you like to study them, then go ahead and learn. The best way to learn Japanese is to do it in your favorite way!
I learned English by watching movies and tv shows, mainly, Friends because it’s fun!
If learning Kanji makes you excited to learn more, I’d love you to do it that way. But I have to warn you that learning Kanji is not just remembering the stroke order of Kanji but also how to read them.
Additionally, most of Kanji have multiple readings Kun-Yomi and On-Yomi.
For example, 月 is read つき (Tsuki) in Kun-Yomi and げつ(Getsu) or がつ(Gatsu) in On-Yomi.
今日は月が綺麗だね。（きょうはつきがきれいだね (kyou-wa-tsuki-ga-kirei-dane)）The moon looks beautiful tonight.
In this case, 月 is read as Tsuki in Kun-Yomi.
however, もうすぐで八月も終わりだね（もうすぐではちがつもおわりだね(mousugu-de-hatchigatsu-mo-owari-dane)）August is almost over isn’t it!?
In this case, 月 is read as Gatsu in On-Yomi. So the rule here is when 月 comes after another word, it will change its meaning to month.
It may sound harsh but even if you memorized 100 Kanji, you may not be able to use them correctly in writing. Being able to write and understand any words in Kanji consumes too much time and you can use the same amount of time to practice speaking and listening in more fun ways.
Native Japanese Speakers Do not Even Know Kanji
Yes, that is true. It’s about me!
I never did good in Japanese subjects in school. I did not like study so there were so many words in Kanji that I couldn’t write. I mean who wants to remember these words 「懸念」「齟齬」「機微」「所謂」「贔屓」？This was like math to me. I mean “When we will use these words!?” I still don’t know how to read them and have never come across them in 29 years of my life.
It may be true the reason I say “you don’t need to learn Kanji” because I sucked in high school. As a matter of fact, I almost failed Japanese subjects multiple times because of this.
I am Japanese so I can basically read all Kanji used in public or newspaper, and if I can use Autocorrect I wouldn’t use words incorrectly 80% of the time. But just because I learned them for 12 years in school. Yet there are so many Kanji that I don’t know.
You will only need about 2,000 words to live in Japan with as little stress as possible. But, I think you should master Japanese speaking and listening first before you learn Kanji.
Whenever I meet someone, they tell me “I just started studying Japanese! Can you teach me how to write Kanji?”
I mean I am extremely happy that they are interested in my language. I am absolutely 100% supportive and teach them as much as I know about Kanji and other things. However, They seem to stop learning and lose their interest in Japanese after a while. It is just sad… I wish I could’ve taught them in a different way so that they would be able to continue until now.
As I found that the most important thing regarding learning English is consistency. That is why I gave up on studying English the traditional way a long time ago such as memorizing vocabulary and grammar from textbooks. Instead, I chose more fun ways that I liked and focused on my speaking and listening skills through watching Friends and movies, as well as talking to my friends, and listening to music. My English is not perfect but myself 7 years ago would be proud if he knew he would be able to speak English as much as I do now. This is all because of consistency.
So my advice to you is to learn Japanese consistently. And if you’re anyone like me you wouldn’t wanna waste your time learning Kanji which you may not even use for the rest of your life. There are more fun ways to learn Japanese and I’d love to learn it together.
I apologize if this post discouraged you to learn Japanese but if it did, you are so lucky! You can learn the traditional way which makes you are a good learner and be able to learn Kanji for sure. You go learn some Kanji!
I hope you enjoyed and found this blog post useful.
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