Is the James Heisig Method for Learning Kanji good or bad?

Q: Hi Richard, Thanks, as always, for your welcome tips and advice about learning Japanese, which I find very useful. Based on your expertise and experience of successfully mastering Japanese, I wonder if you can answer the following query. What do you really think of the James Heisig method of learning to read and write all the 2200 Joyo Kanji? Heisig claims that by following his unique method, a foreign (English speaking) learner of Japanese should be able to remember and use all the Kanji in a matter of months! I’ve almost bought his book a few times on recent trips to bookstores, but I am still highly sceptical of Heisig’s method and claims. Of course your feedback and advice regarding Heisig would be gratefully received. – Steve

A: Very good question! The people I know who’ve been through Heisig rate it very highly. And yes if you put the effort in it is indeed possible to remember, read and write all of the standard kanji.

But …. and this is a pretty big but …. most of the people who’ve done it also say that even though they can read and write all the kanji they have pretty much zero idea what half of them mean!

So if you have the time it’s certainly not a bad system to use, but personally I’d prefer to learn kanji more through context and real words/phrases so that you actually know what they all mean at the end of the day.

Q: And do you think I am right to be spending a lot of time trying to write the Kanji with a pen and paper? Some of my friends have said I should just use a PC keyboard and smart phone to type Japanese messages.

A: If you’re really time limited then using a computer gets you fluent in reading/writing a lot quicker.

But if pen and paper works for you and you have the time, then no worries, go for it!

Be genki,


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