Learning to read and write Japanese is by far the most difficult part of learning the language. There are a lot of characters and they have no resemblance to the English alphabet at all. It takes hour after hour of writing them down again and again to remember them, and soon as you stop them for a while you forget them. This was the method I used to learn Hiragana and Katakana, the two simple alphabets in Japanese. Surely there must be a better way. There is, thanks to James Heisig’s book Remembering the Kana.
James Heisig first came to Japan without any experience or study in the Japanese language. He enrolled at a language school in Kamakura, but ended up studying on his own because the Japanese course had already started. After he had been studying for about a month, his teachers recommended that he should start learning the Japanese characters as soon as possible. Since he wasn’t taking a class and wasn’t influenced by the traditional class method of learning (writing them again and again) class, Heisig designed his own system. He then managed to learn almost 2,000 kanji in one month. Eventually he wrote his process into a book called Remembering the Kanji and then applied the same process for the kana.
Instead of trying to remember each kana visually and through repetition, Heisig assigns basic elements to the kana and then creates imaginative stories that make writing and remembering them easy. In Remembering the Kana he has also added the pronunciation into the story so you not only learn how to write it, but also how to read it.
The layout of the book is very unique. Similar to the roman alphabet, the Japanese alphabet also has a set order. The characters in the book are listed in the traditional Japanese order making them easy to look up. However, Heisig’s system has you learn them in the order that’s easiest to remember. So there are directions on each page on where to find the next character to study. It seemed a little weird at first going from page 9 to 62, but makes perfect sense to allow you to learn the characters quickly and still arrange them in the normal order.
Heisig’s claim is that each syllabary can be learned and remembered in 3 hours each. While this is quite fast, I don’t think it is unrealistic at all. Remembering the Kana really does make it much easier to learn the kana. I think this is a great book for anyone who is looking to learn the Japanese syllabaries without spending weeks or months to do it.
I will be reviewing Remembering the Kanji in the near future once I have had a chance to completely go through the two books, but so far it seems very promising. If you would like to give it a try, you can find the links below.