Theory on Effective Kanji Study – Memory and Kanji (Part 2)


In an earlier post on how human memory works, whose reading I recommend, I explained two fundamental methods our brain uses to memorize (learn). They are sequential and hierarchical patterns. In another post I explained the difference between recognizing and recalling kanji. In this post I want to demonstrate how all of these apply when you learn kanji characters.

Sequential Memry Patterns With Kanji

Sequences are the fundamental building blocks of our memory, learning capability, and how we function day to day. To relate this to kanji, we can say that a line stroke is the basic building block of a kanji component. A sequence of line strokes builds the components, such as radicals. A sequence of radicals then form a kanji character, which itself can be a more complex radical. Then you can have a sequence of two simple kanji characters form a more complex kanji character. Lastly, you have a sequence of kanji characters forming kanji compound words, such as 漢字 (kanji) itself.

This demonstrates that kanji characters are nothing but a sequence of strokes in a hierarchical pattern. In other words, you have a sequence inside a sequence inside a sequence, etc. This same principle applies to any other sketch work or drawing. This is also the same as your morning routine. A sequence of steps that can be broken down into further simpler sequences.

Pattern Hierarchy of Memory

The above concept is important to understand because it will help us to build what I like to coin sequential memory cues. This will be explained in a later post, but basically it is a concept that should help us to recall (output into writing) kanji without having to practice writing them like madmen.

Memory: Recognition vs Recall

The goal of this blog will be to try to have you go from recognizing kanji when you see them to being able to pull them out from memory and jot it down on paper. Do you need this if you are just looking to read an article online? Not necessarily, but I would like to bet that it will help you distinguish similar looking kanji.

If a friend asks you “hey do you know the kanji for ‘love’?”, do you want to be the person that says “oh yes! I know when I see it” or “oh yes! here let me write it down for you!”  Again this may not be your goal, but if you could pull it off with minimal effort, why not?

Taking 愛 (AI – love) as an example, if you fall into the “know it when I see it” category, you might imagine a face with eyes and a big smile and a hug looking part in the middle. Those are your memory cues telling you that is the kanji for LOVE. That is also called autoassociative memory (aka recognition  aka ‘know it when I see it’)

Recognition vs Recall