Kanji Characters and Benefits of Writing Them Out
Kanji characters are very easy to produce now with the advent of Japanese IME input software. Almost too easy. You just start typing away the hiragana and kanji appear when you hit the space key. This is good in the sense that we can reproduce documents at a fast pace. As equally important, reading became easier and kanji characters became more uniform. What this has also done is possibly worsen our memory of the kanji (depending on what you consider memory to be). If all of the electricity in your area went out and you now have to write up a report as opposed typing it out, would you be able to write it out with the kanji?
Recognition VS Recall
Recognition is easier than recall, in regards to how you store something. You don’t store all of the data, just the main visual patterns that allow you to recognize the kanji when you see it, with enough visual cues. Recall is harder, but a more powerful memory state. You actually have to be able to write the kanji character out. The difference between the two is that you can recognize a kanji without having to be able to recall the stroke order and placement of radicals. For recall, you have to be able to do the above. Basically you can recognize without having the ability to recall, but being able to recall also grants you the ability to recognize.
Benefits of Writing Out Kanji Characters
Here I have a picture of the beginning of chapter 1 of “A Man Called Dave“, or the Japanese title 「It」と呼ばれた子. It is a novel by Dave Pelzer. I practiced writing out the first paragraph as you see in the top of the post. It was tough. I even had trouble writing out a couple of the hiraganas, even though I read plenty of articles and am able to recall them instantly! The process was tough, and required a lot of patience. I even had to take deep breaths sometimes. The obvious benefit of writing kanji characters out is increasing your recollection. It also makes you reinforce the patterns through building new ones and associating them.
A newly built pattern could be the mechanical memory. When you are asked to recall in which order a certain stroke came, mechanical memory kicks in and you can write the kanji character out and count up to the stroke that is asked for.
Writing out is difficult, more engaging and forces you to focus. A good example is the kanji below for elbow, 肘 (ひじ/hiji). I never had problems recognizing it when I read. I had built up patterns for body parts. When I see 月 on the left hand side of the kanji characters, it tells me that there is probably an 80-90% chance that I am dealing with a body part. On the right hand side is a radical that has fewer strokes, and that cued me that I am possibly dealing with the kanji for elbow. What also cued me is the word before it, 座席 (ざせき/zaseki) which means seat.
When it came to writing it out, I could not do it from memory. I had to glance back and check which radical goes on the right. So no matter how many times I successfully recognized that kanji, I could not recall it from memory perfectly.
Now I know which radical goes on the right side. I can completely recall the kanji character. I made a pictorial association such that the radical looks like a man resting his arm on something. That also made it easier for me to remember the new vocab word for armrest, 肘掛け (ひじかけ/hijikake). As in matter of fact, I just associate “armrest” with “elbow” all the time now, because that helps me remember the second radical.
think of it this way…
What if I was to change the question around. Instead of asking “how do you get better at writing kanji”, replace “writing kanji” with “drawing”. Isn’t writing kanji out basically the same thing as drawing? Both practices require you to write out a sequence of line strokes. So if you were to ask a person who likes to draw or sketch how to get better at drawing, what would they tell you? Most likely to keep on practicing drawing. It will stick at some point. They didn’t become better sketchers or drawers through flipping flash cards of different objects or animals.