Learning kanji

19 de March de 2018 at 12:02
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Some of us will have made resolutions for this year, 2018. Are we still sticking to them, are we achieving them, do we even remember them? We have a proverb in Japanese which says: Ichi-nen no kei wa gantan ni ari (一年の計は元旦にあり), which means that it is important to make plans for the year properly, on 1 January, that is, on the first day of the year. There are people who write these resolutions with Japanese calligraphy in the kakizome (書初め) ceremony, the first writing of the year.

Learning a language can be a New Year’s resolution. And to learn Japanese, studying kanji may be appealing to some or a challenge that will make others think twice.

The current list of commonly used kanji characters notified in 2010 by the Council of Cultural Affairs consists of 2,136 kanji. According to the list of kanji characters learned in each school year, published by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology, in the first year of primary school, pupils learn about 80 kanji characters, 160 in the second year, 200 in the third year, 200 in the fourth year, 185 in the fifth year and 181 in the sixth year. In other words, they learn 1,006 kanji during the six years of primary education.

This number may seem a bit daunting. I remember that, in some years, we had kanji exams every week. In the sixth year, the teacher made us write fifty pages in the exercise book with the kanji characters we got wrong in the exams. I can’t remember exactly how it worked but, if we got one wrong, we would write it until we filled all 50 pages in the exercise book. By the time I got to the end, I no longer knew what I was writing. But today, I sometimes think: Wow, I learned over a thousand kanji characters in six years! And I wonder: what would I be able to learn today in six years?

In the Centre for Modern Language’s Japanese courses, we study the kanji at a slower rate. Up to level A2.2, which is two and a half years, we learn about 200 kanji characters. What do you think? Is that a lot or a little?

An antique automaton in the 2018 kakizome ceremony:

The Asahi Shimbun, “180-year-old doll performs 2018’s first calligraphy ritual ‘kakizome’, January 3, 2018

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