Before I say anything, I want to link to a post I previously made on my personal blog on Kanji-learning methods.

I should say is that this was written before I discovered the All Input, All The Time method, and that my comments at that time only make sense in the context of a traditional classroom learning experience (which as we all know Does Not Work). But even so, the flaws I identified in the Heisig method still need to be addressed. To save you a click, here’s my original list of the Heisig method’s flaws, quoted verbatim:

  1. The meaning of kanji is overly simplified. Heisig insists on finding a single English key word to represent the intrinsic meaning of each kanji. While this works for some, it utterly fails for others (for example, 水 can mean not just WATER, but also WEDNESDAY or HYDROGEN);

  2. The form is disassociated from the pronunciation. Heisig lists this as an advantage, but for me it did nothing more than force me to think in English and hinder my ability to later learn the pronunciations; and

  3. No vocabulary or compounds are used. Studying the meaning of a character without regard to its actual use is of little practical value. Especially since the meaning has been simplified down to a single word (see #1) the ambiguity of English has been combined with the native ambiguity of Japanese, making the need for real examples all the more necessary (e.g., does 開 mean OPEN as in to open a door, to open a business, or as in open source software?).

The last two points are automagically solved by the AIATT method–a further testament to its brilliance. My own discovery is that once you’ve fully learned the meaning of a kanji, to the point where once you see it you think immediately of the concept it represents, not the associated English word, there is no problem with confusing the Japanese and English readings (even if that concept you associate it with originally came from its English keyword). And since all focus during the first phase of learning is on the kanji, without simultaneous learning of the spoken language, there’s never a conflict. Brilliant. As to the third point, proper context is of course the what you get when you learn complete sentences, which is the core concept of All (Japanese), All The Time. Trivially solved.

But what about Heisig’s poorly chosen keywords?

Well, that’s still a problem. You see, Heisig developed his method at a point in his life when he knew NO Japanese whatsoever. His sources for keywords were aging Japanese-English dictionaries and the Japanese people around him (a highly unreliable source). Too many times his choice of keyword is a secondary or tertiary connotation, and at times he frustratingly chose a technically incorrect, but related meaning.

The best solution is to avoid Heisig. There is one clearly superior alternative. The book I use is Kanji ABC by Andreas Foerster and Naoko Tamura. Unlike Heisig (at the point in his life when he wrote RtK) these two authors have between them a thorough understanding of the Japanese language and language instruction. The result is a far more accurate book that follows essentially the same (albeit independently created) method. However “Kanji ABC” has its flaws as well–although a description of those flaws and my solutions to them is deserving of a separate post in and of itself.

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