I said in my last post that Heisig can lead you astray with his ill-chosen English keywords. To give a concrete example, the one I’ve been having trouble remembering recently is 召. Heisig assigns this kanji the keyword SEDUCE, which given the primitives involved (DAGGER and MOUTH) is an evocative image. I never, ever, had trouble with this kaniji before. Then I found out it was wrong. The keyword given by Kanji ABC is SUMMON, which is a very good word to sum up it’s actual usage (召集する: to call together a meeting, or 召し上がる: send for food/drink, for example). [How do I know? I looked it up in a dictionary. But more on that some other time.] For the life of me I cannot come up with a better image Heisig’s. When I see 召 I think “SEDUCE”, and when I review SUMMON I think “…wtf?” because whatever image I came up to associate 召 with SUMMON lost its battle against Heisig’s champion SEDUCE.

As nice as it may be to use Heisig and not encounter these problems (since 9 times out of 10 the keywords, if they differ from Kanji ABC, are easier to remember), it breaks the cardinal rule AIATT: no mistakes. Every kanji for which you learn a misleading or incorrect keyword you will pay for, with interest, later in your studies. I guarantee it.

So what did I do? …I took a page from Heisig. RtK, unlike Kanji ABC, assigns primitive meanings to many characters used as primitives–images which for whatever reason are easier to remember than the character’s keyword, and are only used when the character is used as a primitive in another kanji. Strangely, your mind (if it works anything like my own) rarely has trouble differentiating between the true meaning of a kanji and its primitive/grapheme meaning, as long as you keep that distinction clear from the start.

My modification to the method is the following: if more than once you completely blank on a grapheme, change it’s meaning (this does not apply to kanji keywords). Be sure to check the index to make sure that you’re not using a meaning that will be introduced later. Also go back and change every card in your SRS that references it. This is easiest if you’re using an SRS like Anki that lets you tag cards (which i use for tagging primitive meanings of components). That said, only do this sparingly, when it’s actually required.