From Heisig to Reading? Here's how.

In an earlier post, I wrote about not understanding how to segue from learning Heisig to being able to read Kanji. Now I know how to.

Look at this sentence. If you can read it, great. If not, read the post. It will be explained at the end how this relatest to Heisig.


My progress has been slow the last few weeks. Launching and online t-shirt store and editing the latest episodes of Marcus Bird: Jamaican in Japan has been a mental knockout. I’ve dropped to a few Kanji a day, (maybe 5) but I don’t feel bad. Five a day is better than zero. But I have been doing regular reviews with MNEMOSYNE and  I find that my retention is at about 98%. This is important, because once you lock in the stories and know the primitives, they literally become burned into your mind. Either way, onto my observation.

 I’ve been reading children’s books like Sazae-San and browsing through Manga to try and “infer” meanings through context and the pictures. I absolutely cannot read most of what I see (yet), but most of the characters I recognize have certain sentence positions. If they are beside a Kanji I don’t know and I can read most of the sentence, sometimes I can figure out what the sentence means. This is HUGE.

Why? Because eight weeks ago, before starting Hesig, I couldn’t read ANY Kanji, much less infer anything. To be able to deduce the meaning of a sentence (without knowing all the Jyoyou Kanji) is an awesome feeling. Case in point: Some students in a class I teach made a project from a previous class(physics, probably). It was a small box with a lamp inside it. I casually glanced at a piece of paper pasted on the front of the object.

I saw the Kanji for “Spark, Bright, Utensil and Tool”. Immediately I knew what the object was, though I couldn’t pronounce the Kanji yet. Then, reading through a phamphlet for the students, I inferred the meaning of the Kanji for “fond of” as “su”. In speaking I knew what suki desu ka? meant a very long time ago. But I had never seen the kanji for suki. It is written below.


If you’ve done any heisig, you will see that the first character is that for “fond of”. So in reading the sentence, which was kore ga suki desu ka? (  do you like this? )  I saw the meaning of the Kanji immediately. At first I didn’t see that it was the character for “fond of” because it was in a small typeface. But I pointed to it, and then said

“That’s fond of. OH!!! Fondof ? Suki? Ah ha!”

I had a eureka moment. Because now I knew if I could recognize all the Kanji, then I could start out piecemeal with easy sentences, (because the immersion aspect would have taught you tons of words and phrases, plus speaking practice) and eventually start reading very quickly.

I am not at the point where I am pressuring reading yet, and I understand why it is important to learn ALL the Jyoyou Kanji from the get go. If you spend time nit picking at random Kanji, in random contexts, it will be a waste of time because you will not have a reference point for them. If each Kanji you read is identifiable, you are much further on the path to being able to read what you see.

Therefore, once I learn the 2045 Kanji, I realize that upon starting out with easy sentences, in weeks I can learn a few hundred sentences by having the Kanji in Anki or Mnemosyne and then the japanese words/hiragana as the answer. Since I will know how to read/write the Kanji, it will be strongly rooted in my mind.

This was hard for me to understand initially because I didn’t know ANYTHING. I didn’t see the connection between the English and the Kanji. Look at this sentence.


 It says “karage bento wo suki desu ka?” (do you like chicken bento?). Now the thing is, i eat bento a lot. So I know the character for “Ben” 弁 and to is と. Then I explained to you that suki, is the same as the character for “fond of”. So its “su” 好 and “ki” き which is hiragana.

so I can look at this now and easily pronounce it. (even though I have no learned the Heisig story for “Ben”) yet.

so hiragana is: 


and hiragana mixed with Kanji is:


The fact that I am even typing and explaining this is mind-blowing to me. This is a bizarrely easy sentence, but my mind is technical. I can see that i can gravitate from this to learning more complex sentences and patterns. Then i’ll just start doing the same process… Anki or Mnemosyne to memorize sentences and start reading. This is a great revelation, but I still have oh, another 1,500 Kanji or so to learn. But this is giving me great steam to anticipate my ending. Before, it was rather cloudy. Now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Me sitting and reading an actual Manga book. Me watching Japanese Tv, speaking fluently, you name it. It’s a dream now, but I feel like i’m getting closer.

matta ne

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
This entry was posted in AJATT, Heisig Method, language, Remembering the Kanji, RTK1 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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