I feel as if, if I even come close to mastering Japanese, I’ll be able to learn any other language I want. Japanese is hard.
But I keep encountering ways to look at it that make it easier, and sometimes it feels like you just kind of have to luck your way into learning these things, as there seems to be nowhere that has everything you need in one place. Every site or book seems to have parts of it, but you have to spend months just piecing it all together until it just clicks. I know I’ve said something similar to this before, but it’s still true.
Take learning kanji, for example. When you first start Japanese, you have this big ol’ pile of thousands of characters in front of you, and you think the best way is to just pick them up one by one, stomp them into your memory, and then eventually you’ll master it. But that’s really not how it works.
Here’s what kanji really are (for the purposes of memorizing): They are a multivariate grid of a little over 200 different axes. Each of those axes is a “radical”. Kanji Damage (and “Remembering the Kanji”) gives each of those radicals a name, and that’s a really wise thing to do. What I’ve been doing is just giving them my *own* name. It’s probably not the wisest thing to do, but it works.
For example, 外, meaning “outside”, I call a “ta” and a “to”, because that’s what the two katakana characters look like. 時, or “time”, I call “sun temple”, because that’s the two characters. And 寺, or “temple”, I call “ground on measurement”. I make other mnemonics too… “long ta” for one component of 各 (“long ta over mouth”, “half a give” for one component of 号, etc. It works for me, but it may not work for most.
The point, though, is not so much what you call it – though most of those radicals do have names that it would be helpful to learn at some point, but that it works for you to help you remember where on that 200 and some dimensional space a particular kanji falls. Obviously it works a bit for me because I called those up – even though I did have to look up the pronunciation. That comes a bit later.
What I’m trying to say is, that it’s not insurmountable, but you can’t approach it as just a pile of kanji you sweep up into the middle of the room, pick one out, and hope that it’s useful to you. You gotta organize them in a way that makes sense to you and use that to your advantage.
I’ll tell you, there’s a sense of accomplishment when you look at a name like “Takahashi” (高橋), and think “hey! I know that first kanji! It means “expensive”! Or “敦子” (Atsuko) and realize “hey! I know that last kanji! And I know how to pronounce it! Or a word like “気楽” and have a pretty good idea of how to pronounce it because you’ve seen both of the kanji before and recognized them!
The tools you use are important – some are better than others. The books you use are also important – some are better than others. But the most important thing is to figure out how to make it make sense to you, and build on that. Because you’re not learning Japanese for someone else – you’re learning it for yourself. And, other than whether people can understand you or not, You are the only one who gets to judge whether you are happy with your progress.
Hope this helps.