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I like studying Kanji. It reminds me of my college drawing class, where we had to balance letterings and drawings, make them fit into boxes and stuff. When I started to learn Japanese, my teacher told me that if I wanted to be respected by the Japanese, I had to write Kanji (and Hiragana and Katakana of course) like a Japanese. He then drew a box, and made me balance the Kanji 日(read as にち nichi, ひ hi or bi, に, ni and じつ jitsu, which means sun or day) in the box for several minutes until I got it right. He’d been quite strict, and for that I am thankful. After his initial instructions, he left me to study Kanji by myself.

Since that time, all I used to study Kanji was my Basic Kanji 500, then later my Intermediate Kanji Book. I’ve stayed faithful to this series, I don’t believe in switching books or styles or all that. I don’t recommend jumping from book to book, because for one, Japanese books are costly. Another reason is you’ll accumulate too many books, there are literally dozens of books on Kanji. I’ve never really written on my textbooks, only on my workbooks and only in pencil. I always use notebooks, word cards and writing pads. I’d suggest though that if you were really serious about learning Kanji, you have to stick to what you’re used to, if it works.

Also, I took the Kanji Kentei this year, and I plan to do so again early next year. Preparing for it has helped me a lot in my understanding of Kanji. For this, you need to practice a lot, write, write, write, and write again. When I was studying for it though, I wasn’t looking up English meanings and all that, I was purely studying the stroke orders, Kanji word combinations, readings and radicals. Then when I went back to my Japanese studies, it seemed so much easier.

On a related note, there have been quite a few blog entries about the Kanji of the Year, 偽 (read as にせ, nise, meaning fake). These are the links to those posts:

Japan Probe: 2007 Kanji of the Year

3Yen: “Fake” best describes Japan this year

What Japan Thinks: Kanji of the Year 2007

Asian Offbeat: ‘Nise’ (Fake) Chosen as Japan’s Kanji Character of the Year

GlobalTalk 21: Do you know what the No.5 Kanji is in this year’s countdown?

Photo via: 3Yen.com

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Three times a year, Japanese students can take a Kanji Aptitude Test (漢字能力検定試験 Kanji Nouryoku Kentei Shiken). This test is a measure of Kanji ability; being able to basically read, write, know the stroke order and recognize the different combinations of Kanji characters that form words. There are 12 levels: 10 being the lowest and 1 being the highest, with an additional pre-2 and pre-1 in between. I’ve met several foreigners who’ve taken levels 7 and 6. A lot of them were really good at Japanese.

One co-worker told me that if I wanted to pass the test, all I had to do was buy a review book and do as much of the problems as I could. I found that there are whole sections in bookstores dedicated to review materials. I checked out the books, they were all dated. It seems they come out with new editions every year. I chose to take Level 7, as it contained Kanji I was familiar with. I studied for maybe a month, and passed with only a few mistakes. I planned to take Level 6 the next time, but the test date didn’t match my schedule. I was able to study well for it though. Even if you don’t know the English meanings, you could pass the test. The trick is to memorize the patterns in the review books. The Kanji themselves don’t change, so you can just memorize and practice Kanji readings, stroke orders and combinations.

*Note: The Image is from Baka Kentei. Seems there are hundreds of Kenteis… There is a list of the ten strangest Kenteis on What Japan Thinks.

By the way, the next Kanji Kentei is in February. Deadline for applications is on December 19th. Application forms are sold at bookstores.

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