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Learning to write Japanese

Although not necessary to do whatsoever, many people are still interested in learning to write kanji to the level of a native speaker or higher. This has potential to come in useful if you are ever going to live in Japan. However even if you are only interested in reading Japanese, you will likely see yourself improve after learning to write, benefitting from a higher awareness of kanji. Leaving aside whether learning to write is worth the time investment or not, I would like to discuss methods of doing so in this section.

As this is only relevant for advanced learners move on to the next section if you are still a beginner. You shouldn't learn to write kanji as a beginner and will only get frustrated.

Write from your recognition cards.

Although it is not endorsed by anyone, talking to people about learning to write kanji I found out that many people seem to do this. They do normal recognition cards (word or sentence on the front of the card) and write out the word they want to be able to write.

It doesn't even have to argued what an ineffective approach this is. Not only are you not getting any sort of reliable coverage of kanji you have to know, you are not even testing your recall of the characters themselves. You are looking at it right now or you looked at it seconds ago. The only thing you are doing in this case is extending the time your reviews take for no good reason. I strongly recommend against doing this and prioritizing doing your reviews quickly.

But what about stroke order?

Stroke order is something you will mostly be able to do after learning to write 100-200 kanji. At that point you will be able to correctly guess the stroke order for most new kanji you encounter and where you can't it essentially doesn't matter. It is not a long term problem whatsoever.

RTK after you are fluent.

This is an idea going around more advanced Japanese learning circles. After you have reached a high level in Japanese simply do RTK with the keyword on the front and kanji on the back. Now that you learned to write all the kanji, you can write Japanese!

Of course that is false and this approach is bad for several reasons. We only have to think about how flashcards work: You have a prompt on the front of the card and you are recalling a piece of information in response (back of the card). The context you want to be able to write Japanese in is this: You think of a Japanese word and recall the kanji. It is not "I think of all English keywords" and recall the kanji characters in response to that. How relevant the front section of your card is to the situation where you have practically apply the knowledge is vital in determining how useful those cards are and this is true for all knowledge you could possibly put on a flashcard. There is no doubt therefore that doing RTK after you are fluent is not a good idea.

But what about putting Japanese words in Hiragana on the front?

You still haven't fixed the issue by doing this. At least now you are recalling the kanji in response to a Japanese prompt, but the English keyword is still there to serve as a hint. Most people who do this also have several Japanese words on the front again creating the issue of an unnatural front field of the card: You are not testing yourself whether you can recall the kanji characters consistently in different contexts, but whether you can recall it in response to all meanings and readings it has and doing that only once for every kanji. It will not lead to practical reliable writing ability, but it might amount to a cool party trick when you are asked to write some Japanese.

My method: Kanken deck method.

Not satisfied with the existing methods people were proposing I decided to do something original. I present to you the Kanken deck:

For a detailed description read the Ankiweb page. But essentially: all 常用漢字 are tested in several contexts both semantically and in terms of what readings are used. The prompt is a Japanese sentence with the word that has to be written in Hiragana. What makes this deck unique beyond the word selection making this possible in the first place, is the fact that every card has native audio on it. In other words: this approach has none of the issues the others do and provides a relatively effective way to learn Japanese to advanced learners. The concrete steps and how you should do this deck are described on the Ankiweb page.