My daughter is 9 and she's having trouble remembering her Kanji. She's learning the regular Japanese school system way (grade 1, 2, etc), but since she's in an English-speaking country she's not immersed in the language. Even with a Japanese mother she's just losing her motivation after forgetting kanji over and over again.

I am studying with Heisig's Remembering the Kanji (RTK), and I am a firm believer in the visual imagination method of memorizing. We both use Anki for reviewing.

But I can't switch her over to RTK for a few reasons (everyone knows these reasons, and Heisig acknowledges them, which is why he never claims that children should use his system):

  1. The English vocabulary needed is above her level, especially for abstract concepts that appear in the very first lessons of Heisig.
  2. The stories are also above her level (maturity, language, imagery)
  3. RTK is designed for adults who can handle memorizing all 2,200 (6th ed) before learning readings. It doesn't work if you jump around to completely different kanji with totally different primitives, and if you do you lose the effectiveness of the system.
  4. RTK is not designed so that children apply their new kanji knowledge in simple age-appropriate sentences (The sky looks pretty outside in winter. It will rain on Tuesday in the afternoon. The monkey fell off the tree-branch.) These are similar to the Grade 1 sentences she's learning, but involve kanji that are only learned after hundreds of simpler kanji (simpler in terms of primitives in the RTK system, not concept).

Is there a better way for children to learn Kanji than the Japanese school-child method, but one that is still age-appropriate?

Edit: I don't intend this question to be directly about Heisig's method (that's just one example of how adults have used a different and more effective way to learn the kanji), and I'm not asking for study materials or resources. Nor is it about my situation in particular -- we just happen to live outside of Japan.

To clarify: I'm trying to understand how children learn Japanese Kanji, and if that can be improved by what we've learned works with adults. Has anyone else studied this problem?

  • This is not a good site to ask this sort of question. I recommend you (or your spouse) look for sites aimed at Japanese parents living abroad.
    – nkjt
    Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 18:37
  • 1
    I don't consider this a resources or materials question at all -- it's a question about the basic ways we learn kanji as adults compared to children, and whether or not the way children learn can be improved. I'll edit the question to reflect this. Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 19:22
  • It's not a bad question, but each Stack Exchange community decides what's on-topic, and unfortunately the community decided that questions about study methods are off-topic. However, we have some history of allowing some off-topic questions like this on meta, and when I've closed them in the past, it seemed to be unpopular. So, instead of closing this, I've migrated it to meta. (The community can still vote to close, however.)
    – user1478
    Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 20:53
  • I understand the goal of keeping "how do I study this," or "flashcard vs. sentence," and "how do I keep motivated," type of questions off the main site... Is this really that kind of question? Maybe it should go into cognitive psych then, because it's about how children learn the Japanese language compared to adults. Anyway, the community has decided. Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 21:04
  • As someone who voted to close - as it stands, especially because of the personal details, the question reads as "help me find a method for teaching my kid kanji which isn't like traditional Japanese schooling". Language like "how should children learn..." also invites opinions, rather than factual, referenced answers. Unfortunately I think a more objective question asking about literature/research into this question probably does belong on a different part of SE. That said, now it's on meta, I'm going to go ahead and give my opinions. ;)
    – nkjt
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 10:11
  • You may want to check if there's any questions in the Parenting Stack Exchange that are relevant to your situation.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented May 24, 2014 at 10:09

2 Answers 2


I expect there to be little information out there for alternate learning systems for kids as most children learning kanji outside of Japan are going to be following along with the Japanese school system for one reason or another.

You might find some educational psychology research on jstage - e.g. these looked vaguely related on a search for 漢字 習得 (note, actual articles are often in Japanese with only an abstract in English or no English abstract/title at all). Many are related to teaching kids who have some problems with traditional methods for whatever reason (often classified as dyslexia but could also be due to situational issues like emigration/immigration).

First, a case study for a boy who had trouble learning with traditional methods; the "auditory method" mentioned seems to crop up in some other papers by the same authors.

Second, a more generic article on kanji acquisition.

Now, specifics: I think you shouldn't mix up the ordering (grade 1/grade 2) with the actual method. You can bring in visual imagination/experiment with other ways of learning while still sticking approximately to the kanji suitable for her age level so that she can actually start using it.

There is a "RTK Lite" list floating around the internet but I think even that would be too much of a burden for a kid. A nine-year old can't really get their heads around "this is boring right now but will pay off later".

Use plenty of technology - whether that's online games or a DS and a copy of 「正しい漢字かきとりくん」, and try to have a good stock of practice material in the forms of things she'd actually want to read (or play). Maybe find her a penpal in Japan.


2 The stories are also above her level

Aren't you supposed to come up with fitting stories yourself together with your kid? If I understand Heisig's approach correctly, all the stories he gives are nothing but warm-up examples to boost the reader's imagination. Many kanji stories I came up with have nothing obscene in them and revolve around cartoon characters. I went as far as giving some of Heisig's primitives the names of my favourite characters (the names were not entirely arbitrary and had something to do with the original primitive meaning) and it worked like a charm for me.

  • Good point; making age appropriate stories is a good step and fixes problem 2. Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 19:36

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