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Learning kanji is an important part of learning Japanese but what is the most efficient method if I want to be able to write them on the spot?

Muscle memory can certainly be useful but writing them down again and again is really time-consuming and can lead to burnout. Is there any scientific study which supports that method over learning radicals?

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    For your information Japanese people learn it by muscle memory in school, but do so for so many, many years, from age 6 to 15 or even 18. – Blaszard Aug 15 '16 at 16:44
  • Yes. I don't think that you can compare the situation of a native and someone trying to learn Japanese as a foreign language. They have more time and immersion. They don't necessarily learn the kanji with the less strokes first but it may be a strategy for a JASL learner. – Sassie Aug 15 '16 at 17:20
  • Right, that's why "for your information". – Blaszard Aug 15 '16 at 18:18
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Muscle memory can certainly be useful but writing them down again and again is really time-consuming and can lead to burnout. Is there any scientific study which supports that method over learning radicals?

No... the reverse is actually true. Writing by hand strengthens your memory quite a lot as seen in my other answer related to this. Lots of articles and studies have proven that writing things out by hand is generally useful including beating online techniques. Note that all sources and quotes below this sentence are from my linked answer.

Neuroscientists have found that allowing participants to trace out the letters with their fingers, it often works:

Some neuroscientists are not so sure. They think that giving up handwriting will affect how future generations learn to read. “Drawing each letter by hand substantially improves subsequent recognition,” Gentaz explains.

Drawing each letter by hand improves our grasp of the alphabet because we really have a “body memory”, Gentaz adds. “Some people have difficulty reading again after a stroke. To help them remember the alphabet again, we ask them to trace the letters with their finger. Often it works, the gesture restoring the memory.”

So writing can help put memories into your memories very fast, and maybe be even faster than other methods (may beat computerized learning methods). Another source says:

When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper.

This only strengthens the fact that writing letters by hand is effective. Your brain takes in feedback from your hands writing out the letters along with the touch of paper and pencil. This helps with your muscle memory. And it's not just muscle memory that's involved here:

When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps us recognize letters. This implies a connection between reading and writing, and suggests that the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading, Mangen explains.

With the feedback/memory stored in your brain, you can actually be able to recognize and write down letters better. Thus there are studies that definitely support writing down letters over other methods.


Of course, there are other methods though:

  • Flashcards

  • Repetition practice

  • Writing (and proofreading)

  • Reading and picking up the spelling

and more.

  • PythonMaster makes great points. This is just an added thought from my experience. Memorization still has to happen. My beginning was a struggle. The article was written on Tofugu much later in my studying Japanese. tofugu.com/japanese/kanji-stroke-order The simple rule to learn how to write kanji even if it's your first time seeing them. Exceptions can be learned later. Japanese often come across kanji they've never seen and use the same or similar rules. If it's a name, always ask twice before attempting to copy it. And always say how bad you wrote it. :) – Prov Aug 12 '16 at 22:58
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Writing new characters two dozen times is what I did when I started learning Chinese. Currently, I use a spaced repetition system (Anki) to review Chinese characters, but instead of just answering question mentally, I write down the character before I check the answer.

In addition, I strongly recommend learning kanji in the context of words or sentences that use the kanji. This makes the kanji more meaningful and therefore easier to remember.

(If necessary, you can also make flashcards with the character/kanji on one side and the stroke order on the other side.)

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