In Japanese, many words can be written both with just the kana (phonetically) and with the kanji (Chinese characters).
For example, the character 年 (ねん - "nen") means "year". In other vocabulary it appears like so:
去年 （きょ・ねん - "kyo・nen"） - last year
今年 （こ・とし - "ko・toshi"） - this year
As you can see from my simple example, characters can have different pronunciations as well.
There are therefore at least four aspects to learning a single kanji character:
- Its form/shape; how to write it. (This could be split into "recognize" and "reproduce" sub-aspects.)
- Its pronunciation(s).
- Its meaning(s).
- Words that use it. (Learning vocabulary of course implies learning meanings and pronunciations, but there is something to be said for knowing individual kanji's pronunciations and connotations outside of just a few vocabulary, especially for the sake of interpreting or learning new vocabulary with the same kanji.)
One popular resource for learning kanji is James Heisig's Remembering the Kanji. However, RTK only covers points 1 and 3, leaving the student "knowing" the kanji characters, but not really knowing how to actually use them. Of course, RTK makes this known in its introduction, but that leads me to wonder whether this is as effective of a learning strategy as it could be.
I'm in it for the long haul; where should I be focusing my energy in order to master and retain all four prior points as well and for as long as possible? Is there a particular sequence (e.g. recognize, meaning, vocab, reproduce, pronunciation) of study that has been shown to be particularly effective?