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:

  1. Its form/shape; how to write it. (This could be split into "recognize" and "reproduce" sub-aspects.)
  2. Its pronunciation(s).
  3. Its meaning(s).
  4. 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?

  • Meaning and pronunciation appeared to come more easily to me. I've been learning kanji and words as they latch onto meanings/pronunciations I already know, then other kanji by similarity. I'm curious : Is that the same for you?
    – F.X.
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 21:33
  • @F.X. I've been using RTK a bit as well as studying kanji as they are presented in my textbook. I've found if I already know the kanji from RTK the meaning of new vocab is easier to pick up. If I didn't know the kanji from RTK, I have been mixing up their pronunciations and also which vocabulary they go in. I've gotten pretty good at memorizing vocab lists (sans kanji) in the first place though.
    – Hatchet
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 21:41
  • Does this answer your question? What is the most efficient way to learn how to write kanji?
    – user14400
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 21:34

2 Answers 2


From my personal experience, working points 1 and 3 together on a side and 2 and 4 together on the other side seems to be efficient.

Use RTK or other kanji material to learn writing, recognizing and meaning and learn vocabulary separately to assimilate their different pronunciations.

If you have difficulties with some kanjis learning, try to learn more words containing that kanjis.


I don't think there's any real research on that question. But there is more or less a consensus that you shouldn't try to memorize kanji readings, and there is debate about whether it makes sense to memorize kanji meanings.

  • 2
    Would you mind adding any sources for your answer? This could help future readers gain a greater understanding of the topic.
    – fi12
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 0:24

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