If you were learning Japanese, which radical list would you use?
July 25, 2014 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to start learning Japanese in a couple of months, and in researching the language, I'm realizing that it's going to be a *lot* easier if I could recognize all the component parts of any Kanji I encounter. But..I'm noticing that there are a lot of different lists of those component parts...Heisig's lists, Wikipedia's tables of radicals, The Kanji Dictionary's 79 radicals, etc. Which radical lists do you like best, and why? Are there any out there that show you the radical, show you the characters that use it, and explain how the radical fits into those characters (meaning-wise)?

Also, while we're at it, what's your favorite character-deconstruction tool? I found a lovely one for Chinese that shows you the role of each component radical in the construction, meaning and pronunciation of each character...is there something similar for Japanese?
posted by sdis to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I find the New Nelson very useful. You may find the (much larger) Complete Nelson in the reference section of your library -- look it over, see if it's helpful.
posted by Rash at 3:09 PM on July 25, 2014

As a complete beginner, I really found the SKIP method used in The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary helpful for being able to look at an unfamiliar character and find it quickly in the dictionary.
posted by reptile at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recommend the simplified list of Japanese radicals in the linked Wikipedia article because that is standard i.e. that is what Japanese kanji dictionaries will use. I do not favor the novel methods that certain dictionaries for English-speaking learners of Japanese use. If you end up learning Japanese past an intermediate level, you will need to learn native dictionaries, so you might as well learn how they are organized from the beginning.

I should also point out that I would definitely not recommend memorizing all radicals at the outset. Learn them gradually as you learn new kanji. My recommendation would be that you learn kanji in the context of the words in which they appear. I would recommend prioritizing the 1,006 kyouiku kanji first. I think you are putting the cart before the horse with all of this detailed kanji information, which is largely superfluous to learning Japanese. (Source: 20 years of daily Japanese).

Are there any out there that show you the radical, show you the characters that use it, and explain how the radical fits into those characters (meaning-wise)?

There might be, but I don't know how useful such a chart would be. I would also point out that the radicals and other component parts of a kanji do not always denote meaning. Often, they simply denote pronunciation such as the 同 in 洞, 銅, and 胴.

Also, while we're at it, what's your favorite character-deconstruction tool?

I don't have one because I have never felt the need for one. The one you linked is as good as any. You might also try zhongwen.com, although it, too, is Chinese.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:21 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

http://jisho.org/ is the best online Japanese dictionary I know of for breaking down kanji. It helped/helps me a lot.
posted by coast99 at 5:55 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I took Japanese in college but am no longer remotely fluent. However I still have a surprising ability to read the language (i.e. can puzzle out the gist sometimes.) I attribute that to learning kanji pretty well.

So I second the suggestion to learn radicals as you learn kanji they appear in. By the time I got to the second year, we would learn several kanji at once with shared radicals. Definitely learn the standard radicals as that is how you find things in dictionaries. I DID find the SKIP method dictionary helpful though and still have it, a more traditional Japanese-English kanji dictionary and a Japanese only kanji dictionary.

Also, the online dictionaries like wwwjdic are your friend. Japanese input modes are also great. You can even get an editor that allows you to draw out a kanji. Some work fairly well whether or not you draw the strokes in the right order or not. Also learn the stroke order rules: they are surprisingly consistent. Not only does it improve your penmanship, but it helps you remember characters better.
posted by R343L at 8:02 PM on July 25, 2014

After you select your dictionary, find a copy of Henshall's "A Guide To Remembering Japanese Characters."

Employ it as you pick up new characters, or browse it for fun. He gives a historical review of the kanji and its radical, and offers mnemonics for constructing complicated characters that are actually fairly useful.

Your word processor will tempt you to neglect your handwriting. Don't give in. Once you catch on to stroke order, the radicals will make much more sense. The word processor won't provide that information.
posted by mule98J at 12:44 AM on July 26, 2014

Yeah don't sweat learning the meaning of the radicals too early. It's something you'll pick up along the way anyway, and there are enough strange cases where the meaning of the character has shifted over time to make it not really that useful to the learning process.
posted by sudasana at 1:37 PM on July 26, 2014

I used Heisig's Remembering the Kanji paired with spaced repetition software like Anki to learn Kanji.

I have found that the meaning of the radicals is really helpful--the pairing of radicals often makes logical sense and the complex Kanji where this is not the case seem to be outliers. So I've found that the method that Heisig uses to help you learn the radicals and therefore Kanji is tremendously pragmatic and works well. I can also confirm that in my experience, many Japanese people seem to understand the meaning of the radicals the same way that Heisig presents, and talk about Kanji that way ("oh, waterfall is just 'dragon' with 'water' on the left," etc.), and there certainly seems to be a correlation between radicals, their meaning, and words in a certain grouping (like 月 being associated also with "flesh," and finding a spot on the left side in 胴, 膝, 腹, 胸, and 脚).
posted by dubitable at 4:47 AM on July 27, 2014

Oh, and what mule98J says about writing...so important. Don't neglect your writing practice (I did and I've paid for it).
posted by dubitable at 4:49 AM on July 27, 2014

« Older Looking for Chicago-area tailors and cobblers   |   Software to print a Photo Book at home Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.