Alternative Heisig hiragana stories?
September 2, 2019 10:45 PM   Subscribe

We're learning hiragana and katakana as a family (and eventually kanji). Somebody recommended Heisig, who has written short stories about each character to help you remember them. The first two hiragana lessons were great, and everything has stuck fast in our minds. Lesson three, and it starts to get real weird, with dagger-ejecting mothers spinning in fields accompanied by levitating dogs attached to boomerangs.

I get what Heisig is trying to do. Imagery doesn't have to make sense to be memorable, and often more bizarre imagery is better for prompting memories. He's also trying to establish story elements that will turn up later to encourage familiarity / reuse (he did this well with things like cloaks and daggers in the first two lessons).

But for whatever reason, it's creating a bit of a roadblock for us. Even before this, some accent issues forced us to create alternatives of our own ('sa' may well conjure 'sock' for a North American, but it definitely doesn't for Aussies; also, he doesn't seem to have noticed that ki looks like...a key.)

Does anybody know a source of alternative hiragana / katakana / kanji stories we can use as a backup for Heisig's when something just doesn't gel?
posted by some little punk in a rocket to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For kanji WaniKani is a popular SRS for kanji with menomics. Each family member would need a different account, and that could end up expensive. However you'll find that the things each person gets wrong will be different from one another and the sheer number of them makes a more difficult to do as a group.

Tofugu (the creators of Wanikani I think?) also have some guides for Katakana and Hirigana. There are tons of these guides for free in the web, you'll likely find something you like for free by just browsing.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:30 AM on September 3, 2019

As a note with wanikani they are fairly good about giving discounts on request, and they do an end of year sale every year and it includes their lifetime membership. The first three levels are free so your family can see if it is right for you all . You will need solid katakana and hirigana skills, grammar is not required.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:41 AM on September 3, 2019

WaniKani is far and away the best Kanji learning app. It also demands a lot of dedication. It goes beyond Heisig to include not only mnemonics but also readings and sample texts. It also has an active community and after collecting feedback on what worked and what didn't they did do a re-vamp and alter many of the mnemonics recently.

I made it to level 20 on WK before I had to stop for personal reasons. I haven't gone back (yet) since I am devoting a lot of time right now to learning Dutch and don't want to mix the two. That said, I can still read basic texts in Japanese and was able to open up the Japanese version of Murakami's Killing Commendatore and read the first couple paragraphs fairly easily. (Disclaimer: Murakami is actually one of the easier-to-read authors in Japanese)
posted by vacapinta at 3:00 AM on September 3, 2019

When I was learning, "Kana Can be Easy" by Kunihiko Ogawa was a similar kind of thing that used illustrations - katakana "ro" is a RObot's head, for instance. They don't get nearly as weird as your descriptions do, and they always try to use the sound of the letter in the description (hiragana "ne" is a snail behind a nail).
posted by wanderingmind at 8:46 AM on September 3, 2019

I also want to fourth Wanikani. I had heard of it years ago, and thought why spend the money when I had all of these books I could be studying from already. Well, after years of making no progress in my hit and miss studying, I decided to give WaniKani a go at the end of July and in 6 weeks I've learned more kanji and compound vocab than I've learned in the years of study on my own (which in fact I think came to negative kanji learning because of kanji I'd learned in classes that I'd forgotten in that same time). Being in small spaced repetition bits, it fits in well in the time I would otherwise be opening social media and getting grouchy.

What I love about WK is that it doesn't just teach you a kanji and the most common compound, but it forces you to learn many, many compound words with the kanji you learn. I used to frequently look at something and think hm, I know each of these kanji individually but I have no idea what they say together. Now, when I see a kanji I know, it's much more common that I can actually read the sentence.

So, yes, WaniKani.
posted by past unusual at 8:49 AM on September 3, 2019

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