capncosmo: I, like Han, am made of awesome (Made of Awesome)
[personal profile] capncosmo
As sort of an addendum to yesterday's post, let's talk about kanji on a more philosophical level. I mean, why should you even need kanji at all, right? I ran across this Tofugu article about kanji learning, and I realized not everyone in the world is as convinced as I am about the value of kanji.

Firstly, I suppose we need to establish the intrinsic value of kanji. I mean, there are even groups in Japan who want kanji completely thrown away, so why not? Here's why not:

とうき

What does that mean? Could you tell me? ...Maybe. I mean, I guess you'd have a 1 in 14 chance of guessing whether I meant 陶器, 冬季, 投棄, 投機, 登記, 党紀, 冬期, 当期, 騰貴, 当機, 党規, 当季, 党旗, or 頭記.

Ah, but! Words occur in context, you can tell from that!

Right. If you already know the word, and understand the context. But you and I, my friends, are not native speakers. Which means that until you build up a massive vocabulary you're not going to be able to use context clues to sort that out. Unless, you know, you saw the meaning written there in the kanji.

In a certain sense, kanji are even more friends of foreigners than of native speakers, because even though I only knew one of those when I put it in (I'm studying 騰 now), I could give you pretty accurate guesses on all of those とうきs because I know what all those kanji mean.


Okay, so, it's good to have kanji, yes. But how about I just read them like Tofugu suggested above?

Because if you can't write it, you don't know it.

No, really. Just recognizing a kanji is like being able to sing along with a song; you don't actually *know* the lyrics, and you're going to embarrass yourself in front everyone the next time you go to karaoke.

I'm not saying Tofugu doesn't make a good point. If you know nothing else, the meaning of the kanji in your native language will be most useful to you. This is how I read Japanese for a long time, and it was fine. For me. But language is about communication, and so when I can't read something, that means that even though I know I want the 鶏卵スペシャル, I can only really point at the menu instead of actually communicating with the waitress. Cause, you know, I can't ask for the "chicken egg special" since she doesn't speak English.

Even just knowing the readings of things, while it will solve your restaurant problems, means you don't actually understand what's going on there. And I guess maybe the actual difference is that I believe anything worth doing is worth doing right correctly. But if you actually knew the kanji, then you'd know its component parts and how to distinguish it from other kanji and when it should be used, and then you'd be able to write it.

Not to mention that there are numerous benefits to actually learning kanji aside from just becoming legitimately literate. You also gain insight into how Japanese works and how Japanese people think about things and also building vocabulary. As a Japanese learner, having a deep understanding of kanji is a win-win-win-win situation.

Is it a lot of work? Yeah, it is. Are you going to be discouraged? Probably. But seeing as you already have to put three times the energy into Japanese just to get anywhere with it, you might as well get the most bang for your buck.

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capncosmo

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