Thursday, March 8, 2012

Should you study how to write Japanese by hand?

Sure! Why not?

Oh, do you mean: "is it worth my time to study how to write Japanese by hand?" Then no, probably not. Unless your job is testing calligraphy brushes for quality assurance.

I didn't always feel this way.

I started to seriously study Kanji a little over a year ago when I did Heisig's RTK1. Ever since then, writing hundreds of characters a day has been a huge part of my studying routine. I didn't give this much thought before starting. It just seemed like what I was supposed to do if I would ever achieve my goal of being "good" at Japanese. I was always taught the importance of The Three R's in school: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic (my teacher wasn't a good speller). So then, doesn't reading and writing go together? Isn't that what literacy means: being able to read and write? The answer is yes because that's the definition. Someone might be able to read every book there is and still be illiterate according to a dictionary (which they could also read). Keeping this in mind I kept writing and writing and writing. Without realizing it I started to spend more time writing than I spent reading or studying new vocab and grammar.

After doing this for a year I became able to write pretty well. I can write 麒麟 and 憂鬱 without breaking a sweat; and I can even write 汗. Yet I knew I still had a long way to go since I still couldn't write every word that exists (it was a lofty goal). About a month ago I switched up my studying routine and put even more effort into writing and as a consequence even less into new grammar, vocabulary, and reviewing what I already knew. I even started a journal. It felt great since I was finally giving writing the amount of time it required (note: it requires all of time: all of time that has ever been and will be). That was until I happened upon this article on Tofugu the other day.

Koichi states that you shouldn't worry about learning how to write by hand since everyone uses cell phones and computers to communicate nowadays. The amount of time you need to study to become proficient is disproportional to how useful being proficient is. My first reaction was to push my computer away in anger as if it had gotten up in my grill. It somehow felt like a personal attack on how I had been studying for the past year. If he was right then I just wasted a lot of time. I spent the next half hour sitting in the dark, coming up with counter arguments in order to defend my year spent filling up notebooks with Kanji. I came up with two circumstances in which my study of Kanji proved undeniably useful: one time a Japanese coworker forgot how to write the Kanji for 'shoes' and asked me; the other time was when I wrote two New Year's cards in Japanese. I think I filled out a questionnaire in a restaurant once too. Hey, all that studying paid off!

So yeah, now I'm all but cutting out writing from my routine. I've put the emphasis on vocabulary and started reading a new book. I have so much more time now to focus on studying other aspects of Japanese that I haven't quite worked out where to allocate it all, but having too much time is one of those problems you want to have.

I am definitely not saying you should completely forgo learning how to write Japanese. You should know how to write Kanji correctly since you do actually have to write by hand from time to time, like for New Year's cards. I still swear by and highly recommend doing the Heisig system for many reasons beyond writing. After the four to six months it takes to get through RTK1 you will be as good at writing as you will probably need to be. Then if you ever need to fill out a form or something and you inevitably forget a Kanji compound, look it up on your phone and then write it. I go more into why I love Heisig so much here.

What do you guys think about writing by hand? Is it worth studying?

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