When I enrolled myself in a beginner kanji class back in my first semester of learning Japanese, I did not know what to expect. Forcing yourself into memorizing multiple – dozens of kanji per week seemed to be tedious and inefficient, so I came into the class without high expectations. Nevertheless, there are some things I remember from that class aside from writing kanji in the black board in the hopes that we write it properly. The book that the class uses – the Kanji Look and Learn seemed to stand out to me. I have underwent several kanji training aside from self learning books, such as reading light novels and marking down every word I did not recognize, but a self learning book was the first for me. Now that I look back, I want to know how much the self learning book contributed to my development and understanding of kanji.
Every chapter in the book consists of 10 kanji. The book will have a basic explanation on each of the kanji in the chapter on its meaning, stroke order, and a way to remember it (I remember reading some humorous but effective ways to remember the kanji, which sometimes made no sense at all). In addition, a visual representation of how a kanji is represented is shown, which helps you remember the semantic meaning of the kanji. Finally, examples of kanji combinations and their readings are highlighted at the bottom of the box.
This, I think, is a great way to learn kanji. The semantic diagrams of how a kanji is roughly written (the image of a young student underneath a school for the kanji 学, for example) is a great addition to the learning process that the textbook utilizes. Beginner learners would have a much better time understanding kanji with the visual representations. However, this does not work with all kanji, as there some of the kanji that have nonsensical representations.
Kanji readings are of course essential for learning kanji, and this book does not fall short on that. The book showcases some examples of the kanji with its different readings. The above example of 生, for example, showcases most of its readings, including the native Japanese reading and the Chinese reading. Most of the common words are also highlighted.
The workbook on the other hand, is also an integral part of the learning process. Without practice, you will generally not be able to remember those kanji. Generally, the exercises are fairly straightforward. To some, the exercises may be too easy but nonetheless it does test the kanji that you just learned. If you want to do more in depth kanji exercises, then I suggest you obtain some mock exams from the Kanji Kentei Examination. More can be found here: http://japan-work.com/archives/7319
Overall, while the class in itself was a bore, doing the exercises and looking at visual representations of kanji really makes up for it. For beginners in learning kanji, this book is a great place to start because the book offers a basic explanation about the properties of kanji. The explanations for the individual kanji was done fairly well, and the exercises did its job in supplementing what readers would have learned from the chapter.
But how does it stack up against other methods of learning kanji? For more experienced learners, there are surely better ways to study kanji. For example, challenging yourself in kanji kentei mock exams or reading novels in Japanese would probably be a better exercise as this book is geared towards novices.
For more experienced learners, this book may be a better option. It tests basically half of the joyo kanji list, and knowing half of the joyo kanji list is a very useful skill to have in Japan.
In conclusion, this kanji self learning book is a great addition to your learning experience if you are looking to polish your kanji skills for the first time. Beginners have an easier time remembering kanji with visual representations, and I also appreciate the various exercises you can do with the workbook. However, if you have a solid grasp on kanji, then there are certainly better ways to improve your kanji, such as kanji kentei mock exams and reading.