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Learning Kanji Radicals

May 02, 2024 — Tatsumoto Ren

In my previous article on Learning Kanji, I mentioned that beginners do not need to learn kanji radicals. However, radicals play a significant role in the Japanese language. Understanding the proper Japanese names for common radicals aids in grasping spoken conversations about kanji.

The advice provided in this article is tailored for people who already understand Japanese. If you are still a beginner, I recommend focusing on more essential aspects of Japanese learning.

Kanji learning methods like KanjiDamage and Remembering the Kanji (RTK) utilize English keywords to teach kanji components. These English names are selected to help create mnemonic stories. Therefore, they do not necessarily have to accurately reflect the Japanese meanings of radicals. In fact, they can be chosen arbitrarily as long as they contribute to a memorable mnemonic story. Knowing these English names can be helpful in the beginning, but they are usually forgotten once one becomes more proficient in reading Japanese, as they are useless for actually reading the language.

Japanese people sometimes explain kanji in terms of their parts. To fully understand these conversations, you actually need to know the correct Japanese names for at least the most common radicals. This knowledge can help you better comprehend your immersion in the language, although it is not essential for reading and writing kanji.

Video demonstration.

I recommend learning the most common radicals using Anki. If you're interested in learning the most common radicals, you can create Anki flashcards with the radical on the front and its Japanese name on the back.

Here's an example of what such flashcards might look like:

Front Back
⺿ 草冠 (くさかんむり)
三水 (さんずい)
虫偏 (むしへん)
木偏 (きへん)
病垂れ (やまいだれ)
言偏 (ごんべん)
魚偏 (うおへん)
立心偏 (りっしんべん)
下心 (したごころ)

For each radical that you want to learn, you need to know what Japanese people call it before you make a card. For a comprehensive list of radicals visit 部首一覧.

In Japanese, radicals are primarily mentioned when people explain how to write kanji. So, knowing kanji radicals can help you better understand spoken Japanese conversations about kanji. You don't need to know the radical names to read kanji.

Tags: kanji, guide