Let’s do a Natural Method / Comprehensible Input (CI) Kanji project with kanji in order of simplicity. RTK-like but all Japanese sentences

A) Possibly (arguably) the best methods for learning Japanese is mastering the kanji first, learning the kanji in order from the visually simplest to more complex, always learning the components like 厶 & 禾before 私. Examples: RTK (Remembering the Kanji, aka the Heisig method), Kanji Damage, Kanji Garden Only partially Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course.

B) The best overall method to learning ANY language is the COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT (CI) method or the NATURAL METHOD: reading an all-target-language text, that starts simple with self-understandable sentences (and cognate words, that sound similar to the English equivalents) and pictures, gradually increasing difficulty. An absolute immersion in the language. The learner is not expected to understand everything in the first reading, but let his brain decipher how a language works by seeing the words and constructions over and over again in the real sentences, learning the language in context and in massive exposition.

The best example is Latin: Lingua Latina per se Illustrata.

PDF Examples for French, English, Italian, Spanish and German are (from this page):

[7-zip] Jensen – English by the Nature Method, (Copenhagen [1939?])

[pdf] Hall – Poco a poco. An elementary direct method for learning Spanish (New York 1921)
[pdf] Hall – All Spanish method, first and second books. Método directo para aprender el español (New York 1914)

[pdf] Worman – New first Spanish book, after the natural or direct method, for schools and self instruction (New York 1916)

[pdf] Worman – First French book, after the natural method (New York 1883)
[pdf] Worman; De Rougemont – Grammaire française pratique à l’usage des américains (New York 1883)
[pdf] Worman – L’Écho de Paris. The French echo: dialogues to teach French conversation, with an adequate vocabulary (New York 1898)
[7-zip] Jensen – Le Français par la « méthode nature » (Copenhagen 1958)

[pdf] Worman – Erstes Deutsches Buch, nach der Natürlichen Methode, für Schule und Haus (New York 1880)

[7-zip]Jensen – L’italiano secondo il «metodo natura» (Charlottenlund 1962)

For Japanese CI is messy, because basic simple sentences use complex kanji. You can learn to recognize the kanji that way, but you won’t understand them and will have difficulty drawing them from memory.

RTK-like methods many people swear for saving their life, but most of them don’t use it in words. And none of them uses it in context of the real sentences. It’s more like cramming a kanji dictionary, than acquiring a language.

  1. A) + B) can be merged together in (I think) a great teaching tool. Let’s work together and do a CI Kanji project: comprehensible input Japanese focused on introducing one kanji at a time in order of simplicity of sort of like RTK and similar methods. Where each kanji will immediately be shown in a lot of sentences that only use the kanji that were introduced so far. Starting from a simple short and kana-only sentences like “kore wa … desu”, and while new kanji are introduced, a new more and more sophisticated constructions can be introduced.

As a graphic designer/artist, a passion for languages (including the ancient ones) and creating systems of knowledge, I have a history of attempts to devise fresh methods for learning languages. So after a lot of pondering, I’ll show the (i.m.o.) best first draft of the guidelines-to-follow. I’m not the best person to do it myself. In fact, I doubt one person is enough to do it in the most useful way. Also, by mining and judging sentences and ideas as a collective, should be a very enjoyable group activity, I believe, and a way to reach more people. So, let’s start this project together. Hopefully, you will see it as a useful and fun idea as me.


1) This is not a grammar book. The reader is not expected to study grammar. The goal is for the reader to understand the language like a baby learns to understand the language used around him by other people, bit by bit, by comprehensible immersion is some things being said over and over in the same or similar way in the same context. The project focuses on using all important kanji in sentences. The grammar is secondary. Not all essentials of grammar need to be considered. What needs to be considered is to withdraw from complex grammar and longer sentences, and introduce those increasingly. It’s obvious that the grammar would make its way in, if we use each kanji and their most used words containing them in many combinations. It’s good to follow some good textbooks in what order they introduce grammar structures, but this is not a Japanese-grammar textbook – the readers shall learn grammar from his other sources. But they will memorize some of it because that’s what CI method does to you.

2) The grammar is secondary to the kanji introduced in their own order, so:
The grammar must wait for the kanji to appear. Other, simpler construction will be used before that.
The order of the kanji will take into account the grammar. Kanji needed for frequent basic constructions (like a visually complex 誰dare “who?”) will have a higher priority to appear earlier. So its components王→主+(人→)⺅→隹 and 一+三+口→言 shall be all introduced very fast, faster than some 2-or3-strokes kanji. Even if the 主 is not frequent on its own more than some other kanji, it will be introduced quicker than those more frequent kanjis, as the end goal of 隹 has much higher importance than all those “other kanji”.

3) The choice for first few dozen (or so) of kanji is a tough and important decision to carefully make. That’s why a collective work of several minds would be better than one or two authors’ choice. RTK, Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course, Kanji Damage, Kanji Garden all make their choices of kanji order quite freely, having a rough guideline of which goes after which, some choices would be fine to be different. Here the choice will be based on how many useful phrases can we make with any combination of kanji. If we can use simpler and more natural sentences (with frequently used structures) with different simple kanji, then let’s take that more fruitful sub-branch now first, and see if after it those kanji we pondered to introduce here as well will make some nice sentences now.
At first to make sentences we could use katakana loan-words (which are easy to immerse the reader as he knows that word in English already), hiragana-only structures and the words that even the Japanese write in kana, even though they have their own kanji (like ある、どこ、そこ、これ、それ、あなた、~たち – for which once we get to their kanji, they can either switch to kanji for good or alternate between kanji and kana, for example depending on the age of the speaker in dialogues). The more (experienced) people on the project, the more sentences we can either come up with or mine from other sources, especially at this beginning stage with only few kanji.
The verbs-making kanji are of more priority, as we need them for proper sentences. 見 is easy to get quick into. But we also want 食 for “eat” and “drink” sentences, and similar frequent and multi-purpose verbs like go, take, have, like, etc.

4) Pictographic kanji (like 人日月目水山大火木口中田刀子女手川*) should be introduced as pictures, not requiring building blocks. Preferably in the begging, so that makes it clear they stand on their own graphically, if we learn (at least some of) them before the building blocks being even mentioned. (*Although see the point →21d) for some quirks)

5) Introduce new kanji first, then its component TOGETHER with it. Don’t start with a new component. Don’t introduce⺅ “because we need it for 休”. Show the 休 and explain what the ⺅ is and what it stands for (that it’s not a kanji but a kanji part, a form of kanji 人). Kanji radicals and parts encountered in context, not in the void!

6) If a kanji consists of parts that are not used as kanji anymore. Explain the parts anyway. They still contain meaning. Just show a picture or English meaning for it and never mention it again. Attach the reading in the furigana if it can be easily found (so is probably used in some geographic names, etc.).

7) Similar and confused kanji introduced close together, or at least drilled together (in the same sentences if that makes semantic sense, or in the neighboring sentences). 方 after 万, etc. In this example, we would have some sentences that use both of these kanji in a way that makes it clear that one describes a person (usually one person or a small number of people) and the other describes large numbers.

8) Sentences should build their complexity slowly. Start with short sentences. Don’t just make a long sentence because we have all the kanji and could use a 4 new kana-only words. Make it into several simple sentences and then show that they can make one big impressive longer sentence. One new word per sentence or one new sentence structure or phrasing per sentence would be ideal. It’s better to have more easy to follow sentences than spend twice the same time being puzzled by a single sentence. The more Japanese one reads without stopping, the better the comprehension by immersion.

9) It’s better to have dialogues, questions-answers sequence and a block of sentences making up a story or logically connected. They keep the immersion flowing. Random sentences are bad and tiring. Look at the first page of the CI books examples to see how they tell a story and engage the reader with a small vocabulary.

10) Illustrations are always used on the first pages of CI method books. But I believe they should be used more often. We can use Unicode characters within the text itself (Google search for “[whatever] Unicode” 🐔🐢🐷🏠🌳 but watch out not all are supported by the basic fonts). That way we can have many visuals with the files not being heavy. I can also draw some illustrations. SVG (scalable vector graphics) would be perfect, as they are super light, but most MS Word and Excel versions don’t support displaying them, so I’m not sure about that.

11) (Maybe?) Visual kanji origins and mnemonics. There are a lot of them. From strictly historically accurate like Henshall’s books, Etymological Dictionary of Han (Chinese) Characters to modern visual mnemonics like Yoshiaki Takebe – Kanji isn’t that hard!, kanjiapp, (Tuttle) Japanese Kanji Made Easy,(Tuttle) Mastering Japanese Kanji, (Tuttle) 250 Essential Japanese Kanji Characters, Genki Plus. Kanji Look and Learn, Rowley – Kanji Pict-O-Graphix, Walsh – Read Japanese Today, and others.

While introducing each kanji, it might help to use that kind of illustrations. If we’re at the point in which we can use a sentence (in Japanese!) like “Look at this kanji. It’s made up of [part] and [part]. A [part] is doing something with a [part]. What could that mean? Can you guess? The [part] is [explanation of etymological meaning in Japanese] the [other part].

12) Should we give English meanings next to new kanji? This brakes the immersion, but might be needed for more abstract words? And would serve as subheading for “new kanji section”. For pictographic kanji 木 we can say: 🌲これは木です。🌳これも木です。[picture of cut wood] これも。(etc.) – Listing all the variants of the word with the pictures. And we might not need a list of meanings at all. For other words not so much.

13) Not all meanings have to be given right away. Some may wait for other kanji or sentence structures. Kanji would reemerge and be repeated regularly either way. A new meaning can wait for a new context. In the design process it should be tracked which meanings have been not yet introduced, to make sure it won’t be forgotten and will be covered later on.

14) (Maybe?) For common words spelled temporarily with kana, if they consist of more than one kanji (like anata) – we could show the whole word in kanji right after introducing one of its kanji. As this word is already familiar, this would signal it has a kanji form, and what one of the kanji are. For example, after introducing just 方 (and say we haven’t introduced 貴 yet) we can have “あなた(貴方)は…” said once or twice (or use 2kanji+furigana), and go back to hiragana form until we encounter the second kanji for this word.

15) Don’t introduce the on- and kun-readings (on-yomi, kun-yomi). Just introduce the kanji meanings and keep showing it in sentences. The reader learns there are different ways in which each kanji is pronounced right in the proper context, not of just the words, but entire sentences, dialogues, etc.

16) However, after we introduce the kanji for ON, KUN, and YOMI, we can produce a lot of sentences that explain that kanji have these two kind of reading: “For [this kanji] this is ON and this is KUN.” Here even pinyin transliteration can be given to show why one is called a Chinese reading, but also that it is not really a Chinese reading like in the Chinese language, and for example: “[This] and [this] kanji’s on-yomi sounds nothing like the Chinese say them. Chinese say [this kanji/word] as [pinyin], and Japanese as [katakana reading]. The sound [Pinyin-of-this-kanji] a Japanese person would write down as [katakana transliteration]. But no one would know what it means /that it means [this kanji]. Many kanji sound different in Chinese and Japanese when it uses on-yomi, and totally different when Japanese uses kun-yomi. Chinese have one reading for one kanji. Japanese has many reading for one kanji. Many kanji not only have a Kun and an On form, but also many Kun and Many on reading and some unusual/special readings too“. And for some kanji we can re-drill them at this point, explaining which words (that we already know) use on-yomi, which kun-yomi, which are special readings. Although I’m not sure how much should we have of that. It might be too boring if used too much. Our aim is for comprehension, not dictionary entries analysis. People can learn it elsewhere if they would need it at all (after they learn words by comprehension).

17) Vocabulary to use should include popular names (like 田中さん Mr. Tanaka (and 中田Nakada), 鈴木 Suzuki, 山田 Yamada,中村 Nakamura, 小林 Kobayashi, 吉田 Yoshida), cities and geographic names (like Osaka大阪 , or Haneda 羽田 airport in Tokyo), big companies names (日立Hitachi, テレビ朝日 TV Asahi).

18a) But also names of popular Japanese people, historic figures, actors, singers, TV channels, newspaper titles, popular j-drama, manga, anime or games titles. Together with pictures. For some popular titles more can be said: names of characters, places, items, magic spells (especially if they use kanji)

18b) Some series-specific terminology can be used, like names for attack, weapons, powers, catchphrases, and stock-speeches, but we should watch some boundaries here. Some examples that use kanji but attach furigana that is not a standard reading – the puns that are often used in manga/anime as names for character, places, etc., would be good to give as an example (with explanation that it’s an example of that thing, not a real word with real reading), but we should not do too much of it. The most popular series TITLES like Saint Seiya should be enough. Unless something else in a series, except a title, has become an overshared meme, then why not mention it. It would be better to use one series as a drill of several kanji and words, than have the series mentioned randomly throughout the whole material. Let’s have several sentences at once about a series, a person, or any other thing, for better immersion. At this point many pictures can be inserted, so for a brief moment the material becomes itself a manga (or rather a manga/anime scenes patchwork). For simple dialogues (for which we already introduced all kanji and all or most grammar structures) from manga/anime/j-drama the actual pictures can be inserted. They are not worse than dialogues from other sources, and they show things visually, which wouldn’t have to be explained.

19) Unlike all CI materials, I stand that we should have ENGLISH TRANSLATION and even ROMAJI TRANSLITERATION. Let’s do it as a table, with each sentence, dialogue part, or a string of connected short sentences in one row, 1 column in Japanese using a big font and pictures, next column with romaji, next column with English. Both romaji and English in much smaller column and faint gray font color. Also a row number on the far left, and a column for any notes (should there be need for such) on far right.

  1. a) Japanese text: New words with furigana (ruby script on top, easily accessible in MS Word) for new words (perhaps for some time until the word is encounter for a specific number of times and always for the difficult words and tricky pronunciations?).
  2. b) Romaji in a very gray font (not catching attention). Yes, romaji is bad, but it has two positives: shows how the words are divided clearly, shows whether is “ha” or a “=wa” particle. Some similar kana characters get mixed up by people, it’s better to have the clarification at hand, rather than learn pronunciation wrongly or break the immersion to Google the reading of a word (same with the meaning in English).
  3. c) The aim is for the reader to only use the Japanese text (main column). The romaji and English text will be smaller and grayed out, so that the focus and immersion is on the Japanese and pictures. Romaji and English are a crutch. Some people may need it for the first reading, but should try to not look at it. Most Comprehensible input books would not use translation and transliteration, but we are dealing here with a very complex language. What people are always frustrated with CI books, is when they get lost and have no clue what is said there. Let’s save people time asking on the internet what we meant here. Even as contributors, we might get confused why someone used such structure, and English and romaji would help to see if there is something to correct.
  4. d) If one copies the columns into Excel, we can add several columns for sorting thing, or sort sentences that only have 本当, etc. Excel just is more tricky with displaying furigana above the characters than Word, but it’s doable. But the contributors will probably prefer working in a Word document rather than Excel. Anyways a table is a clean design: number here, Japanese here, romaji here, English here, any other notes, “guys, this needs cleaning up”, etc. also in its own column. Nothing gets messy. And the table is more workable for turning it into a database or a fancy webpage. For longer discussions about specific fragments the row number can be used somewhere outside of the main document. Commenting inside the Word document is not as good as a separate table for discussing the sentences, sentences order and kanji order. Using the “comment bubbles” etc. inside a Word document would get messy and unmanageable.

20) LET’S DISCUSS THE WHOLE THING, what you think about, can something be designed better, how not to overcomplicate it, who is up to cooperate for what part, what sources to use for inspiration or quoted dialogues,  and especially the KANJI ORDER for the first hundred / first few hundred.


21a) Numeric kanji 一二三四五六七八九十〇 should be introduced together. Either in the beginning or in two parts with just a few kanji between them. But I stand for giving them together in the beginning. Numbers need to be seen in context. And let’s be real here, none of them are complex. If we drill them in the beginning together the learner learns to recognize all of them as digits/numbers and to distinguish between them without a second thought.

By having 一 as the first kanji and 十 as 10th kanji. We can have headers like 漢字一つ and first sentences per kanji like この漢字は「-」です。

After the 9 digits,十(10) and 〇 (zero) we can drill long numbers (phone numbers too? Perhaps with watashi and bangou in kanji+furigana or after we get to kanji for bangou?).

We can either introduce the numbers 1-10 and zero/placeholder and then 人 , 日, and月 to drill them as counters with numbers 1-to-99, months names, etc. Or Introduce them together with the numbers. But I opt to introduce the numbers quickly as a set, introducing the つ forms for with each or after the whole set, with some kana words that can be counted with ~つ.

21b) When introducing 日and 月 to learn the months and days-of-the-month. Then right away let’s add ヶ月 to say things like “January, February and March are three months”. ヶdoes not need a special introduction as much, and visually is very simple to remember.

21c) Once we introduce 人本円分回匹 (which should be given quite quickly), as these are the visually simple and quite frequent counters, we can drill some of the counters with numbers 1-to-99. As one of the most complicated parts of Japanese, the counters should be used extensively throughout the material.

21d) Pictorial kanji, especially those widely used in all teaching materials and with a low stroke count, like 人日火月木中田刀子女目手川水口中山大小 should be introduced early as they are (not as compositions of dots, “legs” and other lines). Although: 口 should precede 中 and 田. 目 must be before 耳. And 日 should be after 月 and before 目. But 日目耳 don’t need to be before the 口 (the “box” part is not relevant there). 魚 after 田 (but not after ク and 灬 as these are just the fish head and tail here), perhaps close to 猫, but definitely highly drilled in sentences together (猫 & 魚 are both similar visually, both are animals and one eats/likes the other, one likes 水 and the other does not. Nice to make sentences!)

21e) Other priority kanji (we shall get quickly to them): 人 分 本 私 誰(hence also:人/⺅王主隹 口言 before that, same with others) 彼 漢 字 百 千 万 方 曜 and important verbs-kanji (like行食 飲 男 描 教 電 話 取 来 切 持 書 始 助 使 気 困 答 居 有 知 習 生 無 買 終 入 出 下 間 会 開 払, etc.). I’m not suggesting order here (I gave these randomly), but anticipating priority for writing meaningful sentences. In no way it’s all priority kanji, I’m sure I have missed a lot even more pivotal. PLEASE help make the better list of the CI kanji order.

22) I propose to use the word kanji ( ) right away (with furigana until both characters are introduced). Even though it will come up after introducing several parts of its two characters. It would be even in the title. It seems like an understandable exception to just throw it at the reader from the get go. It’s hard to talk about kanji without using the word kanji. Using it in hiragana I think would just be abomination.

23) (“part”) should appear quickly, ideally as a first non-ideographic kanji made out of 2 components. So we can have sentences like:「休」は漢字です。「⺅」は漢字ではありません。「⺅」は漢字の分です。「木」が漢字です、そして「休」へ「木」がも漢字の分です。「⺅」と「木」[are 2 parts of the]「休」の漢字. 「⺅」は「人」です。( 「人」は漢字です、「⺅」は漢字の分。)「木」は木だ。

24) Later (?) we can say that one part is actually a radical (部首bushu): “「⺅」は部首です。” (The ⺅ is the kanji-radical) „[while [the other part] is not a radical. Each kanji has only one radical.]” and so on.

Comprehensible Kanji Input (CKI)
Kanji Comprehensible Input Project (KCIP)
Comprehensible Kanji Project (CIP)
Comprehensible Kanji (CK)
Comprehensible Input Kanji (ciKanji)
Kanji in Sentences (KiS)
Comprehensible Sentences Kanji (cskanji)
Natural Method Kanji (nmkanji)
Kanji Through Sentences (kts)
something else?

25) On my website en.gregoryrozek.com/kanjiproject is a copy of this post, with a list of links where has been posted. If you share or reference this somewhere, please send me the link, so I can list those in one place.

(First version published online written on 2020-01-27 from 13:27 to 20:31 in Warsaw)

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