Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Learning Kanji: a different perspective

I heard the most interesting comment from one of my students, a middle-aged Japanese business man. I was teaching some vocabulary words in an upper-level class, and happened to ask my student if learning to spell in English was very difficult. He acknowledged that it was, especially with all the exceptions to every rule. I asked him if it was just as difficult learning Kanji , one of the three different Japanese written forms, and the most beautiful and elaborate form. There are somewhere around 50,000 different Kanji characters, and a college graduate should know at least 2,000. It takes a very long time to learn even the required 2,000 Kanji.

This is what he said:

While the Japanese were busy learning Kanji, the Western world passed us by. With only 26 letters you can say everything!

This was a rare insight into the Japanese perspective, and one that I will never forget.

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