I can't begin to count the number of times I've wanted to jump the gun in the process of learning Japanese. It's tempting and hard to resist. Plowing through the Kanji isn't the most entertaining part - especially in the beginning - but without it readings will never come to fruition. And why bother learning at all if you're going to be illiterate?

Why is it so tempting to want to rush through to the next part?

Picture a television series you just discovered in your on-demand that's got you hooked. You don't just watch the pilot, or the first two episodes. You want to keep watching to see what comes next. Same with a good book. What's one more chapter, right?

Human nature is to want problems to be solved as soon as possible. It's the desire to create a solution to an issue so you can move on. This is fine on small tasks that don't require much attention to detail. Not so much on something that requires a lot, like Japanese. After you've studied 50 kanji, what's one more kanji, right? Wrong.

How can doing more kanji be a bad thing?

If you've already done a lot that day, then relax. you don't need to do that one more kanji (especially since, for most of us, one will turn into ten). It becomes an issue when you are doing so many that you have trouble remembering them. Yes, your brain is like a sponge, absorbing water as you go. Sponges don't soak water up instantly, it takes time. The sponge needs time to soak up the water around it first, then dry or be squeezed out before it can take on more. If you're running water over an already saturated sponge, the water just rolls off it and down the drain. Apply that concept to kanji, and you'll have an understanding of why it's bad to rush.

Your point?

My point is that you can only retain so much per day. Leave it at that. It's okay, really. Nobody's judging you. Nobody cares that you've "only" done 25 kanji a day. People will care even less if you do all that studying cramming and none of it sticks. Nobody wants to hear about how you've "sorta" memorized part of a language.

What is my limit, and how do I know when I've hit it?

Thankfully this is where human laziness actually does some good (when watched closely, of course). You'll know when you get distracted, frustrated or bored. However, bear in mind that boredom by itself may not necessarily indicate your limit, but a problem in the way you study and review. There are cures for the boredom when studying, which typically also help in the area of remembering stuff as well. However, the cure for boredom is outside the scope of this article - I'll write a separate one for that (look for it in the TOC).

Finding your ideal pace via retention experiments

Everyone has a different pace that they are comfortable absorbing information at. It doesn't make one better or worse than another, just different. Here are some suggestions for finding how fast you can go:
  • Start with 20 new kanji per day. See how you do on the first few reviews. Stick to this for an average of 3 reviews. Be sure to record which cards and the results of those reviews.
  • Increase this by 10 (so, 30) new kanji per day, and record those results as well. Again, stick to it for about 3 reviews.
  • If the second set of reviews was as good or close to the first, repeat the above suggestion. If it was markedly worse, decrease by 5 new kanji per day and record those results.
  • After a few adjustments, you should find that "sweet spot" that works for you. The key is to give it more than one review for each time you change your new kanji count.
As a point of reference, mine is about 25 new per day, with roughly 50-75 reviews per day on top of that.

Further Reading: