Ever noticed how you remember something better when you write it down? On the flip side, did you ever notice that not writing something down is pretty much like asking to forget it?

I can’t stress how much learning Japanese requires this. Right from the start, you need to be writing down what you learn as you learn it, or consider it gone. A great way to force yourself into this starts at the Kanji phase. Heisig even recommends in his book (RTK) that you write out the Kanji, but I’d like to take that one step further.

Writing it once will help, for sure. It’s certainly better than never writing it at all. However, what I started doing is writing the kanji every time I do my reps. This is a major part of engraving something in your memory. The other parts are seeing the kanji, and speaking out loud what the keyword is while you draw the kanji. This uses 3 senses to remember, which is a helluva lot more effective than 1. If you think about it, it’s essentially like getting 3 reps for the price of 1, since you’re technically inputting 3 times – once for seeing, once for speaking/hearing, and once again for writing.

I know you might be thinking, “But if I just speak it and see it, that’s still 2 for the price of 1, right?” Correct, yes. “And that should be enough, right?” Absolutely wrong. Allow me to mention perhaps the most important points of writing the kanji during reps:

  • Writing it lets you visually break down the kanji as you write it by it’s primitives, etc.
  • Writing it helps you remember the important parts, and not necissarily the random bits of information along with it (for example, the story you make up for remembering each kanji will eventually fade away, whereas the kanji should not.)
  • Writing during reps gets you repetition without drilling (because drilling is pointless if you’re older than about 5 – adults don’t learn that way).
  • Practice writing helps with having cleaner, more correctly-written kanji down the road when you finally are ready for some output.
  • Writing fixes the idea permanently in your mind, since you subliminally organize the important parts of information received before actual writing. This is due to the fact that we know in the back of our minds that we can’t write as fast as we think. So, we streamline and prioritize, and the important stuff makes it in.
  • As far as the brain is concerned, writing is equivalent to doing whatever it is that we’re writing about – a sort-of rehearsal in your head, if you will. Actions speak louder than words, after all, remember?

The main point is this: if you plan on retaining kanji/sentences/whatever for a long while, writing is a required part of that process. Not optional. And if you don’t like writing… do it anyways. It’ll make you better at it. Maybe you’ll grow to like it. You’ll see what I mean when it starts paying off.

And remember (write this down) – write the kanji/sentences every time you do reps, without fail. Yes it takes longer, but it also works better.