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With the use of computers, now I find myself having much fewer occasions to write by hand than I used to do. In fact, I feel more comfortable writing with the keyboard. And I notice one thing - that more and more kanji seem to be getting out my memory. It's not that I'm forgetting how to read kanji, but that I'm losing clues as to how to write kanji manually, and at times I have to stop and try to remember the "shape" of a certain kanji.

If you usually write things manually, your writing hand will learn the "spelling" of words, and you can write without effort. The same thing could be said about typing with the keyboard. But things are greatly different when you write in Japanese. Writing on a computer means you don't have to know exactly how kanji are formed. Kanji conversion programs, namely Input Method Editors, will automatically, and intelligently, do the job for you. Thus, your writing hands will be neglected, which brings about loss of training. Like English spelling, the more you practice, the better you remember.

Kanji are a very complicated script. But they ARE needed in Japanese. They help you to read and write smoothly. Without them, your reading speed would dramatically slow down, and also there would be a lot of misunderstandings. Kanji are one of the great gifts that were introduced from China.

So what should I do? I don't know. I can't even say whether it's a significant problem or not now. Interestingly, computers have enabled us to use kanji more comfortably - even difficult ones that we couldn't do otherwise. So, the kanji culture would never perish.

Anyway, I can still write my name in kanji by hand. It seems to be all right for the time being. Or....


I'm sure you know it's always a relief to us foreigners struggling to master and remember kanji that it's sometimes hard for you too. I remember reading 12 years ago (when word processors were just getting big in Japan) about other Japanese facing this same problem.

But I can't agree more about how kanji help me remember Japanese words that I can't remember by the sounds alone. I'm not a very aural person. In fact I have a hard time distinguishing among similiar sounds--so many Japanese words sound alike to me. Moreover, Japanese has less sound variety than English, so it has a lot more homophones (like kami, god and kami, paper).

I find it almost impossible to read the "easy" hiragana-only sentences in our textbook. I need the kanji so I can distinguish the nouns, verbs, and adjectives, from their endings and from particles. My favorite books have kanji with furigana to help me over the kanji I don't know. Usually having both the kanji and it's reading I can figure out the meaning of words that would stump me if I had only the kanji or only the readings.

I think of this as the "whole senses" approach to learning a foreign language--sight, sound, and shape (remembering how to draw it).

Yeah, you are absolutely right.

And I always keep in mind, when writing in Japanese, that I should be careful of the proportion of kanji, hiragana, and katakana, to make what I write easier to read and understand. Excessive use of each of them makes the writing disastrous.

I am on the computer a lot but I don't think I'd forget any Roman characters. I have to write things down in my notebooks at school though, so that helps. However, I never write anything in cursive except my name. So what happened? I forgot how to write things in cursive.

Years ago my English teacher made us write our essays by hand in cursive, and some of us had trouble. She gave us these cards that showed how to write the upper and lower case forms of the letters in cursive. It took forever to write the essays because I was always looking at my card. I think I lost that card, but to this day I still wish I had it.