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How useful is it to learn radicals? I have just started learning kanji and while I don't find too difficult so far (I only learned a dozen), I doubt things will go this easily with a couple thousands more ahead of me.

So does learning radicals first make it easier to learn kanji? Are there any studies on whether learning radicals speeds up kanji learning or whether it has any other benefits for the memorization of kanji?

  • You can learn about the radicals while studying a particular kanji. By studying kanji you will see a lot of patterns and recurrence between kanji. Sometimes it's only a radical making the difference in the meaning. – magissa Oct 19 '14 at 14:46
  • If you decide to study radicals, then learning them as you go makes sense. That way you'll naturally prioritize and learn common ones like 氵, and you'll naturally skip ones like 鼎 that you'll basically never use―or at least leave them until very late in the process. – snailplane Oct 19 '14 at 19:02
  • Firstly, terminology: many kanji are made up of components which are themselves kanji. One of the components of a kanji is (sometimes seemingly arbitrarily, at other times with good reason) identified as special, for the purpose of indexing. That component is the kanji's radical. Before you start learning complex kanji, it's useful to know the simpler ones which make up their components, otherwise you're just "memorizing pictures". Secondly, when some kanji are used as components (especially as radicals) they change shape. You have to know that these alterations are variants of a kanji. – Kaz Nov 25 '14 at 19:01
  • Oh, and I wouldn't bother spending time on memorizing all 217 kangxi radicals. – Kaz Nov 25 '14 at 19:03
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Many (almost half) of the first year kanji are in fact radicals, so just by learning kanji one by one, in many cases you are already learning radicals. The kanji corresponding to a radical will usually appear before the kanji using this radical. (An exception being, for example, 艸 "grass" with corresponding radical 艹. The radical appears in the first year kanji 花 "flower", but the corresponding kanji 艸 is not even a j­ōyō kanji.)

I think it makes sense to learn the radical form of a particular kanji at the same time as learning the kanji. The corresponding radicals may be different in appearance: Some are simply slightly deformed (e.g 貝), some have slightly different strokes (e.g. 土), while others have a completely different appearance and are probably best remembered in pairs (e.g. (心,忄) or (犬,犭)).

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