The chronicles of Burrito's bizarre adventure into Japanese.

Adding some spice to an aging RTK deck

with 4 comments

RTK is a beautiful thing, really it is. Without it, I’d likely be light years behind in Japanese and more than likely join the ranks of the many millions of bitter westerners who curse the very existence of these ornate, random squiggles and shapes. However…

After some time, the process of drilling these suckers in an SRS daily really begins to wear on you. Well, me. Amplify that when you miss a week of reviewing and build up a backlog of a few hundred, and amplify that even further when you make the brilliant decision to begin reviewing a Japanese keyword RTK deck concurrently (more on that soon!). Granted, this is my second RTK deck which has fared far better than the first (after a pretty abrupt abortion of the original one last year, shortly after having completed RTK), and I’m still reviewing 70~ kanji in this deck daily without much incident, but much more than that and the F-bombs begin to drop on this poor ol’ bastard. 「てめえぇ!貴様がクッソな物だぜ!ボ~ケ。」 and so forth, only with slightly less broken language and more cursing of Anki’s unmarried mother (she’s probably a very nice lady to have raised such a kind child, though!).

The benefits of RTK are numerous, and an entire blog post in its own right. I’ve grown from being able to awkwardly and sloppily write about a dozen kanji, to being able to actually write over 2,000 of them. I’m able to recognize a kanji’s rough meaning and associate a pronunciation (or several) to it with relative ease. I’m even able to pick up and learn brand new kanji with little to no SRSing, at times, thanks to the way RTK has taught me to analyze and memorize them (杖(つえ, staff) and 鱗(うろこ, scale) are recent examples – thanks, RPGs!). However, RTK sure ain’t without its flaws, many of which I ranted relentlessly about in my early RTK days – many of which still remain to this day.

The biggest issue that trips me up so frequently is the copious quantity of confusing, ambiguous and/or obscure keywords attached to so many of these suckers. English keywords. That is, words in my very own, native language. When studying a foreign language, the last thing I want is to stumble over my own language! This is a notoriously tricky issue to get around in RTK, and one that’s neither necessarily the fault of Mr. Heisig himself, nor my own mnemonic devices – there are only so many words in the English language to attach to a kanji that can potentially have a plethora of meanings… none of which exactly correspond to any common word in English. Thus, many cards become failed, frustration rears its head and I begin contemplating chucking my second RTK deck in the recycle bin.

Luckily, I had a moment of clarity the other day. Why not mix things up a bit and benefit from all of those failures? Rather than take my losses and fail a mature card, starting its spaced repetition timer from scratch and potentially stubbing my toe on the exact same issue as last time, why not take things a step further and completely revamp the sucker?

I had recently lamented the fact that I hadn’t somehow worked in onyomi readings to my cards – well, now was a perfect opportunity to do so. Many methods exist to quite easily squeeze a mnemonic hint into your RTK “story” – Kanji Chains, Kanji Town, Movie Method and Kanjidamage to name a few of the more popular ones, all of which have their pros and cons. Personally, I went with a somewhat modified Kanjidamage, because his list of onyomi mneonics are hilarious, memorable and (most importantly) readily available. Whenever I fail a mature card, I look up his onyomi mnemonic and work it into my existing one, making modifications where I deemed necessary.

Don't try this mnemonic at home, kids!

一石二鳥, as they say. I’ve found that even despite the sometimes confusing English keywords, the addition of the onyomi mnemonic makes recalling the kanji significantly easier (though this may simply be a result of my revising the card and creating a stronger association of the keyword to kanji). Furthermore, recalling the onyomi has been a piece of cake, and it’s taken very little time to work it in to my existing stories. Practically all of my revised stories so far are now more vivid and memorable as a result of these new aids, and the benefits of knowing a kanji’s onyomi straight off the bat are quite obvious. Best of all, I’m actually enjoying reviewing this moldy old deck again, and see failures as something potentially fun! It’s almost like cheating, but then, so is RTK, eh? Naturally, I wholly endorse it.

Of course, this doesn’t apply solely to mature decks, either. In fact, I’d recommend any kanji studiers try and fit in a similar method if at all possible! I sure as heck wish I had done so sooner. But if you’re like me and tend to lose interest with older decks, this may be just the thing to reinvigorate that old beast.


Written by ritobito

February 27, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Posted in kanji, SRS, tips

Tagged with , , , ,

4 Responses

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  1. I use Cocain for the こく onyomi, I mean for the reading, I don’t actually use Cocain. Good post. I think doing onyomi with kanji makes it a lot easier to read stuff.

    How is Japanese keywords going? I eventually gave it up because some of the words were too obscure and hard to remember. Now I’m just doing pure vocab deck and it’s working great.


    February 27, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    • *insert picture of Rockso the Clown here*

      Japanese keyword deck is going incredibly well. My first attempt at it was basically going through each one, in RTK order, but I found that way too painful (as you said, lots of obscure stuff and I couldn’t remember much of it). This time, I’ve suspended all but around 700 kanji that I feel I know, and I’m gradually unsuspending more as I come across them in things. I’ll go into more detail soon!


      February 27, 2010 at 7:02 pm

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post, as it really applies to me. I love RTK, but definitely get annoyed by the ambiguities between the English keywords. I haven’t gotten through all of the kanji yet, and I’m not sick of SRSing it yet, but I think I can still benefit from your ideas, so thank you!


    February 28, 2010 at 9:33 am

    • Glad I could help! The ambiguities are definitely a tricky issue to get around. Clever stories are the key, but I do think the addition of an onyomi clue can really help differentiate between them as well. Now, tree kanji will probably always be a little tricky…


      February 28, 2010 at 3:17 pm

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