Hi, this is Evgeny Uskov, and I am a Russian national and a Russian native speaker who passed the Kanji Kentei level 1 and Nihongo kentei level 1 test.
Here I wanted to touch upon a topic of specific mnemonic techniques I have personally been relying on to study the material for the Kanji Kentei test.
This said, I cannot absolutely vouch that I have developed them totally by my self, and perhaps simply picked them up after having been explicitly or implicitly influenced by insights from other Kanken takers I have glimpsed over the course of my studies, and while familiarizing myself with what other people do to study the Kanji Kentei material.
I would say that the techniques mentioned next are not something I have been using from the very beginning, but a post hoc result of a rEtrospective gEneralizing and concEptualizing certain practices and approaches that I have personally found convenient to use, and ended up utilizing them to work with the Kanken material.
In terms of “mnemonic” techniques in general everything and anything can be used as a cue for memorization, and unless one is an outlier with a mechanic style ‘photographic’ memory any memorization by default is reliant on some specific conditioning or contextualization of the target content.
To start with the basics, what I can absolutely and definitively say is that at least for me personally individual kanji along with their readings and meanings serve as an indispensable foundation for learning vocabulary that is based on such kanji. Thus, it is almost inconceivable and, for that matter, impossible for me to try to learn a word before I have first learned readings and meanings of each individual kanji such a word is written with.
While this approach may be considered too ‘incremental’, in my case it makes learning more psychologically comfortable and, I would guess, more long-term efficient. On the other hand, one of the consequences of sticking to such a metIculously thorough approach may have been one of the reasons why it took me so long to finally pass the first level of the Kanji Kentei.
As for specific examples of mnemonic techniques I use (whether intentionally or otherwise), in case of individual kanjis I tend to break them down into constituent parts, and apply my own original and totally Arbitrary “reading” to the resultant combination of such parts.
Take for example this character – “彬”. It is a level pre-1 kanji, with an on-yomi reading of “hin”, and a kun-yomi reading of “akiraka”, and it is mainly used in a word “hinpin” (彬彬). I remember learning it by inventing my own additional reading of “kikisan” (木＋木＋三）for memorization. So, now whenever I have to write “hinpin” I recall that it is a word consisting of two kanjis which I have named “kikisan”.
In a way, this may sound rather convoluted if not cumbersome, but the very random and an ad hoc nature of this approach allows for its flexible and independent application tailored to your personal preferences and ideas that you may come up with regarding this or that particular kanji character.
Or take for example the kanji 簪 which has on-yomi readings of “shin,san”, and kun-yomi readings of “kanzashi, kazasu, hayai, atsumaru”. By my own designation this kanji is “take-kiba-kiba-hi”, which is made of names for each of its constituent parts.
This method can be applied to compound words as well. So, a word for a parrot (鸚鵡) would be “kai-kai-onna-tori-mononofu-tori”.
Obviously, this is an “audio”-oriented approach, and people with different memory traits may find different types of techniques more useful and suitable to their individual conditions.
Among such we can point out the one relying on cognitive-oriented cues where instead of readings, mnemonic de-construction and re-construction of a kanji is based on its meaning or meaningS or respective meanings of its constituent parts. Thus, instead of “take-kiba-kiba-hi”, this kanji (簪) could be re-interpreted as something like “a bamboo with two fangs above the sun”.
For me personally, such a modus operandi does not work very well, perhaps, due to my lack of imagination and an insufficient cognitive bandwidth required to store and process such a heavy information load.
Another example of mnemonic techniques I employ is related to yojijukugo, where if and when possible I usually “read” them in a kun-like manner. So, for example, 蛙鳴蝉噪 (a-mei-sen-sou) would be narrated as “kaeru ga naku, semi ga sawagashii”, or 遏悪揚善 (atsu-aku-you-zen) as “ashiki wo todomete, yoki wo ageru”.
In case of jukujikun I memorize them by adding an intermediary element to connect their graphic representations and seemingly arbitrary readings through supplementing them with an additional on-yomi reading where, for example, a kanji combination for a dandelion 蒲公英 is read as “hokouei”.
The creation of such a supplementary buffer element between how a jukujikun is written and how it is read serves to add more, for lack of other way to put it, “latency” or “redundancy” of a sort which would otherwise lack, and thus hinder an efficient memorization, in light of little logical relation between how it is written and how it is read.
So, if learning that a combination of kanji 鴨舌草 is read “konagi” is difficult, maybe (at least that is definitely so in my case) learning that “ou-zetsu-sou” stands for “konagi” might be easier.