Learning Kanji: My Five Kanji Teachers

By Donnie | Articles


“BING, BONG, BING, BONG, BING, BONG, BING, BONG.” That grandfather clock-like tone means that cleaning time is over, and it’s time for the noon break. For the last four days my noon break has been a little different than normal. Every day after lunch & shouji I’ve been getting schooled in the ways of Japanese kanji by five, fifth grade girls. Learning kanji isn’t always easy, but hearing it from a Japanese kid’s perspective was really interesting.

These five students were some of my best fourth graders last year, and the first day back, immediately after souji (cleaning time) they all came to my classroom, and were pretending like they were having an English lesson. I thought it was really funny because I don’t know too many students who pretend to have school during their free time. They stood and did a mock, formal, class introduction which I thought was rather cute.


Kiritsu, hiruyasumi jikan no eigo no jugyou wo hajimemasu…rei. Chakuseki.”)
Translation: Stand. The noon recess English lesson begins now. Bow. Be seated.

I played a couple of English games with these students. While we were playing, one of the students got a glimpse of a kanji book that was lying on my desk. All of sudden, a spontaneous kanji quiz began…a quiz that I wasn’t quite ready for, but I did okay I guess. The students asked me if they could use my chalk, and they started writing kanji, kanji phrases, and kanji sentences on the board to test what I knew. The first day was pretty easy, but they stepped it up a little each day.

The funniest girl, had the most awesome time whenever she would mark one of my answers wrong. If I hesitated too long, or if I got one of the readings wrong, she would take a piece of bright pink chalk and yell “BATSU!” which means “X” (or in this case “incorrect). Another of the girls would always yell seikai, when I got something right and put a big circle around it.** The students would try to explain what different words meant. For example with the Japanese word, fueru (ふえる), they picked up an eraser and said “ippai erasers wa fueru” or “ippai hatto (hats) wa fueru.”

** I’ve now given these two students nicknames: Batsu Sensei and Maru Sensei.**

You know there are two cool things about having fifth graders as teachers? Number one: the lessons they teach are pretty darn simple to understand, even in Japanese. My kids don’t make any assumptions about what I know and don’t know, they just teach. If I’m getting a bunch of the kanji right, they throw in something I don’t know. When I don’t understand, they make corrections, and review the tough ones with me again later.

The second cool thing is that a native-speaking, Japanese student knows a good number of kanji by the time they reach the fifth grade. They have full functional use of nearly 700 kanji. I’m not talking about them knowing their kanji a little bit. They can use and recall nearly all of these characters as easy as I could recall any letter of the alphabet. SUGOI!

I got a pretty fair dose of reading, listening, and writing today, so I’m pretty happy.

You know what these kanji lessons cost me? A game of “Donaldo Says” (which is like Simon Says, only better because the name is a little cooler, lol). This is a win-win situation for sure. The kids get to play, and use the chalkboard as much as they want, and I get to absorb some great kanji knowledge in return.

The kids asked if they could come back and teach me tomorrow, and I wanted to say “HELL YEAH!” but I remember that I’m teaching fifth graders, so I just responded with “Hai, tanoshimi desu.”

So 12:25p.m. tomorrow, I know where I’ll be. I’ll be in my classroom learning more Japanese from my new little teachers. Hopefully, I’ll get more “seikais” than “batsus” than I did next time around. I’m reallly lookin’ forward to it.


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  • くみこ says:

    You have great students 😀
    And your Japanese writing is great , too!

    I hope to see you and talk in Japanese!!

    • Donald Ash says:

      Thanks, Kumiko. I think they’re pretty awesome kids, too. I appreciate the compliment, but I my Japanese writing skills are still a work in progress. I’m trying to improve as much as I can. I look forward to talking with you in Japanese.

  • Nanami says:

    Eh? Sugoi! Tanoshi desu ka? Seems like a lot of fun! I only know a few Kanji.. and I really need to brush up on those. The summer has started and I plan on (starting tomorrow after I get some supplies tonight for taking notes and things) to spend an hour or so a day working on my Japanese.

    btw. My favorite TMNT is.. Raphael. I’m pretty fond of Michelangelo.. but Raphael is my buddy!

  • Nanami says:

    “You may call me the shredder” -Shredder
    “A kitchen utensil?!?” -Raphael

    • Donald Ash says:

      I totally forgot about Raph. He was awesome in the cartoons because he had smartest mouth…loved that. I used to use him in the video games alot because not many people used him (having the shortest range weapon and all).

  • Regina says:

    That is the cutest thing ever. ^_^

    I’m glad that you have such diligent and helpful students; your lessons sound like a lot of fun.

    Good luck with your lessons; not that you need it with such awesome senseis!!

    Stay safe.

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