My goal of learning all the Joyo Kanji through Heisig’s RTK method has gone slower than expected but I’m happy to report that I’m 25% done now after 8 months (November 2013). Kanji #550 was 賓 (a V.I.P.).
It’s much slower progress than I hoped, but I really can’t complain either. Before this, I could already read Japanese somewhat, but I couldn’t write them, or I wrote them very poorly. Plus, I would still run into into kanji I don’t recognize and didn’t know their meaning at all. Since using RTK I can write and recognize a lot more kanji than before. Plus, when I meet unfamiliar words, I can often get a rough idea what the word is, because I know kanji’s meaning in English. This is helpful because the “reading” of kanji is non-intuitive; you either know it or you don’t.
That said, RTK method has had its challenges. First, the English meanings of Kanji are sometimes too similar to other English words so I get the kanji mixed up. For example, the English words “rebuke” (論), “admonish” (警) and “chastise” (討) have very similar meanings, but the kanji are fairly different. The key to the Heisig method is that you’re supposed to build a story around the word and the kanji, and that often works, but sometimes the English meanings are just too similar.
Second, the suggestions Heisig offers sometimes rely on English wordplay which is confusing. For example, 調 means “tune” in English, as in to adjust something. But Heisig’s suggested story uses “tune” as in a song. That kind of wordplay will only work in English, of course. This is kind of frustrating, but you can easily build a story of your own around the correct English meaning if you want to.
Third, sometimes the choice of English word is one that’s actually not often used for a kanji. This is more of a problem later when you learn Japanese words and realize that the kanji is not used in the way implied in the Heisig method. For example the kanji for “year-end” 歳 is very often used to describe a person’s age in Japanese (X years old). It does mean “year-end”, but that’s not the most popular meaning or usage.
Still, in spite of all these challenges, the Heisig system has been more effective than my old method of using flash cards. And I definitely remember kanji more easily than before. Plus, I’ve used it to learn new kanji not in the book like 鮪 and 之. The key though is that you have to follow Heisig’s method strictly and don’t game the system because you’re lazy. I did this at first, thinking I would save time, but weeks later, I would realize I didn’t really learn the kanji or component and then I wasted time because I had to go back and learn it properly. I’m doing this right now with some of the early kanji that I neglected to build a good story for. So, when Heisig tells you to spend 5 minutes or so building a story in your mind based on the English meaning and components, do it. If you do, you’ll thank yourself later because you don’t have to re-learn the kanji. In short: don’t be clever.