Stop and stand back: telling kanji apart
On the long, uncomfortable trek through the Joyo Kanji list, similar-looking kanji have a tendency to block my path.
Lately, it's been this pair:
防 - prevent
妨 - impede, obstruct
Both of those are typically pronounced 'bou'. So that bit's easy.
(Tip: for kanji which are made from 2 radicals side-by-side like this, the right-hand one is often the clue to how you say it.)
They're part of the same level on WaniKani, and come up during the same review sessions. I've finally got a grip on which one is which. Finally. After weeks and weeks.
How? Okay, this is shameful to admit.
The second kanji (for 'obstruct') has the symbol for 'woman' on the left. If I think 'women don't prevent things, but do tend to get in the way' when I see that kanji, I can remember both meanings.
It does the job! It's no worse (or better) than some of the mnemonics in Remembering The Kanji. Sure, the idea is that they're memorable descriptions, but some are clutching at straws:
"Remember the story about the “Little Engine that Could” when you hear this key word, and the rest is simple. See the determined little locomotive huffing and puffing up the mountain—”I think I can, I think I can...”—spitting railroad spikes out of its mouth as it chews up the line to the top."
Similar kanji are the worst.
I could give you so many other examples. Here's one:
困 - troubled, worried
因 - cause
Those two are spoken differently, the first as 'kon' or 'koma' and the second as 'in'. But when written down, there's a ONE-LINE difference. Spotted it yet? That vertical line down the middle, inside the box.
One line also separates spice from happiness - 辛 and 幸 respectively.
I'd love to be able to end this post with advice on how to remember kanji.
The problem with that is what's worked for other people hasn't worked for me. And, uh, methods I use might not work for you. So I can't give you the magic key here, folks.
What I CAN say is that you WILL eventually learn all the kanji. (I have to tell you that, otherwise there's no hope for me...) As long as you know how you remember things most effectively. Try flashcards, try apps, try everything and see what you click with.
I mean, hey, what's preventing, obstructing or impeding you, huh?