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KanjiLearningLabDemo: Memorizing Kanji in a Playful Way

Paper i proceeding
Författare Wolmet Barendregt
Tobias Sehlberg
Neil Rubens
Publicerad i 5th European Conference on Games Based Learning, Athens, Greece
Publiceringsår 2011
Publicerad vid Linnécentret for forskning om lärande (LinCS)
Institutionen för tillämpad informationsteknologi (GU)
Språk en
Ämneskategorier Pedagogik


The Chinese writing characters as used in modern Japanese are called kanji. As a foreign language learner with an alphabetic-language background it is very difficult to learn kanji. It requires an enormous memory load to memorize the extensive amount of information embedded in the script. Heisig (1986) states that in order to decrease mental overload one should a) use mnemonics to remember the meaning and writing of the kanji and b) separate the learning of the meaning and writing of the kanji from learning how the characters are pronounced. Based on this assumption, he has developed a complex mnemonic intervention that contains elements of elaboration, organization, and rehearsal. This learning strategy is published in a series of kanji learning textbooks (Heisig, 1986, 1987). In this paper we describe the design and evaluation of KanjiLearningLabDemo, an online game developed with inspiration from Heisig’s learning approach, but extending it on several points. The game aims to simplify the task of memorizing the meaning of 150 basic kanji by making the learning process playful and easy. KanjiLearningLabDemo has three main features:  It uses mnemonics to support learning the meaning of the characters.  It uses illustration and animation art work, sound and text to “visualize” the mnemonics in a way that triggers multiple senses and evokes emotions in the user.  It uses mini games and examinations as a tool to review the newly acquired kanji meanings. The mini games train both forward recall (from meaning stimulus to kanji recall) and backward recall (from kanji stimulus to meaning recall) of the characters. We have tested the KanjiLearningLabDemo with 130 learners of Japanese as a second language between 10 and 30 years old. All students played for three to four sessions, each session lasting between 45 and 75 minutes. Most students, even the youngest ones, were able to keep their attention on game play throughout all sessions. Some of the students also voluntarily played in between the test sessions. The preliminary results show that the students had mastered 30 (for the youngest students) to 130 (for some of the adult students) new kanji, measured as the difference between a pre-test and a post-test. As a comparison, during their first year of Japanese study the younger students were introduced to 30 new kanji as well as 100 alphabetical letters. It should be noted that this also included learning how to write and pronounce the kanji. Finally, teachers indicated that they were very interested in adopting the game in their future teaching if the game were expanded to 400-500 kanji and re-designed to offer more customized features. In that way they would be able to use the game as a complement to their regular teaching material. We conclude that the KanjiLearningLabDemo could be an enjoyable and effective way for learning kanji, both in and outside the classroom. We therefore aim to further develop the demo into a commercial application.

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