It's been asked before, what do I have against the Heisig Method? Put simply, I strongly believe this method gives learners a significant short AND long term disadvantage over traditional study methods, and the only reason people think the Heisig Method has helped them is because they either a) have not themselves tried investing equivalent time and effort using a traditional method, and/or b) are way overstating their own progress, something the Heisig Method actually encourages.
Remind me - what's the Heisig Method again?
It's a system of learning the Joyo (standard officially recognised) Kanji, on which the Japanese writing system is based. Book 1 teaches you to recognise and write the entire kanji set by associating each character with a keyword using mnemonics in just 6 weeks/months. They are taught in a "logical" order whereby key component parts are introduced followed by the bulk of the characters that use them. In principle, mnemonics are a good way of *holding* abstract information in short to mid-term memory until such time as it's properly internalised, and the logical ordering certainly makes more sense than the traditional order that native children are taught. The catch though is that the logical order bears no relation to frequency of usage, so you will learn characters right off the bat that I have never seen used in context, while some simpler characters that you'll use 100 times a day aren't introduced until the final chapters. Ignoring the less than minor detail that you're likely to retain the characters you learn early for much longer due to their relative head start and the much more detailed analysis they all get, this ultimately isn't deemed important as you're very specifically not given any means to use the characters until book 2. Book 1 teaches you each character, a keyword, and a way to associate the two. Anything else will detract from this. Do not use in conjunction with any other learning. Heisig is crystal clear on this point.
Book 2 expands on book 1 by teaching you the readings, or the Chinese readings anyway - Japanese readings which are much harder to remember seem to have been skipped. Nobody I've spoken to has ever had anything positive to say about the second book, and most that swear by the method skipped over it altogether, so for the sake of argument we'll take “The Heisig Method” to refer predominantly to Book 1.
2000 odd kanji in 6 weeks/months sounds great! What's your beef?
My beef is that recognising is not reading, and writing is not using. After 6 weeks/months of dedicated study to Book 1, you may feel a great sense of achievement, but you've really learned next to nothing. You've internalised even less. Your Japanese skills will have progressed not even slightly. Now you may think you've invested your time wisely creating a vast skeleton of knowledge that can now be fleshed out with useful information like the readings, and build such a skeleton you most certainly have, but invested time wisely I think otherwise. The reason I say this is because remembering how to recognise and write each character and associate them with a concept is the easy part, and once the characters are properly internalised you no longer need the skeleton of keyword associations. What's hard is remembering the different ways to read them, the different compound words that use them, and that is what takes the bulk of the time and causes the misery in learning. Learning to recognise and write them is so instinctive and natural that the whole process of memorising them in the abstract beforehand can safely be skipped in its entirety. Being able to recognise the characters before you learn to use them really offers you no advantage.
So let's take a look at how this works in practice. We'll take two equally motivated twins of equal background and ability, both starting from zero on the same day. Adam takes the Heisig Method and ONLY the Heisig Method as directed in the preface. Bob takes a more traditional approach by studying the kanji in the same order that native children learn them, picking up the Chinese and Japanese readings, and a few examples of usage as he goes along. He's also studying the spoken language, and practicing by reading the news (which he finds he can do almost straight away because the most commonly used kanji are learned first, and he knows the readings so he can look up compound words in the dictionary quickly).
After six months, Adam has come to the end of book 1 and is confident that he can recognise (by Heisig keyword) and write all 2000 odd kanji. He cannot read any of them, and still speaks no Japanese because that's forbidden by the method, but is overall pleased by his progress. By this point, Bill's progress appears more slow - he only knows 1006 kanji. However, that 1006 kanji are the most commonly used and are required to be considered functionally literate. The really common ones he learned early and has now fully internalised. For each character he knows a concept, all the main readings, a number of words he's already familiar with from reading practice, all of which provide a plethora of hooks to aid recollection. His motivation is as strong as ever because he can see his progress every day. He's also conversationally fluent. For Adam to reach this level, it will take him another 5-6 months because what he already learned is almost completely non-beneficial. An during this time Bill will have become similarly fluent in the remaining 1000 kanji. Adam's use of the Heisig Method has basically given Bill a six month head start.
According to Bill, the best part about learning using a traditional method is that each time you go back and revise, you spot new uses of characters you already learned, which serves to constantly reinforce them. “Making a little story to explain the composition of the characters was useful for the first 100, and I'm glad I had that $5.99 book ‘Kanji for Beginners’ to help me with that, but after I had that base, remembering characters became instinctive.”
So remember kanji learners, the Heisig Method does everything it claims to. Why not find out for yourself just how little that means.
(Note: 蛇油＝Snake Oil)