I don’t remember which 四字熟語 (yojijukugo, four-kanji idiom) I first encountered when embarking on my study of Japanese, but I certainly remember the feeling of panic — how the heck was I supposed to read this?

For new Japanese learners (and, depending on the complexity of the character, even some old hats), trying to parse four kanji grouped together, when there’s nary a hiragana or katakana to provide context in sight, can be daunting.

Those unfamiliar with the compounds might wonder if they should use 音読み (on’yomi, Chinese-derived readings) or 訓読み (kun’yomi, Japanese readings) of the characters. Breaking the phrase down into its smaller, more readily digestible compounds — the first two kanji and last two kanji — can sometimes help you figure it out. For example, if you look at the term 四字熟語 itself and your brain glazes over, just focus on the first half — 四字 (yoji, four character) — and then the second half — 熟語 (jukugo, idiom) — to make it less intimidating.