A bit confused about learning vocab

I’m sorry if this is a stupid question or has been covered already in here, or if I’m unclear as English isn’t my native language. Anyway, right now I only use Wanikani for my Japanese studies. I’ve found great resources on grammar as well. But I’m quite confused about how I should go about learning vocabulary, which I want to learn so I can actually immerse myself in the language asap without it being super frustrating (as I have to look up almost every word). My problem exactly is that I have no idea how you should learn vocab that uses kanji that you don’t know yet? Trying to memorise the kanji in vocab as just some kind of vague “form” that you might be able to recognise when you see it, but probably can’t that reliably really since many complicated kanji especially look rather similar, doesn’t seem very practical. Then again learning it only in kana doesn’t seem practical either since then you can’t read anything? And learning a new kanji along (almost) every new vocab word seems like wayyy too much of a hassle plus I just can’t seem to make kanji stick very well without Wanikani. :confused:

How have you tackled this issue?


The way I go about it is whenever I’m reading and I don’t understand something, I look it up in an online dictionary. Eventually after encountering for like 5-10 times in different places that’s when it really starts to stick. Of course maybe putting that vocab in an Anki deck or something similar to study later may help remember, but I have difficulty getting into Anki so just reading works ok for me. I also sometimes write the full word in a notebook with all the information for that word. For example with the word 食べる I’d write it out with kanji, then write it in hiragana, then write out the definition and it’s usage in a sentence. If I especially have trouble with a word, writing the word down does take time but it does wonders for me, maybe you can also try that out.


If you’re a super-beginner then learning vocab in kana is actually helpful. Here’s why:

  1. Most children’s books have “furigana” which means each kanji word has tiny kana spelling out the pronunciation. (It’s also easy to find baby books that are all-kana but these are annoying to read because there are no spaces between words.) EDIT: Haha totally wrong about that bit, but do check before buying.
  2. It helps with speaking/listening.
  3. When you do learn the proper kanji in WK you won’t need to memorize the new words, just how they’re written.

Like @RysingDragon said, if you see/look up a word over and over it eventually sticks. I find it also helps to write out the kanji by hand several times (look up the proper stroke order, it makes things easier). But I’d say only do that if the word is super-common or super-important in your reading. You’re paying good money for WK to train you, so let it do the hard work. :wink:


In addition people don’t always use kanji even if there is kanji available for a word! So it might make it a little easier to parse through phrases that don’t use the kanji like you might expect.

I prefer learning new vocabulary that doesn’t use kanji I know, by kana/reading for this reason, and only passively see if my brain remembers the kanji or not.

If I try to actively learn the kanji for the new vocab, then I’m going to want to create a mnemonic (and perhaps “invent my own radical(s)”) to remember it — and sooner or later (most likely) I’m going to encounter it in WK, and most likely it won’t use the same mnemonic/radicals, then I’m gonna get all mixed up.

But I guess it depends on how long it is before you encounter it in WK. If you shed your own mnemonic before WK gives you one, then I guess it’s all good! I’m just playing it safe for now (for better or worse). We’ll see.

1 Like

When this happens to me, it usually becomes somewhat recognizable after looking it up a billion times, so just look it up until it sticks, I guess. Maybe check the meaning of the kanji as well.

Sure it is way harder to learn vocab with unfamiliar kanji, but remember it also gives you a head start for when you learn the kanji later, so your effort is rewarded eventually.


Just so this doesn’t scare anyone off of kiddie books, some do have spaces.

I am playing Pokemon, and it is all katakana and hiragana. They do have space, though. No kanji, but the real troubles are vocab and grammar.


They do? Thank goodness!
(At one point I photocopied a couple of picture books from my college library and started writing in word separators and kanji as practice.)

1 Like

I like that idea; it sounds like fun practice :grinning:
Also, just to make sure I wasn’t full of bs, I went and checked the picture books that I have here. 5/5 have spaces, though sometimes it’s after a full phrase rather than a single word. And you still have to be able to recognize the particles, too.

1 Like

Well, as for me, I don’t bother much with actually studying the vocab that hadn’t shown up on WK yet or aren’t included in WK for now.
Instead, every time I see a new vocab, containing kanji I haven’t learned yet, I first look it up in the notes I’ve already made (I use an app which allows search by kanji or formula or meaning or reading). If it’s not there, I then look it up on WaniKani. If it’s on WaniKani, I add the entry to my notes like this:

This way, if I see 領 again somethere on paper (so that I couldn’t just copypaste it) and wouldn’t be able to remember it, I would be able to find it by searching for “order + geoduck”.
If it’s not on WaniKani, I look it up at jisho.org. After that I divide it myself into WK radicals (I haven’t yet encountered any kanji that couldn’t be divided by WK radicals) and add the entry into my notes.
After that I do the same with the whole vocab:

This way I can quickly look it up in my notes when I need it.
And every time I have to look it up again, I reread the notes entry, remember the mnemonics (or create a new one), so if it occures often enough, I end up remembering it.


Isn’t this an option in newer Pokemon games, all Kana or normal?

Take it from someone who has burned at least 90% of the vocab here by now, you’re going to need to. Including many common words. I think everyone should do the remaining words in the Core 10K


Yeah, I know, thanks.
I’m going to do that eventually, but for now I plan to concentrate my attention on WK and on Anki deck for writing practice. And on reading more. Once I’ve done that, I’ll give more attention to studying other words.

I’m just saying many of them are extremely common words. It extremely hindered my progress around the time I was like around level 50 because I was still constantly looking up words I should’ve known that were extremely common, but just slightly not common enough to remember them solely through seeing them over and over again.


So … uh … clearly I’m the one full of bs here because 2/2 of the kana-only story books on my shelf DO have spaces. The one that didn’t was actually 3年生 reader with some basic kanji in it.

Anyway, good news for OP!

1 Like

Yup. I used all Kana for some of the games when I first got my Japanese 3DS a few years back to get Monster Hunter games earlier. Found out the hard way that it has its own complications, as polv mentioned. I had no problem with the grammar, but vocabulary was a complete pain. I much prefer looking up readings/meanings by kanji than looking up jukugo by reading. x.x. Thankfully, I always play each of the games side by side, so then I just used the English to figure a lot of it out. I used the Kanji option on Poke’mon Sun and had a much better time. I’ll be doing the same with Ultra Sun. :smiley:

Use WK’s synonym feature. Living in Japan, encountering certain new vocabulary before the Wanikani version comes your way can’t be helped, and often times knowing one of the kanji already helps get it down.

I’ve had that happen a few times, and just add my own understanding/mnemonics to WK’s as soon as I’m able. Don’t hold off on learning useful vocab you encounter in the wild just for WK’s sake.

As others have noted above, its lists are limited anyway. There are extremely useful/common words that either aren’t part of WK or aren’t given to the user until later due to one of the kanji in them. Let it be one of the vocabulary tools you use instead of the only one.


Good advice! I do use the synonym feature/mnemonic notes for when I don’t like the WK mnemonic and make my own, but somehow I never considered just doing it for kanji learned previously outside of WK as well. I’mma start doing that :slight_smile:

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.