About Japanese learning their own language

I just wonder whether Japanese children learn Japanese in the same fashion as we do at Wanikani. Of course they do not use the site, I suppose, but do they use the same mnemonics as exploited here? Putting in another words, would Japanese person understand me if I try to describe the writing by naming the radicals of which it consists of?

Wanikani uses its own radicals and radical names, so Japanese people will have no idea what you’re talking about if you use them. I think that the actual radicals have a much more limited use than in WK, so I I doubt that would work either.

I’ve had some degree of success with describing kanji parts as “the right has that same shape as (in) kanji X, and the left as kanji Y” for kanji visuals, and mixing the on/kun readings to ascertain specific readings or to draw parallels (「もく」のき?) etc.

1 Like

You can use kanji parts to describe kanji to Japanese people, but you need to use the words they learn in school.

So like 休 would be にんべん and き

にんべん is the word for that person element when it appears on the left-hand side of a kanji.

As an aside, the Japanese word for radical is 部首 and if you are describing kanji to Japanese people, know that each kanji only has one 部首. In 休 it’s にんべん, and き is not a 部首, even though WK uses the word “radical”.

They don’t really use these like mnemonics though, and their learning process is much more about repetition and immersion than what we do. And I think that makes sense… They typically only learn about 200 kanji per school year. That’s slow by WK standards, but it means they get deeply ingrained, and they also learn much more about the kanji and the related vocab.


It’s also worth noting that they just have to fit the kanji into vocab they already know, so that’s tons easier too.


Short answer is no. They definitely will not know the majority of WK’s radicals and I’ve never met someone who uses mnemonics. Even the radicals that are the same as WK, from conversations I’ve had, it seems people think of them far more abstractly. Even kanji where the combination of radicals (or compound words where the combination of kanji) clearly indicates the meaning, I’ve heard Japanese (and Chinese) people be amazed when they have that pointed out to them.

I think it’s hard to get your head around how different it must be to learn kanji from so young and when you already know all the words they’re being used to signify.


No, they do not. They learn it like you did your native language, and they learn kanji to go along with it much more slowly.

The kanji they learn have to be simple in concept, early on, rather than simple in terms of stroke order, etc. This is because they are children and you can only teach them kanji for things they already know, to a large extent.

Later, they learn more complex ideas and the kanji to go with them, which may be fairly simple kanji, in terms of strokes, etc.

You are an adult, your difficulty is not with concepts, but with a foreign system of writing, so you need to learn it in a way that lets you start with simple characters and build on them progressively. This is completely different to the way a child learns their native language.



unless s/he stranded retarded Japanese who raised overseas for long time on nowhere country and feel shame why their overseas friends Japanese skill are far better (*ノωノ)て

but wanikani is nice choice compared with majority overseas kanji learn site because wanikani kanji stucture are pretty similiar with Japanese school terms~ though my rough estimation only 10級ー2級 (after lurk some level 60 the rest jinmeiyou) and dont mess from JLPT N kanji structure / information which is not suitable for them ԅ(¯﹃¯ԅ) and bonus some jinmeiyou is good~

they can safely ignore mnemonics and homebrew WK radical and off course…must dealing with english (but yeay they have chance learn and collect new complex english words and same time~)

usually simpler than that~ like @riccyjay said they dont rush with 部首 in daily life unless they going to kanken~


Thanks all, that was interesting!

I work in japanese schools, and from what I’ve gathered, the way Japanese folks learn japanese is fundamentally different even from the way we learn English. Like, yeah, the earlier post is true, they do learn about 200 kanji per grade year and it’s always mapping onto vocabulary they already know, but also, from what I’m gathering, at least until the junior high school level they don’t learn any formal elements of grammar at all. Concepts like nouns/verbs/adjectives and their roles in sentences are not taught in english or japanese, focusing instead on interpretation and analysis of intent or multitudes of meaning in a text– this is kind of like the way we study poetry in middle and high school, and I guess it makes sense given how flexible japanese grammar can be, though I do wonder how they teach composition.


Is grammar actually taught formally in English-speaking countries? I’ve got an impression that it is very rudimentary. Comparing to what is taught in Russian schools, for example - formal grammar from the early on, a lot of terms and rules and so on.

That’s not true about them not learning grammar before high school. I occasionally sit in on Japanese lessons in middle school and I’ve seen lessons on parts of speech in 7th grade.

It was actually far more in depth than what I knew about parts of speech in Japanese.


Seconding Leebo’s comment: at least in the two middle schools where I work and schools in the same BOE for the city, English grammar is described in Japanese using terms like “Be-動詞” (Be-verb), 名詞 (noun), 過去形 (past-tense), and so on. I’ve only sat in on a few 国語 classes, but I’m fairly certain they study grammar since they’re already familiar with all these grammar terms. Gahllib, its sounds like your schools might have an unusual approach! Sounds like it might even be better.

our schools approach may be different, but I don’t know if its better– it certainly becomes more difficult to teach english without using the words ‘noun’ or ‘verb,’ particularly when you want to teach conjugation or plural forms. Then again, it might be because I work more with 一年生 than the other grades.

edit: @Leebo @iruka111 holy crap guys, sorry, I just realized forgot to put the word ‘junior’ before “high school” in my previous post, lemme correct that right quick. Yeah they do learn parts of speech in my JHS english classes, tho usually it’s starting at 二年生.


hi gahl, ヨロシク

1 Like

hey bud, how’s no class day going?

I agree with what people have said above and would also add another couple of points:

Native English speakers do not learn I.P.A. symbol charts in order to learn how to pronounce English. In fact, most English speakers are vaguely aware of the International Phonetic Alphabet at all. It is not a necessary part for learning how to pronounce English words for many native and quite a few non-native speakers. Yet, learning this symbols system a guide to pronunciation is quite helpful when learning English. While it is not a one-to-one comparison to radicals, it is somewhat close, in my opinion.

In the same way, Japanese children don’t learn a written system before they learn the spoken system. They starting learning how to read and write in Japanese already with a massive vocabulary and implicit understanding of the grammatical underpinnings of Japanese.

This became SUPER clear to me when I starting reading native Japanese textbooks designed for elementary school 3rd graders. Often Kanji in that book will be replaced with hiragana and katakana making it almost impossible for me to figure out what the meaning is and yet it helps the children who rely on a spoken language to inform the written language. Throw in a dash of 擬音語 and whatever the term is for words that represent images (e.g. ザザーッ, ゴオー, など) and it is almost a prerequisite that I have a native speaker of Japanese help me interpret what a 3rd grader probably has heard over and over again through their childhood and easily understands.

Also, Kanji that is taught in schools isn’t always determined by the number of stokes in the character as it is by the frequency of that vocabulary item’s usage in spoken language (and sometimes written). Sometimes simple concepts have very complex Kanji but are taught earlier on in school --such as 感 or 整-- so that the vocabulary can be used for teaching and interpreting in daily scholastic activities.

I love this topic (and studied it in my Applied Linguistics MA), so if anyone else wants to engage in a longer conversation, I’m game!


Yes, absolutely, at least in America, grammar is taught beginning in elementary school. We had a grammar textbook separate from our other English textbooks (reading and spelling) starting in 2nd grade and learned parts of speech, noun and verb agreement, etc.

1 Like

Grammar may in fact be taught in elementary school in Japan as well, but I haven’t observed many Japanese lessons at elementary school. I can ask the teachers though.

Interesting. In Scotland we never done that.


I thought this too, but since they start learning kanji as kids, a significant part of a person’s vocabulary is learned at the same time as learning the kanji for them.

Or at least according to my sample size of one Japanese person I’ve discussed it with :slight_smile: