Absorbing vocab: How do you do it?

I’d like to hear more about how people go about gaining (and retaining) more non-wanikani vocab. Is it through constant immersion? Flash cards? SRS? Despite being level 21 now I have to admit I have done barely any active listening practice in fear of “wasting my time” with material I know is over my skill level. I read fan comics on pixiv from time to time but those pose less of a challenge seeing as the length is much shorter than a whole manga or anime (alleviating vocab lookups). I’m far from the point of the language sounding like gibberish anymore but I do find reading easier to digest. I’ve talked to others asking this question and generally get an answer of “I just listened to so much stuff that I learned words based on when they kept popping up”. I don’t think this is a invalid way to learn but it seems…frustrating? People seem to have similar experiences with learning english but I can only assume the amount you’re consuming is farrr far more than once or twice a week. I’ve tried plugging vocab from some manga I’ve read into Anki and, working on double SRS for me personally, is very stressing dare I say burns me out (Especially when I feel like I’m fighting Anki everytime I use it lol…) I’ve started watching kuroko no basket recently (I’ve got JP subs for it as well) but not even half into one episode I realize, sure I get the general gist due to watching it before with eng subs and the few words in JP I recognize but I’m not really fully understanding sentences, just fragments of context because of a lack of vocab. From there I assume I should scoop up the vocab from the show, but then the question becomes do I grab every word? (Which is when layering SRS starts to get stressful)

I apologize for the length here and this is probably just me being needlessly anxious but I do really worry about moving into immersing and I’m not actually retaining or learning anything.


I immerse for a few hours a day, mostly Youtube/Netflix/Reading. All I can say, is that confusion/lack of comprehension is normal. You gotta push past it, as dull as it can be sometimes.
Small steps are fine in my opinion, try to maybe read a page a day of your favorite manga or anime as you said. Gotta get used to that ambiguity, for real.
This site has been mentioned on Wanikani forums before but it lays out a neat roadmap (I personally didn’t follow it) that has a ton of advice for getting into immersing, anki strategies etc so check it out, if you’d like: https://refold.la/roadmap/


Here’s my method:

I try and act like a kid. Don’t try and get every word. Don’t worry about exposure to the right level—just get exposure. Kids get the gist of “grown up” sentences, and then they fill in the blanks (specialized and big words) as they get older.

I really like watching YouTube videos of Japanese people talking to each other. It gives me a feeling for the pace of the language. There are certain set phases that come up often and people say really quickly. I try and learn those. I just used flashcards before. Now, I’m using Torii and really liking it.

I learn best when I’m not stressed out. So, I try and approach shows and things from a open place, understanding I won’t get it all, but celebrating the parts I do. And slowly but surely, I’m picking up more and more.

I’m also doing lessons on italki with native speakers and that’s helping a lot with pitch and pronunciation.

That’s just what’s working for me. Wishing you the best!

P.S. Linear progress is a myth. We’re human. There will be times of no progress, then a leap. Trust me! It’s the same with any skill. Hang in there!


Japanese makes this extra difficult because you’re not just learning how the word is said, plus what it means, but there’s also how it’s written with kanji. That means for any word you even consider putting into Anki, you’ve already got three pieces of information going in that you need to learn.

WaniKani alleviates this by teaching the kanji in advance, then having separate reviews for reading and meaning.

Here is my current setup for learning more vocabulary:


I read manga every day. I typically don’t do much in the way of sentence mining from manga, but when I do, I am for the following requirements:

  1. I know all the other words in the sentence. Since I buy digital manga, I include a screenshot of the panel on the back of my card, as well as typing in the word.

  2. I already know the kanji. In this case, it’s a word WaniKani doesn’t teach, but made up of kanji that I did learn already. But if the word is easy to guess the meaning of from the kanji, I don’t need to create a card for it.

One piece I’m missing is frequency. How likely am I to encounter this word again in the future? I have plenty of Anki cards from manga for words that a year later, I haven’t come across again (meaning they’re likely wasting my review time).


Over on the anime front, I’ve been using Migaku’s tools (many currently in Patron paid beta release, set to be released for free once they are out of beta). So long as I’m working with an anime that I have a properly-timed subtitle for, I’m able to easily locate which sentences contain only one unknown word, and create an Anki card from that. With their new kanji add-on, I can start to learn the kanji in advance of reviewing the vocabulary card. And since the card-creation tool includes the anime audio on the vocabulary/senttence card, it helps me get used to hearing the word.

That said, if I’m watching something in Japanese without subtitles, and I know about 60% of the words, I’ll only hear maybe about 20 to 30% of them. I need to just keep hearing the same words over and over, and keep adding new words to my Anki deck, to get to know them and to get used to hearing them. (Remember: You likely won’t “hear” the word unless you know the word, so you need to keep learning words to be able to hear them and get used to hearing them!)

I haven’t yet incorporated word frequency into this process, but that’s available in the Patreon paid alpha release tier, which I’m not in. Once that reaches beta, it should help me zero is on words I’m more likely to see again to put into Anki.

I’m only lightly using anime for sentence mining at this time. I plan to get into it heavily in 2022. For now, some things I watch without subtitles (because I can’t find subtitles or can’t get their timing to match my DVDs) are watched purely for listening practice. Others I watch with subtitles and I have set to pause at the end of each subtitle so I can read the subtitle before I continue, optionally re-playing the line if I missed a word I know.


As for Anki, here are the important parts that keep me going on it without issue:

  1. I create cards for sentences with a single unknown word (often called i+1 or 1T). This means I should be able to look at any sentence card, and be able to read and understand the whole sentence, save maybe for the word being learned.

  2. I include both the vocabulary word and the sentence on the front of the card. Usually looking at the word alone is enough to recognize it, but if not, then the sentence is there for added context.

  3. I have two sets of decks: one for meaning-only and the other for reading+meaning. The meaning-only deck means the vocabulary cards include kanji I haven’t learned yet. I can select the vocabulary to display the furigana as an aide, and I only grade on whether I recalled the meaning. For the reading+meaning decks, I need to recall the reading as well as the meaning, and grade accordingly.

  4. Only ever use the Good and Again buttons. Never use the Easy or Hard buttons. The latter two mess with how often you see the cards.


Immersion through consuming content you don’t understand is not a waste of time, quite the opposite. Probably the most important part of learning a language, lmao. It’s a natural SRS, you learn how the language flows and sounds and you pick up a whole lot more than you can imagine, vocab, grammar etc. Not immersing is probably the most stupid thing you can possibly do.


torii.srs as a separate app is good for core 10k especially with the disabled furigana option during the review. ( also can turn off wanikani words= only 6k left to learn)

The best way as someone above pointed out- migaku sentence mining or yomichan+ anki combo.
It allows you to hover with the mouse over unknown words, get an instant translation, and an option to save the word into anki deck with a full context sentence.

It works with vns and anime with subtitles( animelon)


I tried that, didn’t work. I tried reading and SRS the vocab, but soon I got too overwhelmed and dropped it. Maybe because the vocabulary was too advance and too specific. Wasting so much time. I was better off using premade deck like core 6k and JLPT-wise vocabs instead.

I think immersion SRS would work if you were already at an advanced level where core 6k is just not enough anymore. What I’d do is consuming core 6k + JLPT materials and climb from there.

I also read news and consuming other immersion material but only look up to the dictionary but won’t SRS them. I try to enjoy them not as learning materials. There’s already too much SRS going on.


I use a combination of things. My main tool right now for actively learning vocab is through the textbook Minna no Nihongo. Basically, my process for that is to learn how to write all of the unfamiliar kanji and write down those vocab words into a physical notebook (learning to connect the vocab to the kanji helps me immensely even if it’s kanji I haven’t learned yet. With kana-only words, it’s easier for me to pick them up just by rote), then I put all of the lesson vocab into my Anki deck (I use Yomichan to also add audio to the cards) and run through it for several days until I feel comfortable with it.

At that point, I read the actual lesson in the textbook (MNN is entirely in Japanese) and do all of the exercises. Usually if there were any words I was struggling with, seeing them in the text and using them in the exercises cements them pretty well in my mind. I also am going pretty light on Anki for now as long as I have WK’s SRS running, so my daily Anki workload is usually less than 10 minutes total, which isn’t too overwhelming for me. I plan on eventually approaching manga basically the same way (prelearning the vocab, then attempting to read the chapter), once I know enough basic vocab and grammar to get started.

I am also picking up occasional words through immersion, but I’m not actively trying to memorize any of them or SRS-ing them or anything at this point. My immersion is fairly passive and is 100% for fun, so I don’t treat it like study time. Basically, I spend lots of hours a week watching Japanese professional wrestling lol and seeing tweets from wrestlers and such, and very little of it actually gets translated or subtitled, so I just let it wash over me without worrying too much about understanding everything.

Pro wrestling is a fantastic medium to immerse yourself in because you can understand the basic stories and the characters without needing to know a single word of the language, but the more you do know, the better it gets. So I frequently find myself noticing WK words or words or grammar that I learned in MNN while watching wrestling, which really helps it stick, and the more I watch, the more I start to make connections that I’d never made before and actually begin to pick up words and understand pieces of dialogue that I couldn’t understand before.

The big thing, though, is that at this point I don’t worry too much about trying to understand. I’m very used to watching Japanese wrestling and understanding practically nothing that’s being said. So the vast majority of what I see and hear just passes around me, and I just let it go. It’s very stress-free, because not understanding doesn’t ruin my enjoyment, but if something does catch my attention, I’ll learn something new, which is very cool and rewarding because it’s insight into what’s happening that I wouldn’t have had a year ago before I started trying to learn the language.

I think the trick for listening practice is to find some sort of medium that you can still enjoy even at 0% comprehension. If it’s something you can enjoy without understanding, it’s way easier to just let things go and not get too frustrated or hung up on needing to comprehend everything. I wish I knew something other than pro wrestling that qualifies for this that I could recommend, haha, but sports in general might work, or if you don’t like sports, I think people have had some success listening to vtubers and streamers (but if you would like to try watching Japanese pro wrestling, I could recommend some things to get you started). I’m not even trying to watch anime with Japanese subs at this point because I think it would be much too hard for me while my vocab/grammar knowledge is this low.

If you struggle with doing too much SRS at once, I’d recommend maybe going a bit slower with WK so that you could add Anki or another SRS, or trying to learn vocab by writing it into a notebook or another method of learning that doesn’t involve SRS (like, I suppose just looking up words as needed as you go). The latter method might be technically “less efficient” and require you to look stuff up more frequently before you learn it, but if SRSing it truly doesn’t work for you, it’s better to try a different strategy than nothing at all.

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personally, I find that the way that makes new vocabulary and grammar stick in my head the most is seeing it in two or three different contexts.
Like I was learning verb+かぎり with my iTalki teacher, but I kept getting it confused with かぎって and にかぎり and other similar ones. But then I saw/heard it in a show I was watching with the Japanese subtitles on, and then I heard it in a song I was listening to on spotify (shout out to WANIMA).
Having not only different contexts in which to get the meaning, but also different mediums - online lesson, Netflix, music, really helped it to stick in my mind.

So like others are saying immersion is really going to help, even if it feels like you miss a lot of content. and I definitely recommend as many different kinds of immersion as possible - TV, music, podcasts, manga, books, textbooks, lessons, anything and everything so that your brain can make connections!


You have to absolutely suck at something before you can be decently good at it.

I didn’t believe this before I started immersing but now I quite like the analogy; no matter how much you study you can’t learn how to swim without stepping out into the water.


Yes, constant immersion is quite enough to start learning vocab on its own. But, as you say, it probably requires more than a couple of times/week. I spent years just doing immersion learning, which had me listening to Drama CDs on a near daily basis + watching anime on a daily basis. I did reading and gaming as well, though not as often.

So, it’s about quantity not quality I think that will make immersion learning work.

Meaning, if you don’t have time to spend on it, it’s probably better to use a different approach (with immersion being a complimentary thing you do). So, using Anki decks, creating lists of vocab you’ve encountered, using textbooks etc.

Just use a method that works for you! Good luck! :+1:


I live in Japan, so I retain it by trying to incorporate it/asking about weird ones when talking with my friends and coworkers. But with actually really useful words, I try and use them as much as possible. (I also live in the countryside where English is not as available as say Osaka or Tokyo, so that’s definitely a factor). Also there will be times where I learn a new word, and then all of a sudden start hearing it all over the place (I know that phenomenon has something to do with psychology and that buuuuuut it does help it stay in the noggin.)

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Sadly I can’t offer much valuable advice, but might share my experience. Currently I’m not doing any SRS apart from WK (which is not much, since it’s just remaining burns and leeches). My main activity connected to Japanese language currently is reading Visual Novels with the aid of text hooking and mouse-over dictionary. And as for the new words - I just keep looking them up until they stick :wink: BTW it’s quite interesting, how some words I can remember almost instantly, why others don’t stick no matter what - and it doesn’t seem connected to their popularity or frequency or whatever - seems to be pretty random.

Pretty much this. Although at some point there is a limit if you want to learn a lot of words that are mostly written. For those you can add often encountered words to SRS but I don’t think that’s a must.

For sure. As with languagelearning overall, you need to do it daily. I think I did a few hours a day of podcasts in the beginning, which probably helped me understand the most out of anything I’d done. Other important thing is to find level approppriate content. Probably anime is not it, so look into some easier podcasts or videos for learners with natural Japanese.

TBF you probably need to understand at least a little for it to work. If you are just drowning in new stuff you can’t pick things up. Mostly it’s about finding the right content.

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For me, the right content is climbing the JLPT ladder and SRS the core 6k with iKnow. Other materials are just for fun. When doing so, I noticed my reading comprehension and listening improved a lot. I tried subscribing to Satori Reader before, too but soon dropped it. I couldn’t stick to it even though I paid for it. I tried all other things too, but I just felt frustrated, so why continue? As I said, that stuff is probably good for advanced learners but not for the lower levels.

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Not sure I still agree, you just have to find something easier. I was a beginner at the time I started listening a lot. I was doing SRS and classes as well, but I think that input is essential for stuff to stick. It’s not necessarily one or the another.

I just find it a common trap where people fall to push immersing further away until you understand more, even though that’s where the true understanding will eventually come.


I don’t, I’ll review a word a bunch of times and think I’ve memorized it, then forget it again after not encountering it for a month. :upside_down_face:

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I’m still using immersion but only do so passively. I’ll wait until I am done with JLPT stuff to add more. There’s still a lot I can learn from it.

I am quite the same.

If you don’t immerse, you are WRONG and will regret it sorely later. You can know 100% of the words but your listening ability will still be crap at the end of it, so you will immerse anyway and don’t understand shit. Or be one of those people that are overly read in a language but don’t really understand it, because instead of studying the language, they studied the words. One of the most common regrets people have when learning a language is not immersing sooner, reading and listening. But hey you do you, somehow your journey is different from everybody else.


Practice production, too, not just absorption. First-hand experience using the words will help them stick in your memory. Writing example sentences, talking out loud (even just to yourself if need be, no joke it still helps), etc