Acquiring new vocabulary

I have recently began to work through Genki, and I also have been trying to slowly learn some JLPT5 vocabluary. I know on Tofugu, they recommend to always learn Kanji before learning the vocabulary words that use that Kanji. However, I know that WaniKani will teach me most of the kanji and words. So when I come across a new word in Genki or in the JLPT5 list, I usually check to see when WaniKani will teach me that word, and usually it will be within a few levels, so I don’t feel bad skipping over that word because I know I’ll learn it soon on here.

However, some words that are taught in the first few chapters of Genki (and many on the JLPT5 list) aren’t taught in WaniKani until level 30+. So my question would be, when I come across those words, should I just skip them? Or should I learn them right away? And if I want to learn them right away, should I learn the Kanji that use them first, then the vocab? Or learn the whole word?

What do you guys recommend for this?

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I wouldn’t wait, personally. WaniKani orders things loosely by the difficulty of the kanji composition, and not the difficulty of the associated vocab.

So that’s why some beginner words are taught long after most people would have picked them up organically.


In addition, I’ve found that if I know a vocab word before I get it in WK, I actually am able to remember it better in WK because I already have experience and associations with those words.

WK is a tool to help you learn Japanese, not the end all be all, so I wouldn’t let WK stop you from your other learning.


Okay, that makes sense. I do have a small Anki deck for katakana and hiragana words, so I could just add new words to that deck and practice it there.

When I find a new word, would you recommend me looking up and learning the word’s kanji first before learning the vocab word itself? Or would it be better to just learn the kanji with the word?

Do not use WK as your primary vocabulary resource (and don’t wait on it if there’s elementary vocabulary your textbook wants you to learn). It’s structured around kanji, so words don’t necessarily come in an intuitive order for new learners (since the vocabulary is subsidiary to the intuitive kanji order). It also skews higher register, since it’s so heavy on kanji compound words, which can have kind of a more formal/serious feeling. None of this is a knock on the site, as the vocab is all still useful in the long run, and it’s excellent at what its focus is. It just means … it isn’t built to be a primary vocabulary resource.

Keep picking up words from Genki, and add them to some kind of note or flashcard system. (Either physical or digital; I like Quizlet–a vanilla flashcard site with some useful study options–but others swear by Anki, and anything is fine; even a Word document.) As you get higher up, there are useful vocabulary apps, and you’ll start acquiring words through the wild (exposure in media, etc.), but when you’re just starting out, sticking with what’s in your elementary textbooks is fine.

Re: Unknown kanji in new vocab: Doesn’t hurt to get it into your visual memory (you can always add the hiragana to your flashcards/notes too), but don’t stress over it.


I second what @Leebo said. I’ve been studying for a year and a half and only recently learned kanji for words I’ve known almost since I started. WK order is not for general usefulness that’s for sure.

Besides, your textbooks etc. are going to throw new vocab at you and have you use them in examples. There’s no reason to skip that opportunity to learn the word naturally.

Japanese people don’t learn the kanji first. It can give you a leg up in learning a vocab word for sure but if you’ve got 10,000 words to learn I say learn what you can when you can in whatever way makes sense at that moment.

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Okay, that’s a really good point. I think I was just thrown off by Tofugu’s Japanese Guide saying that you shouldn’t ever learn a vocabulary word unless you know its kanji and radicals first. That had me hesitant to learn any new word without first drilling its kanji, but it was really getting in the way of making any progress in Genki.


At your level, I would strongly suggest that you memorize some of the dialogs presented in the Genki text. Memorized dialogs are a great resource; they will give you grammatical structures, vocabulary, and pronunciation (if you memorize from a recording). You don’t need to have mastered all the kanji to memorize a dialog.

I agree with @Iyaonas who said above:

if I know a vocab word before I get it in WK, I actually am able to remember it better in WK because I already have experience and associations with those words



I’d been learning vocabulary using iKnow for about two years before I started with WaniKani. Much of what I’ve learned, I remember the reading, but don’t recall the kanji after a long time between reviews. However, when I learn the kanji in WaniKani, it becomes much easier to remember the meaning and reading associated with the kanji, and that makes it easier to recognize the kanji when I see the vocabulary word in iKnow. It’s a very nice loop of my vocabulary learning and my WaniKani learning occasionally assisting one another.


This is just my opinion, but if you’re just starting to get into Japanese and are doing N5 vocab, I would just learn the vocab with hiragana and katakana readings and not worry too much about the kanji right now. If you keep using WK, eventually you will learn the kanji that are used in those words. And depending on the speed you are doing WK, doing your WK kanji lessons and trying to learn other kanji outside of WK might be overwhelming and/or confusing.

If you’re at the point I think you are, then the most important thing is just to expand your vocabulary. N5 reading materials aren’t going to use a ton of Kanji, and if you do any listening practice it will be really cool to hear the words you’ve been learning and understand them, and Kanji plays no role in that.

Most of all, just have fun with it. If you are enjoying your learning, you’ll stick with it. If you stick with it you will surely continue to progress and learn all these things.

Best of luck!

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Okay, I have been going pretty much at full speed so far, and I’ve been doing all my lessons as soon as I get them including vocab, so adding additional kanji would probably be overwhelming. I’ll focus on adding words to an Anki deck and working through them steadily. Thanks for your advice!

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