Advice on improving Vocabulary?

First topic post.

I’ve been properly studying Japanese since around April of this year, as that’s when I started paying for WK. Before that, I had learned Hiragana and Katakana (painfully, through 80s textbooks, because I thought that was the best way. How naive I was…) but I really didn’t know all that much. WK has been extremely helpful to me so far, but whenever I try reading - be it in the comments of a Japanese YT Video, a children’s book, etc. - I only know maybe 20% of the words. I end up having to look most words up on, which is quite an arduous task… and I feel as though this may not be the best way of memorising vocabulary (correct me if I’m wrong). I really want to learn more vocabulary so that I can practice reading and speaking - I’m starting to use Tae Kim’s Guide, but I’m not sure that and WK alone will satiate me.

Does anybody have any advice for improving/expanding upon my vocabulary? Textbooks, websites, apps what have you - or should I just stick with WK and Tae Kim for now? Keep in mind, I’m a university student so I do have a great deal of free time at the moment.

Thank you!


Like all languages:


For me, I find anki decks and to be helpful with vocab and vocab retention.

I also use mango languages through my public library & I do have a subscription to Japanesepod101. Jpod has a large word bank that gets updated often & vocab lists are constantly created by members. For super simple vocab the app Drops is also fun to pass time.

I also pull vocab from songs and through reading.


I can recommend IKnow. For me the best companion to WK.


Its going to take a lot of time, i know it may not feel like much, but you’re making more strides in your language learning than you think. =)
Check out some youtube videos, Japananese Ammo w/ Misa, Japanese from Zero w/ George Trombley, Dogen Sensei, and really just absorb as much material as you’d like. You may not feel like its helping, but it will in the long run. I really enjoyed using HelloTalk as well to meet real people, and its already been 1 year since ive started learning and met some really amazing people. Learn a lot of verbs, and learn grammar. Copy the natives in how they communicate, eventually it will all click! Good luck.


I basically try to read as much varying material as I can. I take any new words I learn and plug them in to an SRS (in this case I have custom decks on so that I don’t start forgetting the words. For example, I have a running deck I’m creating for the Patlabor manga I’m reading.


I highly recommend making sentence cards in the SRS of your choice. The gist is to read, watch, listen to, etc., some Japanese, and then, when your brain picks out a word you want to learn, make a card with a sentence containing that word. The front of the card is the sentence in Japanese. The back of the card is the sentence in Japanese and its translation in English (for bilingual sentence cards) or the translation in Japanese (monolingual sentence cards, for when your grammar and vocabulary have advanced enough to learn with such).

The benefit of sentence cards over a single vocabulary word per card is getting to see the word you want to learn used in context. The sentence you use for the vocabulary word does not have to be the sentence you found the word in. You can extract example sentences by searching through online sources such as dictionaries. However, using the sentence you found the word in is of course okay. Another benefit of this approach over simple word → definition cards, in my own opinion, is that sentence cards are far less boring than vocab cards. Another benefit on top of this is that you can weave grammar examples into your vocabulary learning as well.

As with most methodologies, creating sentence cards requires balance in order to not become a chore. I can’t take credit for the following tips, but I can vouch for them.

Firstly, when creating sentence cards, follow what some call “i + 1.” “i” is taken to be your current reading/listening capability, and the “+ 1” means that what you are consuming is just a little above your full capability. So, you’ll be able to understand some percent of what you’re consuming, say 50%, and the rest of what you read/hear will be unknown vocabulary and grammar. “i + 1” is important because if you’re consuming content far beyond your level of competency, you’ll be looking things up so often that you run the risk of associating consumption with being a chore, and this is demotivating. Additionally, if you create sentence cards that are way beyond your competency, you won’t have any idea what any content on your cards mean, and this also runs the risk of hampering your learning efficiency and motivation.

There is also the question of how frequently one should create sentence cards. If you are, say, reading a book and end up creating a sentence card for every other sentence you read, you’re probably going to, again, burn yourself out and associate reading with being a chore. It’s okay to only create the cards every so often and to allow yourself to read something, think “I don’t know this word,” maybe look it up really quickly, and then continue reading instead of creating a card. Prioritize fun. It is highly unlikely this is the last time you’ll ever see that word, and so you’ll have another opportunity for learning as you read on.

Finally, when you master the meaning of a sentence on a card, burn/retire/delete the card. Your sentence deck will grow alongside you in sophistication, and we can retire cards that become child’s play to us.

Your deck of cards will seem a bit silly as you just start out because your reviews will be for, say, 6 sentences you end up learning by heart. But by adding sentences each day, you’ll quickly grow a collection that will be very diverse.


It’s worth mentioning the vast low-hanging fruit of borrowed katakana words. I can’t count how many times natives would say “we don’t say X that way anymore, we say ‘insert katakana voicing’ instead”.

Probably something obvious is just to improve kanji skills. There are many compounds words that are easily readable on first encounter if kanji is already known. SRS is great but I still need to find it in the wild to have it worth anything.


I like to look at my everyday life and learn the words for the objects and activities I am doing and things I am seeing. Once I know the names for all the objects in a room, then I look into the adjectives to describe them. It’s a fun way to quiz myself later, and to learn a lot of useful, basic vocabulary that might not come up in a textbook. If you have some extra money I also really like buying toddler word books in Japanese (these are often great for learning katakana words, especially for food) and children’s flash cards (I get mine at Kinokuniya). One of the more interesting flash card sets I picked up was for elementary school children to test their knowledge about the prefectures, which included name, capitol, major exports, etc…


If nothing else, there are browser plugins that will speed up the brute-force dictionary lookup process. Yomichan is the one I usually have active, but there are several others if you look around. is also a good tool if you want to look up every word in a sentence all at once.

They’re no substitute for getting all the words into your brain, but they will help speed up the reading process in the meantime.

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One of the many reasons I like venturing into conversation, there are always a few new words I will learn. And if I can use a new grammar point or vocab from SRS, it’s a minor victory as well :man_dancing:.

The reverse of this is also true: ‘I really want to practice reading and speaking to learn more vocabulary’. You can prepare a conversation topic so you can work in a new list of vocab/grammar or learn new ones from a partner as the topic unfolds. It’s bound to go into some uncharted waters (as is the nature of a good conversation ) but a word is easy enough to look up on the spot when needed.


Thank you everyone for the recommendations! This community is amazing, honestly.

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