Are mnemonics bad?

haha our minds think alike.

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I’m talking about Japanese, not English. I’m trying to give a rough approximation, as people rarely say “why did you strike Timmy in the stomach?”

Genki is good, and if it’s working for you, do stick with it! But it’s a resource for grammar and vocab. It has very limited kanji and its method of teaching those few is saying “here are some kanji, learn them.” I wouldn’t go without SOME kanji system to supplement it. Even the people who try to learn them all through words on their own would likely burn out without at least some time spent learning how to break the kanji down and make sense of them.

Oh, topic moved so fast I didn’t see I was beaten to the point!

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I feel like you should know that the Japanese おとな is not pronounced “oh toner”. Your memory shouldn’t stop at “oh toner”, it should go from “oh toner” to おとな, and if you do it like that, there shouldn’t be a problem.

I’ve been using mnemonics before Wanikani to learn other languages. Trying to learn a language, especially one so phonetically different such as Japanese, where most words don’t immediately spark an image in your head, is like purposely learning on hard mode.


I think the direction is different. In order to understand Japanese, it’s sufficient to know approximately what the word means, and either hit or strike would be fine. In order to create a sentence, it’s a different skill. To do that, you just need to consume as much as possible to get common usage. But understanding comes before producing, I think.


What you need to remember is this:

Wanikani is for teaching kanji. As a bonus, it teaches you to understand lots of vocabulary. You won’t know how to use those words, perhaps, but you can certainly understand a lot of them.

Whenever you learn a new word in a new language, there’s going to be a lot that you don’t know about how it’s used. You’ll learn that with time (as others have said).

BUT—in the meantime—if you have to get something across, and you do have these “bonus” words, you can use them, and maybe they’re close enough that someone can understand you, even if you don’t sound natural. A bonus bonus!

There doesn’t exist a way to learn a language that doesn’t result in mistakes, lots of them. If Wanikani, or any resource, tried to teach you everything all at once, you would be overwhelmed and give up. But that doesn’t mean you don’t make progress!


I’m talking about Japanese too?


The people you were referring to would say “strike a homerun” and “strike one’s head”? The latter is not impossible (I feel like it could be interpreted differently though), but “hit” is perfectly natural for both situations. So yes, 打つ does in fact mean “hit” as well.

It’s completey reasonable to advise against treating item glosses as one-size-fits-all, but it’s possible to go too far in the other direction as well.


This is the kicker here. Natives tend to split hairs almost too much and when you are starting at the very beginning, what works for natives does not translate to what works for those who are learning it as a second language.

I can hem and haw all I want over what would actually be used in English, but sometimes what is the exact one to one of a word doesn’t exist. I mean, look at the word かける in and just look at all those meanings. Wanikani works best to give you a head start, and if you don’t want to use the mnemonics then just don’t but I almost guarantee the brute force memorization will burn you out faster than when you use them.

Literally just knowing the sounds that Japanese can actually make compared to English is helpful enough to know how to pronounce the mnemonic the correct japanese way. At this point it’s about using common sense rather than a godly lofty goal that the natives might hold you to.

Wanikani has worked for several people who are learning japanese as a second language. Natives never had to use a app outside to learn Japanese as they were brought up with the language.

Would you be able to reccommend a site to learn an aspect of your native language to the point that just seeing one example or two and have it be native level of your language?

All in all, do whatever you want, but mnemonics are not your enemy.



I just had a funny thought. I’m imagining some former Wanikani student currently wandering Japan trying to pronounce this:


while thinking of Nicolas Cage, and all they can manage to mutter is “A raw Cagey me”.


You are level 6, it’s pretty normal that you still remember the mnemonics, but you will forget soon. I don’t remember oh toner whatsoever, to be fair 大人 is one of those words you can learn just from watching anime so I probably didn’t even pay attention the mnemonic, but I don’t remember the mnemonics for most kanji I know, which is close to 1000 by this point.

You will have an accent no matter what, if you want to get rid of it, you practice, doesn’t matter if you learn it by repetitive memorization or by mnemonics, this is not your first language so you aren’t used to it. I can say every Japanese word perfectly in my head but when I say it, it sounds horrendous, that’s because my mouth isn’t used to it. If I use it more often, then it’ll help but no matter what, you can’t magically say it perfectly just because you learned it without mnemonics.


I’m pretty sure it’s heiban so as long as you don’t pronounce it “oh-TO-ner” you should be good. :wink:


Actually, I think “Oh toner” does sound a lot like “大人” if you have the right accent for your English.

For me personally, I generally use mnemonics for leeches, and don’t bother for words tat properly stick the first time around. Sure they often don’t match the pronunciation perfectly, but it’ a heck of a lot better than the “lol i dunno” my brain gives me sometimes.

Edit: Ah, I quoted someone who already explained this much better than I did. Sorry about that, Justmian; I guess the humidity is frying my brain.

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To be fair, I can see how that would potentially be misleading. English sounds, also the ones used in mnemonics are not a good approximation of Japanese sounds. To me “oh toner” and おとな sound only vaguely similar and I would rather just learn the actual word than trying to rely on a crutch.

@Cappucher studying Genki 1 and 2 is not a bad idea. Both have kanji so you’ll learn the couple basic ones from the getgo. Later you just learn from vocab in Anki if that works for you :slight_smile: .

This is where listening practice comes in. You will learn far more about accents, pitch, and tone while listening to Japanese media and speech than you ever will here; especially if you have a language partner to correct you if you make a mistake. As long as you’re also doing some form of listening and trying to speak well, I wouldn’t worry too much about the mnemonics long term.

I wouldn’t worry too much about comments like this. All this tells you is that ジョンを打つ is a poor context in which to use the word 打つ. Good! Your understanding of its nuance has improved, but that isn’t reason to assume the dictionary (and therefore WaniKani) is wrong.

Here’s another example taken from

心臓の鼓動が速く打っている。“My heart is beating fast.”
Here 打つ is used to mean “to beat.” The English translation “my heart is striking fast” is nonsensical, as is “my heart is hitting fast.” Neither make sense.

Your native friends are probably suggesting a usage of 打つ that they think of as basic or common, but which may not reflect all other common usages of the term in Japanese, or correspond perfectly with English terms such as “to hit” that are also thought common in English.


There is also a possibility that those native friends think of “to hit” and “to strike” as two different words. Notice that they point out that
is incorrect. Maybe they thought at the time that “to hit” refers to hitting people?

Which actually highlights one of the weaknesses of WaniKani - glosses. Instead of arguing which synonym is more accurate in English one could learn 打つ and its correct usages.


Fun fact: looking at the examples in my dictionary, you can 打つ part of a person (i.e. a body part), but you can’t 打つ a person. For that, I think you’d use 殴る(なぐる). However, funny thing: you can, however, 撃つ(still うつ, but it means ‘shoot’!)a person. But these words both have the same fundamental origin.

My point is this: it’s just a matter of how words are specialised in each language. 打つ is an extremely general word for hitting, striking, knocking, hammering… so guess what? ‘Hit’ is probably the most general word for such actions in English, so it’s probably a good idea to use it as an equivalent. Look, fact of the matter is this: even for languages as close as English and French – English took so much of its lexicon from French – or English and German (same language family), direct translations tend to create unnatural results. If it were that easy, I wouldn’t have had that interesting but extremely long conversation with two Japanese people in a Twitter Space explaining the nuances of ‘may’, ‘shall’ and so on. Some WK glosses/main translations are weird, sure, but very few translations are going to capture everything a word or kanji means. Japanese and English are two different languages spoken in different cultures, and they have different histories too.

Pronunciation guides or hints are almost always approximations. What I do is that I try to remember both the correct pronunciation and the hint, and then remember how to get from one to the other (i.e. what the differences are, what changes etc). I don’t use WK, so I don’t have a WK example, but this is essentially how I remember most strange English spellings (even though I’m a native speaker, yes): I used to say ‘op-tee-yon’ as a child instead of ‘op-shun’ for ‘option’, but at least until I had fully absorbed the idea that ‘-tion’ sounded like ‘shun’, I would say words like ‘option’ the intuitive and wrong way in my head to spell them, and then switch over to the correct pronunciation in order to say them. You can try something similar here: use mnemonics to remember roughly how to say something, then use similarities and differences to move from the mnemonic to the actual pronunciation.

The other way, of course, is to learn how to spell these words in hiragana and to pronounce them based on those kana. That’s what I do. You’ll also need to listen to examples in order to find out how people actually say things, and you should probably watch pronunciation videos that explain how to pronounce everything in Japanese. (You can include pitch accent in your pronunciation practice, or leave it out. That’s up to you. In any case, I think that pronouncing basic sounds correctly is already a good start.)

Look, I’m quite a purist when I learn languages, so I’m often this way too, but as long as explanations happen in another language, it sincerely doesn’t matter who made it… English native speakers with advanced Japanese knowledge might ultimately not know enough to explain something accurately; Japanese native speakers might have a hard time explaining things in English, or might mistranslate an idea. Heck, I know I’ve talked about this at least twice so far on the forums, but did you know that the explanation Tobira gives about the difference between なければならない and なければいけない isn’t even the main difference, and it’s in fact the difference with the least explanatory power? Tobira doesn’t even mention the difference in nuance and just lets readers believe the two are interchangeable aside from the fact that one is more often used for imposing obligations on others. But guess what? Tobira is written by… highly qualified native speakers. Now what? Blame the fact that most of them have their advanced degrees from a non-Japanese university? I mean, that might have had an influence, but they’re native speakers and could have referred to Japanese resources, and plus, the team behind Tobira is huge! The fact is that almost all resources directed at learners will contain simplifications at the lower levels. Nuance and precision are things most of us learn as we advance, and honestly, most of the time, we can only really pick them up from interacting with the language as it’s actually used.


It doesn’t sound like you nor the natives you spoke with actually understand exactly what mnemonics do. A mnemonic is a shortcut that you use to remember a new thing using things you already know, that’s it. You’re not being taught that “大人 is pronounced exactly like oh toner”. You learn it’s おとな and use “oh toner” as a primer to help jog that memory. On top of that, all vocab items in WaniKani have great quality native recordings for them, and you’d have to use it pretty wrong for it to stay as “oh toner” in your head forever. And you’d also have to pretty much ignore any other kind of Japanese study in order for that to happen, which you shouldn’t do.

WaniKani doesn’t teach you pronunciation and phonetics, it doesn’t teach you grammar, and it definitely doesn’t teach you to write. Those are things you should do outside of WaniKani. A prerequisite to learning WaniKani is knowing hiragana, which should also mean that you already learned the sounds of Japanese. There’s no way someone who learned the sounds of Japanese by learning hiragana would mistake the correct pronunciation of おとな as “oh toner”, unless they’re doing something wrong and completely ignoring the native audio recording on top of that.

And what about “strike” and “hit”? Aren’t they synonyms anyway? This nitpicking definitely sounds like whoever you talked to doesn’t know who you’re talking about. For whatever it’s worth, the vocab words also have context sentences for you to see exactly how the words are used and in which contexts.


They do teach kanji with mnemonics. I have the opportunity to practice writing kanji with workbooks for elementary schoolers in Japan. A good portion of them have mnemonics. So, if a Japanese person tells you that they don’t use them, they’re lying to you.


Embrace it. It’s too late now and you can’t fix your brain anymore. 尾毎合津!


Oh my god

Serious fact:
The first Japanese person who learned English used the same method but more radical.
What do you think this means in English?


What time is it now?


Mnemonics aren’t there to help you learn “Japanese sounds”, you need to do that on your own. A rough approximation is all you need, because it’s about remembering the word, not its pronounciation. If you’re pronouncing a Japanese word with English pronounciation rules, then that’s not on the mnemonic.

You’re not relying on a crutch, you’re utilizing the most powerful memorization tool your brain has access to. Even the worst mnemonic is better than none.