Are radicals really any use?

I really haven’t had much luck with radicals before finding this site and was wondering if people have really found them useful in learning kanji overall? I don’t see any connection in most of the examples I’ve seen of radicals in different kanji and if they don’t connect in my mind how is that helping me learn or recognise different kanji?

As far as I can really tell the radicals might be useful to native Japanese when learning Kanji because the connections are cultural and the connections for them are easily understood. However having to learn these cultural connections and (to me) random symbols is more likely to slow me down than help me learn new words faster.


Japanese people don’t use radicals like we do (on this website). And there’s very little Japanese culture in the kanji part names chosen for mnemonics here, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to (the reading mnemonic “jo” a Japanese weapon, comes to mind, but that’s not a radical).

As for whether they’re useful… sure, thousands of people use the site and learn lots of kanji through the mnemonics.

Others don’t and ignore the radicals, but focus on kanji and vocab without mnemonics, or discard WK’s and make their own.


The radicals taught on this site are not cultural (or, they’re american culture I guess).

Yeah I just want to focus on learning the kanji and vocab. It’s what I’ve been doing on my own, but will save me time making a structure for the learning if I use someone else’s. I just don’t get the use of the radicals at all because the radicals themselves are part of a huge diverse range of different kanji with different meanings.

So it just depends on who is teaching the radicals what meaning they assign to them? Makes sense since I haven’t seen any that have any meaning to me. lol

When I went through WK, I mostly ignored the mnemonics, so the radicals didn’t do much for me. But after I finished WK, I found the radicals enormously helpful when I started working on writing kanji. If you learn to draw the variations of the radicals in each position of the kanji, it’s much easier to learn writing kanji.


I mean… it’s all about building blocks.

You can learn kanji by rote memorization. That’s largely what Japanese people do. A small set of Kangxi radicals (the “official” radicals that are used for categorizing kanji, and aren’t what WK uses here) do have meanings that relate to the kanji in a broad sense. But the parts of the kanji that aren’t the categorization radical typically are just used because they share a pronunciation with another kanji.

So instead of just saying "here’s a bunch of lines that mean “study,” and leaving it at that, WK makes a story using the smaller parts so you might be able to remember it easier. Eventually reliance on the mnemonic fades and you’re left with just the understanding of the meaning.

You can also just write the kanji 1000 times and you’ll probably end up with a solid memory of it.


Also, I notice you haven’t even gotten to a kanji lesson yet… so I’m not sure it makes sense to comment on how the radicals are used before then.


They are really helpful in several ways:

Recognition of difficult kanji is easier, because you can see it as group of three to four radicaln and not as collection of sixteen lines. Short term memory can usually hold about seven chunks of information, so the pattern in easier to hold in mind

Radicals help build associations and more association you have in your mind to something means bigger chance to recollect it after several days

Because the WK kanji use familiar western culture thing, the new asociations are bound to solid structure of preexisting connections, which helps a lot too


Yeah maybe try out the Wanikani system and reserve judgement on the radicals until then OP :wink:


Ah yeah I think I can feel this question because I am a not so creative person. So I wasn’t sure how I could make use of the radicals. But I noticed they’re amazingly helpful in combination with the mnemonics to recall a Kanji! Like for example the Kanji 上 (above, up). Wanikani explains this by showing the radicals foot and ground and says sth like “foot above the ground”. That’s amazing for me because it gives the learned radicals a meaning and makes learning the Kanji way easier for me! So maybe it can help you at some point, too! If not, I hope you still can learn well with wanikani! 行ってらっしゃい。

Agreed!! When I recognised that some Kanji Like f.e. 猫 have very recognisable radicals (3 in this case), my mind was pretty excited! It makes me way more comfortable learning the kanji since it’s not about the strokes like you say, but about which blocks they are made of! Glad we are learning radicals!


Here is an example of how radicals can be useful. Say you want to learn the kanji 明, you could just memorize the 8 strokes with no context just through pure repetition and you will eventually learn it. Or you can learn that 日 means sun and 月 means moon, and see that 明 is just those two radicals put together to make the meaning “bright”, which makes sense because the sun and moon are both bright things in the sky. They don’t always make quite as much sense as this, but even so, learning two smaller pieces and putting them together tends to be easier than learning 8 pieces (or more for more complicated kanji) with nothing to attach them to.


They sure help me! Sometimes kanji look very similar. Knowing the radicals helps me spot differences much more easily. For example,

七 looks a lot like ヒ and the spoon radical.

Also, knowing radicals helps me make sense out of kanji having a lot of strokes. Otherwise some of them just look like a jumbled pile of something to me.

Using radicals makes writing kanji a LOT faster and easier for me. Writing them down with their definitions really helps me recognize and remember them better. It has also greatly improved my Japanese handwriting. To write kanji well requires that I pay close attention to the shape, proportion and position of the various strokes. It really engages the brain. I am beginning to think that this is part of the reason Japanese people often seem so smart.

I am talented in drawing, but I think it would be a lot more difficult for people who have trouble drawing.


I find them useful, for example recently 数
Had the radicals women winter and rice
Helped me remeber with the memronic. In the winter the women was counting rice
When you get to more complicated kanji’s I am use they get useful to break them down into radicals that work with a memronic


Radicals really are just a trick to create mnemonics, which are miles more useful to learn kanji than rote memorization imo. Eventually, you won’t need mnemonics or radicals, but I find that they’re a solid basis to build on.

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However you feel like breaking them down, and whatever mnemonics you do or don’t want to use, what we call radicals are extemely beneficial.
I’ve heard, however true it is - but it feels true - that we can only hold so many pieces of information at one time. But we have a trick. We can take a bunch of pieces of information, put it in a mental box, and then we get to treat that box as one piece of information. You can make several of these boxes, and remember all the boxes simultaneously. You can even put those boxes into another box. And so on.
This is useful to understand. For example, if you’ve ever tried to remember a line in a song in a foreign language you don’t know, it takes a lot of work, because you’re trying to remember a ton of sounds individually at the same time. Meanwhile, in a language you do understand, it’s much easier because you have already

  1. Clumped some of the sounds together into words. Now you can remember a word as a distinct item.
  2. Clumped the words into phrases. Now you can remember a phrase as a distinct item.
    And you can go on, and have entire lines as items, then go on to memorize the whole song without the same kind if difficulty.

This is particularly relevant to language, as you might see in that example, because that’s how we process it. When we do speak, we’re generally just very lightly remixing phrases we’ve memorized as unique items. There’s very little creativity involved, really, which is why foreign speakers can say things in our language that grammatically make perfect sense but sound utterly wrong to us, because we don’t have a box for that phrase already. That’s just not how we say it!

So… this is my roundabout way of saying that the reason radicals are useful is because it lets you clump strokes (and sometimes sounds) into a single item, and then remember a kanji as a collection of three or so items that you already know instead of as 20 new, individual strokes. A mnemonic is helpful at this point as well, but not stictly necessary.

The other benefit is some of the radicals DO maintain some meaning, especially left-side ones. For example, many kanji that include 糸 do relate to fabric or some kind of continuous thread of time and space, many trees do feature 木, and 打、持、撮、指、 etc all do feature ‘hand’ (labeled ‘nailbat’ on this site), and all have a meaning clearly connected to hands (strike, hold, take, point, respectively)

So there’s that.


That’s how I want to learn as well, so it’s good to know you found it a viable option too. Thanks. :slight_smile:

Yeah I understand, I just feel that for me personally it’s learning a whole new set of rules which really aren’t of any use in themselves. I’m spending so much time exposing myself to the Japanese language that I just want to learn the words, not take these side trips learning how they are made up. It’s worth doing if it helps full understanding, but not for me at beginner level still.

I am not a total beginner, I am talking about my experience prior to finding this site. I know about 100 kanji pretty well, and another 100-200 kanji at least by sight. I am motivated to learn the words now, as I am exposing myself to a lot of Japanese every day, but right now the radicals not so much. If someone can explain to me how they will help me discover new words faster from their personal experience, maybe that would motivate me to put more effort into learning them.

Or, if once I scoot through the radical section here I find they really are needed to learn the kanji better then that could motivate me, but as it is I really just want to keep diving in to learning the kanji themselves.