Can I hear about your review experiences? How do you practice in between?

Hi, I want to see how my own experiences compare to other users and what you do to remember the Kanji. Still only on level 2 myself.

When there are new kanji I write them, I repeat the meaning in my head, I alternate writing the kanji with writing it in hiragana form. After a while I’m so certain I’ll never forget it, and move onto the next, and when it comes review time I draw a complete blank! Over time I eventually start to remember them, and even become easy. But it takes me a long time to get there.

I wonder, do Japanese people also use mnemonics for Kanji? Maybe the less common ones? I told a Japanese girl that Kanji is a struggle for me, and she replies “To be honest, its hard for Japanese people too!”

Perhaps I should write out a summarized version of the mnemonic when I practice?



I have the most trouble with the kanji that are close in form, like “stone” and “right”. It helps when I write them side by side and spot the small differences. Then I don’t confuse them anymore.

I think everyone draws that blank from time to time. It happens to most of us. I promise it does get easier as you progress. I think a lot of it is just getting used to looking closely and getting used to seeing them a lot in the reviews, especially when you first start.

On the topic of how Japanese people learn kanji, as far as I know, they don’t use mnemonics. They learn kanji the same way we learn vocabulary. Here’s the word, here’s how it’s written, now right it down 10 times and get ready for the quiz. Pretty inefficient method, but because Japanese children learn kanji starting when they are very young, and having to read in order to just live daily life, it stacks up. But point is, as far as I know, it’s just “Here’s the kanji, here’s the stroke order, now write it.”


Are you reviewing the lesson 4 hours later? Or do you review at set times in the day, like morning and night?

It seems like you are investing a lot of time in your lessons at little returns. Maybe you should try to change that routine, see how it goes if you spend less time per item.

How much time are we talking about? does this apply to every single item? I go through my lessons pretty quick, and kanji especially sometimes just don’t stick the first couple reviews, but most items do


To me maybe it sounds like you need to be using the mnemonics more instead of just trying to force the meaning and readings into your brain. Not sure what the difference might be, maybe I’m reading your question wrong, but my (successful) review sessions go like this:

  • See a kanji with the narwhal and stool radicals
  • Asked for reading
  • See narwhal ‘sitting’ on stool -> Takes me to the story of the narwhal being my ‘friend’ (that is what the kanji means) through neuron magic*
  • This story takes me to the second part of it, where other ‘YUUths’ will try try to steal my narwhal friend
  • I’ve now got the reading ゆう

This should be what happens in all review sessions from what I know, at least until the items become second-nature. (Mnemonics don’t cover writing, but writing isn’t as important as speaking, reading and typing anymore anyway.)

*The only thing you really should need to memorise is the mnemonic, which I’ve found is easy if the mental conditions are right (I don’t know of a better way to describe it, I’ve noticed for me that I either remember a mnemonic or I don’t). I’m a beginner too so maybe my method is just inconsistent.

This might help. Or what might be better is finding a way to make the mnemonic stick better. They’re supposed to be designed to be memorable, but everyone is different so it might be better if you improve the existing ones or make your own for some items. The kanji for ‘old’ looks like an old-style boat with a mast to me, but the ‘official’ mnemonic is completely different and hard for me to remember, so I made my own and it works.

The things I have trouble with are the things I don’t have a good mnemonic for – notably many vocabulary items, as the visual triggers are too complicated or meaningless for me to remember. That’s also where I think some persistence in memorising, or creation, in terms of mnemonics/patterns is required, as that could very well just be me being lazy.

Anyway, hopefully this helps :wink: I’m just a newbie too so not sure if I’m correct.


It sounds like you’re spending a fair amount of time on lessons, but perhaps not taking the right approach if it isn’t working for you?

To reiterate a little what others have said, I would:

  • pay attention to the mnemonics properly, but otherwise don’t spend ages on a single lesson
  • write alternative mnemonics into the notes section if (a) a better one for you spontaneously comes to mind or (b) if you can ‘tell’ the existing one won’t work
  • cycle backwards through the items with answers covered before taking the quiz, repeatedly, until you can comfortably recall all of them
  • whilst cycling like this, consciously try to remember the associated mnemonics as well (otherwise you’re only practising the hard recall rather than the mnemonic which will help you get there when the memory fades)

It’s possible that when you’re repeatedly writing the kanji, you’re going into autopilot and not actually reinforcing the connection between the kanji and the reading.


I should try this one too, but it seems like a lot of work. :sweat_smile:

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Yeah, I think it’s a balance. I don’t sit there and recall the whole mnemonic; it’s more like for each one I check whether my brain remembers the overall idea or not? My inner monologue is closer to something like “employ… turkey in door… ko… yep!”



Well, write it down 10 times is really underselling it :sweat_smile: I think Japanese schoolchildren have to write each kanji several dozen times at least, probably even several hundred times.


I actually don’t do extra kanji-specific review outside of WK. I find that the WK SRS schedule is fine for me. I spend my spare study time doing other things - grammar, listening, reading, etc. Kanji and vocab are just one portion of learning the language.

I also don’t write any kanji. At some point I’ll circle back to it, but in the short term it’s a low priority.

I’m not Japanese so I can’t speak to this authoritatively, but reading around the internet on How Japanese Children Learn Kanji you’ll find bits and piece of info. Some of it being learn by rote, some not.

Bear in mind that how Japanese children learn Japanese, and how non-native speaking adults learn Japanese, are two entirely different animals. In the former case:

  • A child’s brain is only capable of a low level of abstraction (concrete ideas)
  • They already know vocabulary by the time they start learning kanji at age 6
  • Their first six(?) years of kanji study is at an average of only ~168 per year

In the latter case, as an adult:

  • We’re more capable of abstract thinking
  • We’re learning kanji, vocabulary, speaking, listening, grammar all at the same time
  • We’re looking at closer to ~2000 kanji a year (at WK’s fastest pace, which some people do achieve)

I think the last bullet point is significant - what we’re attempting to do is a factor of ten increase in learning speed. I think that’s where mnemonics etc. come into play - trying to really boost the learning and retention rate as much as possible.

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I personally recreate my own mnemonics for every single item to also include a phonetic cue that works best for me. Sometimes it’s the same one WK suggests, sometimes it’s altered, sometimes it’s another. The thing is, the act of creation creates a pretty strong binding with the character which gets a lot weaker (=failed reviews) when my mnemonic is not a very strong one.

In other words, don’t spend a LOT of time on lessons, spend more time on creative thinking. The more absurd the story connected to a character, the better it will work in your head. Or at least, this is what works in mine, I hope it helps!

I keep a log book!

While I’m doing a WK review session, I log all the radicals, kanji and vocab I blank out on or misspell or misread, also stuff that I fluke a guess on. I make sure I write down not only the thing I missed, but how I missed it. This way I not only know which characters to go back and focus on, but also what kinds of mistakes i’m making and how often. If I know the mnemonic and just need my memory jogged, I write down a reference to the mnemonic. Otherwise I write down a reading in kana for kanji or something else to remind me.

When I’m doing lessons, I write down anything that’s not obvious or that I don’t remember from the mnemonic. Again, it shows me what I should go back and give extra attention to.

Anything that’s causing trouble is right there in front of me, and that’s when I hop onto WK and look it up and do extra work with the mnemonic, etc. For particularly stubborn readings and vocab, I literally do lines. I have entire pages of “to be disconnected” as kanji/kana, just as kana, and a definition next to it written over and over again, saying it as I write. It’s boring but it helps.

I also make sure I write down my score when the review is over with separate scores for radicals, kanji and vocab.

It goes without saying I don’t look at my notes mid-review. That would just be cheating myself out of learning. I don’t expect to keep these logbooks forever either. They are entirely disposable.

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You’re definitely right, I just picked a random number to illustrate the picture.

I started paying attention to the mnemonics after reading this and it has helped a LOT. Now that I think about it, it was insane to think I could memorize a vocabulary I don’t use often!


Thanks, that insight helps a lot :slight_smile:

(Sorry it took so long to reply, I work many hours each day and it skipped my mind a bit. I’ve read through and everyones responses were helpful)

If you know even a few items already at the very beginning it’s easy to instantly develop the habit of ignoring the mnemonics. Glad it seems to be helping!

i drill what i don’t remember on quizlet until i do. some kanji just need the hammer to the face.

I think that was my issue. The more Japanese I learn the more I realize how far I am from ‘knowing’ the language. As for Kanji, its like someone once thought “Hey learning a language is really hard so lets shove half another language into it just to really screw with those foreign people”.

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