Concerned I’m remembering by visuals, not by actual word?

I didn’t know how to title this.

Basically, I’m very new on my journey, just a few days into Level 4. But I’ve realised that although I am getting decent success rates with my reviews, I couldn’t actually tell you what the words are for any of the kanji I’ve learnt. Like I know that “ 引き分け” is a draw, because I know hi for ‘heave’ in the pull kanji, and I know ‘wa’ is the part kanji. So I can easily write it in hiragana. But if you asked me what the word for draw is, I wouldn’t have a clue.

I know there’s kaniwani to help with this, but I think that would be too much for me right now. Does anyone else have this problem tho? You’re basically reading each character individually and not the word as a whole?

I feel I’m not explaining this well. Basically, I can read the words but I could not for the life of me write most of them, even in romaji.



Absolutely. I have this problem big time.

But if you encounter the words in the wild often enough, you’ll start to remember the “other direction” too.

But yeah, I recognize TONS of more words than I can actively recall from the English keyword.


You will encounter this frequently because WK teaches recognition and not recall. Most of the vocab I learn on here I would never recognize if someone said it to me in a conversation, or asked me how to say a certain word.

Reading has been the best way to counter this. The more you see words in context, the more likely your brain is to actually store that information for you. Just learning how to recognize a word is not likely to help with recall.

Yes, Kamesame and Kaniwani can help with this, but I would personally start using graded readers and try to start seeing Kanji in different situations. The brain is really good at trying to understand stories, and it will help you to be able to recall the readings much easier.

You are definitely not alone! Hang in there, it will get easier the more time you spend learning


Yep. I do this too. It just takes practice. It’s only happened to me a couple of times now, but I’m starting to see the kanji and my brain will read it in Japanese first before the English meaning comes up.

I’m having fun at the minute whenever I’m playing Persona 5, trying to read the kanji on signs and posters in the background. I’ve only been able to read the odd thing here and (mostly because it has hiragana or katakana) but I’m recognising more and more.


This is really common! Reading and Speaking are surprisingly quite different skills, and it’s natural when you’re starting for you to only be able to pull a small amount of words out of your memory but be able to read a ton of them.

I’ve gotten to the point that while I still have to look up a handful of words per page, I can read most things pretty easily. I’ve found personally that kanji are really helpful for my ability to recall a word, and so speaking is infinitely harder for me both when it comes to listening to others and speaking myself. I’ve barely ever used Kaniwani though, so my low level of ability is the outcome of how I prioritized my studies.

It basically comes down to what you are personally studying Japanese for. Are you studying because you want to be able to speak to friends and family? Or so you can read and interact with Japanese media? Or some combination of several reasons? Once you pin down what is most important to you in your language learning, prioritize that and then when you’re comfortable you can come fill in the gaps.


I started with KaniWani on level 2 once I discovered it, but then I switched to KameSame and I like it much better. If you want to recall the words eng → jp, I would recommend starting small there (I personally have set it to only show me guru and above, so I don’t get stuck initially on words I don’t even know well yet).

I personally think that the most effective remedy to this is to do tasks that require recall, like writing short messages in Japanese. There’s a ‘Japanese Sentence A Day Challenge’ thread here for that. That aside, as some people have suggested, it will probably help you to see words you already know in a variety of contexts, so you should probably try doing a little reading or listening. Graded readers, YouTube videos, anime and dramas could all be helpful.

Another thing to consider is that it might simply take some time for you to become familiar enough with these things to be able to recall them spontaneously without any references. Learning to write kanji might be a way to improve on this, but at the very least, as you type in readings more and more over time, you’ll probably start to remember words in their rōmaji or hiragana forms more easily.

My last piece of advice – which might sound a bit like mystical nonsense, but bear with me – is to do your best to never separate meaning from readings, especially during your reviews, and to try hard to ‘feel’ the meaning of the word you’re looking at. That is, you should make it a habit to recall both meaning and reading when looking at a word, even if only one of the two is required by the SRS. I think that will strengthen the link between the two. As for ‘feeling’ the meaning, what I suggest is that you not only recall the translation, but also ask yourself what that word means to you in English (or your native language). When we think in our native languages, we don’t need to think about meaning: it just comes to us as a feeling, a mix of ideas that’s associated with each word. Try to capture that and associate it with the words you’re learning in Japanese. Even if you can’t do it perfectly, that should encourage you to review each word more seriously, and should make it more memorable. (I used to do this for French in order to force myself to stop translating to and from English. I’m now living and studying in France, and friends tell me they’d believe I grew up here, and they’re quite pleased whenever they’re able to find a word I don’t know, because it doesn’t happen very often.)


I know your post wasn’t aimed at me, but I actually found it quite reassuring. My main focus is being able to read kanji right now. I would love to be able to speak fluently, but right now that has no practical use in my life because I’m not planning on going to Japan or speaking to Japanese people much.

So I was starting to feel bad because I know there are several users supplementing their learning with conversation partners and I was wondering whether or not I should be doing the same. Like I’m not doing enough.

I have a friend who can speak Japanese almost fluently but he can’t read any kanji or kana. He’s impressed with me because I can read hiragana easily and I’m like “I can read it, but I don’t know what it means yet!” :sweat_smile:
Meanwhile he’s talking to Japanese people every day and he’s impressed with me??

Maybe once my vocab is good enough we can learn from each other!


Hi Elle,

We’re at very similar points - I just hit level 6 - and I often feel the same. I’ve been doing KaniWani and it is helping some, but I agree that (especially when looking at a sentence in mixed Japanese, where there are no breaks between words) things get hairy very quickly.

My sense is that part of it is a time/repetition thing - I am starting to be able to string together simple sentences walking around my neighbourhood in Japanese just from the vocabulary and it’s a fun mental exercise to do it without the letters in front of me. (Note: the sentences usually sound really doofy, working on being okay with that.) I live alone so often I’m just walking around narrating what I’m doing without caring too much about grammar - one thing WK doesn’t touch at all is speech, and I’ve found that verbalizing the words helps move them from disjointed ‘letters’ to whole ideas that represent an action or object.

tl;dr - I think what’s you’re experiencing is super normal and will lessen with time! Like @ChaosControl I’m eventually looking for vocab/talking buds, I’m sure there are lots on this server.


There are a couple of ways I dealt with this early on. The first was turning on the feature that plays the reading of a word after you enter the correct spelling, and the second was to just watch as much native content as possible. It happens fairly slowly, but eventually the words you learn in wanikani will start to stick out to you more and more often.

Aw, I’m glad it was helpful! Language learning can be super stressful and I still have times where I sit down and feel really frustrated because it feels like I’ve been doing this forever and still have so much to learn.

If it makes you feel better, I only used Wanikani practically the entire first year I started studying. I didn’t even touch grammar until like ~10ish months in. I actually was really glad I waited to start working on grammar because coming into Genki knowing all of the words already I could focus in a lot harder on how the grammar was actually working in the sentence instead of constantly looking things up.

I’ve learned during my studies that the best way to burn out is to overload yourself trying to do everything. Give yourself a couple of goals to tackle a week, and make sure you have more than enough time to finish them so you don’t overwork yourself. And if you still struggle, don’t beat yourself up. Just adjust your goals and keep moving forward. You’ll be surprised how far you get when you feel like you aren’t doing that much!


That’s the same as my experience, except:

Sometimes I recognize words in speech that I learned on WK.

Sometimes I remember words I learned on WK when thinking about output.

It’s probably, like… 10% or so. But some of it does stick.

Remember that WK isn’t a complete language training program. It just teaches you to recognize kanji.

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Do you use the outloud reading for vocab? I found it very useful and I do indeed recognize some words when I hear them and I feel like I do have that association, not only visual. I don’t know maybe is that my brain kind of works that way. It is true that it is kinda slow, for example, my husband was watching an anime and I hear “chikara” and I was like, hey I’ve studied that word in wanikani, let’s see what was the meaning, oh yes, it was something about cheeks, ah, power! :rofl:

I guess the question is, why are you studying Japanese? Is it to read it, to write it and/or to speak it? If it is just the former, this is 100% not an issue, but if it is the latter, then maybe doing some reading or listening to some media would help?

What you described for me is an indication that I’m doing it right, rather than a problem. Recognition > reproduction is my golden rule… Well, one of them. Being able to understand stuff gives you context and ability to learn new things. And it requires a lot less energy to achieve than active knowledge, whereas being able to say something only lets you say that particular something without being able to learn anything new from it. And when you’re out of practice active knowledge is what you’ll lose first, so I would heavily prioritize passive knowledge to a certain point. Has worked for me so far. Not that I’m saying you should avoid speaking practice if you have access to it and you enjoy it.

Yes! I actually saw a Tofugu article on Japanese resources in order to gain fluency and even that article suggested waiting until at least level 10 before tackling any grammar to avoid burnout.

Thanks everyone! At least I know I’m not alone.

Started kamesame and… it wasn’t great. Well, that’s not totally true, I only did nine lessons and got something like 75%. That’s from level one tho, so quite shocking ha. Gonna try to implement this into my daily practice too. Going to leave Bunpro/Bunpo until about level 10 as that’s what I’ve seen recommended (in general and this thread).

Definitely food for thought in terms of what I’m wanting to get out of this, and @xplo hit the nail on the head saying that this isn’t a fluency program, but a kanji one. I need to keep in mind that it’s gonna take much more than just wanikani to get me to be capable in Japanese!


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