Creating better mnemonics for radicals

With just a little bit of creativity, you could easily match the mnemonic with the actual name of the radical. For example, what you call “flag” (尸) is actually called “corpse” (屍) by Japanese speakers and could be imagined as a really strong man holding up a coffin from one end. That might seem contrived to you (it’s certainly more contrived than “flag!”), but it is no less contrived than many of the others I have seen, and it only took me about 3 seconds to come up with it.

And it is pragmatic, non-meta knowledge that your students will appreciate having been taught as they become more advanced.

You call 土 “grave” instead of “earth,” but graves are dug with earth, so how hard would it have been to create a mnemonic using the actual name of the radical instead of reinventing the wheel? I’ll be doing this for myself moving forward (using the “Add Synonym” function); why not make it the default pedagogical method for all your students so they can benefit as well?

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I’m sure your site will take off once you hire the staff you need. Good luck!

(just sick of this conversation)


My site? What?


Leebo is replying… Lemme get outta here quick.

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You want them to replace the core of the content of the site. Generally speaking, the people who made the site aren’t going to tear it down and rebuild it from scratch on a whim.

If you want this entirely new set of 9000 mnemonics to exist, you’d have to make it yourself.


You’ve never heard of making incremental improvements?

They do that all the time. They’re working on restructuring some mnemonics.

Throwing everything out and going with the “real” radicals is suggested several times a week. This is without getting into a discussion about whether there is even any merit in using the names of the “real” radicals for mnemonics when those names aren’t used for mnemonics in Japanese, and when there are several hundred more radicals here than in the “real” list.

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They’re making them. By iterating on what’s already there.

The mnemonics work. The radicals can get tricky but the mnemonics work. Thousands of WK users have benefitted from it. On top of this, WK is already in the process of revamping the radicals just as you had suggested. I think, if you searched the previous threads, you would literally find hundreds of comments related to this. In fact, I just made one less than 24 hours ago. Have you searched through the forms?

Also, the senpaitachi have suggested adding the ignore script instead adding synonyms. Hope this helps.

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Well, this is the feedback forum, you know. I’m sorry I irritated you by making a suggestion that’s already been made, but I will say that if people gave me the same suggestion “several times a week,” I think I might sit up and take notice. Unless of course it was a genuinely bad idea. Is that what you are saying?

The merit in using the real names is simple: At the highest levels of Japanese, you are expected to know what radicals are called. It is in fact very useful at the intermediate level as well to be able to describe kanji (or more importantly understand others’ descriptions of kanji).

The merit in not using the real names, pedagogically speaking, is… What exactly? The mnemonics will almost certainly be no more contrived. The improvements are easy to make incrementally, mitigating much of the expense. If ideas are scarce, community involvement is an obvious option.

Why the weird hostility?

I’ll address this first, I suppose. I have no hostility regarding this. Sorry if I gave the impression I do.

A fraction of a fraction of people here even make it to level 60, never mind “the highest levels of Japanese.”

You do need to know the Japanese names for radicals if you want to take the Kanji Kentei. I’ve taken the Kanji Kentei, and I post about it here. And in the time I’ve had my Kanji Kentei topic going, no one else has said they took it. The demand for teaching kanji in line with the Kanji Kentei is very low among non-natives.

Beyond the Kanji Kentei, which is great and all, you don’t need radicals to consider yourself an advanced Japanese learner. You can describe kanji to natives without the technical words they learned in school.

The advantage of the words chosen here is that they can be chosen with making interesting, memorable mnemonics in English in mind.


I have looked through the feedback topics, yeah, but I didn’t see any in the first hundred or so that looked identical to this one. I didn’t read every one, of course.

I’ll see if I can figure out how to use the ignore script, thanks for the suggestion. Another issue I have is that I can’t even figure out how to use Add Synonym while I am learning the entries for the first time; I only see it during the testing phase. But that’s a different piece of feedback.

I can’t even figure out how to use Add Synonym while I am learning the entries for the first time; I only see it during the testing phase. But that’s a different piece of feedback.

I think that’s a legitime piece of feedback, but the developers have been told a million times, not like this is going to change anything.

At least there is a script for adding synonyms during lessons:


This is great. I didn’t even know this existed. Thank you!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I am arguing that mnemonics can be made equally interesting and memorable without compromising anything. In other words, nothing would be lost, even for students who don’t make it to level 60, or 30, or 5 for that matter.

As for gains, a higher awareness of semantic indicators deepens one’s understanding of certain characters and at higher levels of learning creates additional links in the mind among related concepts. Subjectively speaking, this has been enormously helpful for me in ALL my learning (not just language). Less subjectively speaking, cognitive neuroscience has shown that processes which stimulate multiple neural connections in the brain are highly effective for promoting memory.

If you know that 土偏 is the earth radical, for example, then as soon as you learn the word for “earth” you will immediately understand a Japanese speaker describing a character using that radical. You will also understand the kanji upon which the radical is based, and consequently its significance to all compound vocabulary words which use it. That is four pieces of intimately connected information, and study of each one strengthens your ability to remember and understand the other three.

Also, and I recognize my experience is that of only one person, there have been hundreds of times that I have been able to understand someone’s description of a character because of knowing what radicals are actually called. So it is pragmatically useful as well as pedagogically. In my case it is both: Because I am a highly visual learner, I cannot even remember a person’s name (or a new English word) if I don’t know how to spell it, so that I can picture it in my head. Similarly, I often cannot remember a new piece of Japanese vocabulary if I do not know which kanji comprise it. I have often found myself in situations where pulling out a pen and paper is not practical but verbal descriptions are.

Not to state the obvious, I guess, but WK teaches you that 土 is earth. They just don’t use that word for the radical in mnemonics.

Anyone who uses WK is going to learn the real meaning of the character. I doubt anyone would try to describe something like 地 as having a grave in Japanese.

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Yeah. That’s great and all but it really ought to have been a part of the main site.

Whatever. Not like it’s going to stop me from using WK. I don’t even really use synonyms. It’s just such an obvious thing.

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