Different readings for same kanji in vocabulary items

I came to WaniKani from the Tofugu website, which said that you should learn the most used reading of each kanji. So I’m a bit surprised that except for the number kanji and a couple others, I’ve had to learn two or three different readings to progress in the vocabulary reviews. This is even for vocabulary items that are just the kanji by itself. Of course I would need to learn these at some point, but I figured at the start most of the vocabulary readings would use the same one learned in the kanji section.

I realise that I’ve literally just started learning, so I was wondering if this changes after the first level or two, or if I shouldn’t worry so much about vocabulary in the early stages and just gradually build it up?

Either way I’m still having a blast learning it all, it’s just a bit annoying getting tripped up in reviews because I keep trying to use the kanji reading I learned first.


Most kanji learning platforms have you learn all kanji readings in one go, but that easily overwhelms the learner. What Wanikani did differently was having you visually be able to identify the kanji and its most used reading(s) first, and then reinforce the other ones through vocabulary. This is something that will happen throughout your Japanese learning journey. However, I do think that you’ll get used to expect vocabulary to use different readings and you won’t be so caught off guard. Just be aware of this and it will become less painful as you go :slight_smile:


If you read Tofugu you may be aware that almost all kanji have two groups of readings: kun’yomi (native Japanese ones) and on’yomi (borrowed from Chinese). Kun’yomi is primarily used in vocab that consists of a single kanji, while on’yomi is used in compound words made up of several kanji.

WaniKani will usually teach you on’yomi when teaching kanji as it’s used in several compound vocab items. You will still learn the kun’yomi when learning vocab that uses it. So, in the end you will know most common readings of kanji.

WK teaches you 1 reading per item, not 1 read per kanji. So if a kanji used in different vocab items used different readings you’ll learn those. But gradually. Sometimes you’ll learn an additional reading for a kanji multiple levels after you learned the kanji.


I thihk of kanji as an abstract concept that has:

  • image
  • meaning (sometimes few synonyms)
  • several readings. One can classify those as on’yomi and kun’yomi based on Chinese/Japanese origin. This list can have multiple values due to history, in 5th century this sound was used for this concept, and in 12th century another sound was used, and they were accumulated in vocabulary, not replaced.

When it comes to vocabulary, it is a part of some writing, so it not an abstract concept. It has one meaning (plus synonyms) and one reading (okay,there are very few exceptions to that rule as well, because language is not math).

So vocab 人 which means “person” can only be read as ひと. Not にん, not じん.

Vocab 外国人 (foreigner) is read as がいこくじん and not any other way.

Vocab 料理人 (cook) is read as りょうりにん and not any other way.

Sometime the same kanji will use two different readings in one word!
Example: Sunday is 日曜日. The first time kanji 日 is read as にち (on’yomi) and the second time 日 is read as び (kun’yomi plus rendaku). So the whole word is read as にちようび.

Pay attention to the background color of the review (red for kanji, purple for vocab), and soon you will train yourself to use correct reading.

WaniKani approach is to teach you “the most useful” reading with kanji lesson, and add additional readings thru vocab lessons later on. In the situation when there are two equally common readings, they are relying on user to go thru vocab lessons with the same attention.

It makes little sense to learn all kanji readings in one go, because how will you know which is used in each particular word. Vocab lessons are super important in WK program, don’t skip them.


Thanks for the reply’s. I sort of half realised after posting that the vocab lessons are also being used to teach the other readings :sweat_smile:. It’s still a little annoying but I think I’m slowly making progress on the level 1 vocab. What I’m planning on doing is to just gradually chip away at the vocab lessons/reviews and not worry if I don’t immediately pick up the different readings. I’ll try and pay more attention to which reading is being taught when new items pop up. I’m guessing this is the sort of thing that just takes a while to learn but once you’ve got it it’ll likely stick.


Yeah eventually you’ll get to a point where you can guess the vocab reading fairly consistently outside of the exceptions. And even the exceptions will become less frequent and all the more memorable for that.

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