Diminishing Marginal Returns on Lesson Time

I’ve gotten to the point where my kanji answering success on first quizzing is probably under half at this point. I don’t really rush through lessons, but honestly don’t usually spend more than a minute per reading or meaning. I kind of feel like the extra time spent after that is much less effective overall than moving on and using that time for other learning.

I have read some threads where people talk about a similar problem and wonder if they should spend more time on lessons or just do the shotgun method.

I was wanting to ask a broader question that some of you might have some good insights to. I’m not just asking “how long do you spend on lessons?” Rather, do you think you are hitting the sweet spot? The happy medium between time spent on reviews and total retention. Where is that sweet spot? It doesn’t feel like doing my own testing will be useful. Too many variables to control for and too small a sample size to try a few levels spending more time.

Sure, I could spend 10 minutes per item, read it over and over, close my eyes and imagine, but it immediately elicits a negative feeling from me - especially if I get the item wrong even after all that.

Again, I’ve read a few threads about people asking how long they should spend on lessons, but I know everyone is different and the same time doesn’t work for everyone. So I’m not asking just how long you personally spend per item. Moreso your thoughts on the diminishing returns of time spent vs total retention (the mathematician and economist in me is wishing I did some work on this back in undergrad).

In the end, due to the 90% goal and overall way I’ve been leveling up, I guess I don’t actually lose that much time from my level up - I still average 8 days or less per level (last level was my fastest, even, and it’s been gradually decreasing, oddly enough).

I’m convinced that the “sweet spot” is whatever amount of time it takes someone, personally, to come up with a meaningful mnemonic – something with a striking, personalized, visual image that sticks.

For me, the difference between the items that I was and wasn’t able to do that for is the difference between something going from zero to burn with maybe one or two lapses, tops, and something taking dozens if not a hundred or more reviews and wasting massive amounts of time.

Again just speaking from my own experience here – an extra 5-10 minutes on one item at the learning phase to really come up with something that works pays huge time dividends later.

And honestly the “level up” time reflects the short term learning process, where bad mnemonics don’t hurt as much – for me they really came back to bite in enlighten/burn reviews.

10 minutes seems unnecessarily long. I read the panels, and usually jump right to the vocab. I open the vocab pages and see the kanji in use. Sometimes I know one of the words it’s used in, and that can really solidify it. If not, I then go back and review the mnemonics, and maybe write it out one or two times while saying the mnemonic. It’s no more than 3 minutes I’d say.

Tbh, I am a bit lazy in the mnemonic department. Part of the reason I locked into WK was that they kinda took most of the work out of that. Creating mnemonics for a few items isn’t bad. But what one person can think of good mnemonics for thousands of items? I’ll still make my own if I think WK is just way too out there, but that’s maybe only 10% of the time. I kinda decided that the time saved using their mnemonic and moving on outweighed spending a lot of time thinking of a stronger one. But then again, it’s not like I did the math on that. I probably could benefit from trying to be more creating and making more of my own.

You do have a good point - I can see how a strong mnemonic, though, is a good fallback plan if you get surprised not knowing an enlighten/burn. I did have a couple where I never used a mnemonic for whatever reason (already knew the word, it just stuck, etc) and then end up missing it. But usually by the time an item guru’s, I rarely think of the mnemonics (and I think WK has suggested you slowly let go of their hands, but ideally can use it in a pinch).

Whatever works for you. Some people like to spend a good deal of time in their lessons to make sure the kanji sticks. I usually make sure to at least have a (short) mnemonic for each kanji and then move on. I spend most of the time reinforcing it during the first two reviews (4h & 8h). If i get it wrong, which isn’t very common if I have a good mnemonic, it usually makes it stick permanently for me (I guess the negative emotional response to getting something wrong makes it stick lol).

I have a pretty good pace (~7 days per level) as of now, and I don’t really forget a meaning/reading unless I rushed the mnemonic creation process, where it becomes apparent at the Master+ level reviews. I can’t really quantify that “sweet spot”, but that technique works for me best.

Ah yea vocab is a whole different story. After knowing the kanji, the success rate even on the first go is usually pretty good. I’m mainly more concerned with kanji success at early SRS stages.

I mean that I go to the list of vocab that the kanji is used in to help learn the kanji. The tab that comes after the reading mnemonic.

Yea, the success rate drastically increases for me on 2nd and 3rd tries if I got it wrong. But it wasn’t until maybe level 14+ where the mnemonics involved more than 2-3 radicals and it got harder to keep the mnemonic solid. I hope you will be able to continue your success as you move up.

Ah, I misunderstood. That is actually something I don’t pay much heed to (oddly enough, I even feel that I avoid it on purpose). When I get to the vocab, of course, knowing a word already does really boost retention, but I hadn’t really thought of making much use of that sneak peak when working on kanji. Thanks hopefully that will help a bit for me.

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During lessons / apprentice level stuff, I frequently write down and say the words to help reinforce them. Seriously, say them, deliberately and slowly! Even just using the mouth movements helps reinforce it a whole lot more than just looking at it and acknowledging it. Draw it out with your finger if you have to. Involve more parts of your physical body / brain, it WILL help you remember. There is a reason why so many of the default mnemonics involve stuff like “laugh at the kid” or “smell the flowers” or whatnot. The additional sensory input reinforces it.

Hmm, I decided to not learn how to write (for a few reasons, mainly that it’s the least important element and so the time spent on it gives very little return on investment), but I could probably act out or say the mnemonics more. I’ll sometimes close my eyes and imagine the situation a bit, but yea I don’t usually actually say it vocally or act it out - I suppose it’s likely that the return on that would be worth the time. Thanks.

yeah it’s kind of hard to describe – it’s like, there are items that I see and just know, and there are items that I see and have to think about… When something comes up for enlighten or burn and it’s one of the ones I have to think about (and for kanji this happens more and more in the upper levels where there can be far less vocab to reinforce), it’s like even just the slightest little bit of what is leftover from the mnemonic in my head can make the answer fall into my lap, and then I kind of forget the mnemonic and just know the item instinctively from then on. But having a good mnemonic that means something to me personally is the key for making that happen.

It’s kind of magic actually. But I fully recognize that mnemonics don’t work the same for everyone. Just my own experience.

And I agree with Leebo that paying attention to the vocab tab at the time you learn the kanji is very helpful – I even sometimes go to a dictionary and scroll through a bunch of other words the character is used in, too. For me, that can sometimes take 5 or 10 minutes. But I’m a little slower than most…

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Please learn how to write. You may never have to hand-write a note in Japanese to someone, but oh my god, it is helpful. If you are already learning how to read stuff, please write it, too.


I’m still in levels where I have lots of experience with most of the kanji already, so currently I go through and say the meaning and reading aloud to myself, check if I was correct and then move forward quickly. If it’s something new or I made a mistake I take the moment to read over the mnemonic, decide if I like it, and then proceed forward (or else think of my own mnemonic). Shotgunning it is probably the correct term.

When I get to a higher level and encounter more kanji that I don’t know versus what I already know I’ll probably slow down and take more time with the lessons.

Please learn how to write. You may never have to hand-write a note in Japanese to someone, but oh my god, it is helpful. If you are already learning how to read stuff, please write it, too.

this!! I can say that the characters I’ve learned to write I basically never forget, and they go straight to burn.

my inspiration is 手書き instagram accounts I love them forever and ever



I am convinced that I need to drill. So, I drill on Anki, about 2 days before level up.

I do all lessons at once.

For ones that don’t like drilling or Anki, drawing Kanji is probably a good alternative for it is a slow process.

Memorizing how to write the characters or not is an argument for another day.

But, writing down the new kanji a couple times each during the learning will help you memorize it…writing it down 5 times probably isn’t enough to memorize how to write it (at least for me), but it doesn’t take long and definitely helps with rentention.

Well, I’m not saying knowing how to write isn’t good, just that it’s the least important for Japanese of reading, listening, speaking, writing. And I do plan on learning once my reading is good, but for now, it just feels like it detracts. I spent 6 days a week for 7 months copying 5 new kanji per day from genetickanji (granted, I didn’t do much review and was pretty inefficient in doing it and I kind of feel like that 7 months was almost completely wasted) so I’m still pretty darn hesitant about paying much attention to writing when anything I ever write will be on computer, phone, or maybe small notes that I can write kana if I don’t know the kanji - thankfully I’m not a Japanese school child :p.

And yea I don’t think it’d be too beneficial unless you did it often and wrote them many times.

I guess I could see if even a couple of times might help, but even then, it feels like that time would be more effective in reading out loud the mnemonic or another practice.

I’m still a scrub, though, so what do I know ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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8 days or less per level is a really good speed tbh. When I get to new kanji, I usually have about 40-60% retention but use the self-quiz to get them to stick and then to get them to really stick is for vocab. I don’t think you can get down to less than 7 days and not be cheating in some way. I guess that I use more the shotgun idea when studying and only look at the words more in-depth when I really have problems. I notice that some words are really difficult to stuff into my brain while others just naturally fit.

As for what you learn, that might be a different story. I’ve noticed in my Japanese class (that I go to once a week) that I have no context for some of the words. While I know them and can read their kanji, I’m not using them in the appropriate circumstance. Then again, that is what the classes are for. On the other hand, I keep asking my teacher for the kanji of the words she introduces since I can more easily remember the meaning and pronunciation that way. So when she writes just the hiragana pronunciation, I have real problems.

On the VERY positive side, I can now read the NHK easy Japanese news without the furigana. So I tend to do that after doing my morning WK routine.

At 17, you’re not a scrub…