Does anyone else learn using this "3-prong" approach: 1. Japanese --> English; 2. English --> Japanese; 3. Audio

Update: see my solution below for what I have changed after I read the great feedback in this thread.

I recently realized that learning a language (in this case English to Japanese of course - but can apply to learning any language) requires a “3-prong” approach/strategy:

  1. Japanese → English (I use Wanikani)
  2. English → Japanese (I use KaniWani)
  3. Audio → English and/or Japanese (I use the Self Study Quiz audio only; and on mobile I use Kiwi browser with the Reorder Omega script and Extra Study script Audio Quiz)

I know WaniKani is just for Japanese → English, but as they are one of the biggest online Japanese teaching sources, I feel like they should mention in their intro articles the importance of this 3-prong approach; and that one should start following it soon - maybe after level 5 or right at the beginning is probably best.

One cannot just go through WaniKani for level after level learning only Japanese → English.

This is the first time I’ve seriously been learning a second language, and just recently realized this (thankfully finding about KaniWani and the scripts from this forum). I’m glad I discovered this though, as I would regret plowing through WaniKani for years, without training: English → Japanese and Audio lessons. I can be very good at WaniKani (Japanese → English), but find it really interesting how the brain has to work a whole different angle from the other two (English > Japanese and audio lessons), for example, for audio: when I heard a vocab/word as simple as し - I have to really think of the many things this can be again - 4, city. death, etc. There are also many times a simple word I hear in the audio, I don’t know what it is until I practice hearing it a few times - and same with English → Japanese, many times I have to think what it is, even for some simple words that I know very well on WaniKani.

So, I’m wondering if anyone else did/do this 3-prong approach when learning. Do people really just go through WaniKani (Japanese → English) for years without learning the other key parts: English → Japanese and Audio lessons?

I guess am just wondering for others that first started learning Japanese with WaniKani, when did you realize that you need to also train your brain from English to Japanese AND train with audio lessons?

I briefly saw some threads of people asking when to learn something else - so I know that others don’t just go through WaniKani forever - eventually they start to wonder what else they should learn - but I feel this should be stressed right at the start as, someone like me, who has never seriously learned a language before would be helpful to know early on. I’m ranting now sorry ><

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I can’t speak for other people but I mean, no I didn’t do wanikani for years because I finished it in about a year.

But yes, I did do “japanese → english” only for 4 years. I put it in quotes, because I mean its not like I would do anything in english or think in english while reading, which was a massive source of learning and reviewing old content for me. I think what you’re missing is the fact that “english->japanese” and audio lessons are only “key parts” if you care about them in the first place.

But yes, if you do care about them, then practice the things you wanna get good at.

Im not sure about “English → japanese” as a key part in the first place, but if you just mean recalling words for stuff in japanese then yeah. I also don’t necessarily know if I agree about needing to train with “audio lessons”. I prefer regular content than any sort of lesson personally. So I guess, strictly speaking, “never” would be my answer to both of your questions.

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No, I think most people go through Wanikani for years while learning the other parts through immersion or classes or books.

Everyone learns differently, too. Wanikani does what it does pretty well, you don’t need Kaniwani. Can you use it if it works for you? Of course.

The audio part I don’t know exactly what you mean, but I think most of the time, someone who wants to learn Japanese is already interested in the media, so listening and recall through that isn’t a problem. Plus there’s a lot you can do with Japanese media translated to English if you’re familiar enough with vocabulary or at least have a decent memory for phrases and stuff. Like thinking how to say something the subs say and compare it to what they actually say.

Saying you need X to learn properly is always a generalization.

You should take advantage of all the resources you can, but in the end use what works for you, not other people.

Adding a bit, I probably had the basics of the audio part down since I had been listening to anime and music for years, and knew a ton of songs even if I didn’t know what they were talking about.

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Thank you for the input! I guess most people who have learned Japanese, learn Japanese → English using something like WaniKani or Anki (or classroom/books like you said), and then eventually start to watch anime or shows and also start conversing with other Japanese, like on Hello Talk or something.

I wonder if it is worth me learning through all Kanji, using the 3-prong that I mention. I find it funny when my brain cannot recognize simple vocab that I know so well in WaniKani lol. It is weird and interesting how the brain works like that. It makes me feel like I don’t know it, unless I know it using all 3 methods I mention.

Part of what you said about En->Jp is because you seem to be listening to words out of context. You’d never mistake 4 for death or city in an actual sentence. Though there are other common words where it might happen, but context is key. For that you need actual input other than audio lessons. Getting familiarized with use cases and stuff through media.

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My biggest Anki deck uses a “2-prong” approach to use your term since it goes both ways, but there is no card testing just from audio. For listening comprehension I just watch media without subs (or with japanese subs) and read aloud to myself when going through books (dunno how effective the latter is but it won’t hurt). Kazzeon already mentioned it but one of the drawbacks of grinding language items in isolation is the lack of context, which plays a larger role in Japanese than a lot of other languages. When you’ve learned all the vocab in isolation it’s like getting mental drop-down menus in your head while listening and trying to parse sentences on the fly.

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true, great point which I did think of - so perhaps it isn’t worth me learning each meaning when I hear it in an audio sample - e.g. if I hear "し’, I actually have a mnemonic for what it can mean, e.g. "4 year old, death, in the city (for 4, death, city) - as silly as this sounds. Then if hear the sound “ki” I think tree gives energy (for tree and for energy). This might be a bit crazy I’m not certain - or it might help me when I start learning from shows, etc.

Thank you! Ok, I’m thinking from both advice, the lack of context issue for the audio lessons. really helpful to hear and consider

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I don’t think this is sustainable for Japanese.

Just go to your dictionary of choice and type in し or こう or しょう and see if you can remember them all.

You will learn them eventually separately, but trying to know them in like a list all together every time you hear the sound is kinda insane.

Though, again, if it works for you for now, keep it up. Just don’t lock yourself into a system that’s probably going to burn you out sooner rather than later.

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Personally, I was doing heavily EN => JP. I did JP => EN only for (visual (Kanji) / auditory (small vocab)) components, during the past WaniKani run.

Then, for now, I can say that JP => meaning as a whole with context, or not-so-small phrases, is very different for the earlier two. Dictionaries, JJ or not, can’t compensate for this.

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so true, that really is not sustainable. I suppose for my free time, in addition to WaniKani, I’ll continue to do KaniWani, and audio practice - just I won’t be so rigid with memorizing every meaning for each vocab/word. I’ll also eventually search the forum to find the right time to start learning from shows/anime - that is a huge step of course that is great to get to. Thank you

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So, I’ve never done WK, but the learning path I took started with in-person classes conducted only in Japanese right from the start, where they were quite keen on students not thinking of things in terms of English word → Japanese word (e.g. they taught basic vocab with flashcards that had pictures, not English words). Partly as a result of that, I’ve never done any memorization/SRS work in that direction.

I think that although “memorize English-to-Japanese” can seem a good idea initially, there are a couple of problems with it that you’re likely to run into:

  • the mapping between words is not 1:1, so although in simple cases like ‘snow == ゆき’ it can work out OK, you’re going to find there are a lot of English words where there seem to be multiple Japanese words you could reasonably use depending on context and you’re going to forget which one your SRS is asking for. (See the recent thread about there being a lot of words for ‘neighbourhood’ for one example.)

  • in order to be able to read, write, listen or speak reasonably smoothly, you need your brain to be working purely in Japanese[*]. You can’t start with a thought in English, mentally translate it and then say it, and you can’t read by mentally translating into English. Memorizing English → Japanese mappings feels to me like it’s trying to go down a path where you still have English as a part of your Japanese language activity. (Japanese->English is less bad for this because the ‘English’ answer side of an SRS card can have multiple words, indications of separate senses, etc – it’s really a “Japanese → meaning” card.)

[*] I think this is really what my initial class teachers were getting at with their emphasis on not using English – they wanted to get students into thinking in Japanese without mental translation as fast as possible.

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As part of team “monolingual studies” and “Making immersion comprehensible as soon as possible is the only thing that matters”, boy does this post rub me the wrong way :rofl:
Having done this for a while is actually one of my bigger regrets from my early days of studying Japanese.
I’m really tempted to write some long-winded reply, but what’s the point really.
I’ll leave it at “I strongly disagree.”

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Okay, I changed my mined. I can’t bottle this in :see_no_evil:

What you are suggesting here is probably a decent strategy in the short term, e.g. you are going to Japan in 3 months and just want to be able to understand/speak some simple Japanese and don’t care at all if it sounds natural.

However, if we are talking long term, 3+ years of Japanese study with the goal of reaching fluency, the opportunity cost is simply too high.

As pm215 has already pointed out, there are the issues of “Remembering an English buzzword doesn’t equal knowing a word” and “You want to stop thinking in English when reading/listening to/speaking/writing Japanese anyways”. Adding onto that, I’ll argue from a slightly different angle.

With quizzing yourself “English → Japanese” and “Japanese audio → English” you are trying to tackle two issues.

  1. When you are thinking “How do I say 「You have beautiful eyes」in Japanese?” you want to be able to recall the words so you can translate the sentence. But in the long term, this isn’t how you will be speaking Japanese. Over thousands of hours of being exposed to Japanese, you will simply know how to say something in Japanese just like in your native language.

  2. When hearing a word being spoken, you want to be able to understand what is being said. However, instead of spending your time in an SRS, dealing with the pain of homonyms and similar english buzzwords during audio reviews, you could just spend your time listening to Japanese.

(I don’t feel as strongly about 2. as I do about 1. though. I’m sure there’s people that find “Japanese audio → English” quizzing to be a more comfortable entry into listening.)

The key thing here is though, both these issues will be resolved once you get enough comprehensible input (listening/reading). What you are doing however, by piling on more and more SRS, is delaying the point at which immersion will be comprehensible. Instead of learning to recognize another grammar point or another word, or actually reading/listening once you’ve accumulated enough of a baseline, you’re spending your time trying to fix something that isn’t even an issue in the long term.


Sorry if I am coming on a little strong :sweat_smile: As someone that doesn’t use English definitions at all anymore, I feel rather strongly about the “Quizzing words in English→Japanese is time better spent elsewhere” thing :see_no_evil:

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I was wondering where you got this 3-prong approach from. You wrote that it was “required” and mentioned not at all where you got the idea from.

As someone who’s learning Japanese as my third language, I have experience getting to a fluent place with English (Swedish being my native language). And while I’m not a huge language learning geek, I’ve never heard of the method before.

I’ll have to say that I agree with a lot that has been said. Japanese → English/native language is usually a necessary step. It is quite hard to fully learn a language as a kid would as an adult. The amount of passive listening and active listening and baby language that would need to be produced is probably not something an adult want to go through. xD

English → Japanese works for a while as people mention, and can be used for a basic vocabulary if you want to get up to speed on producing very quickly, but it is not necessary. And once you start learning synonyms in Japanese, then the whole E → J will stop working.

The best way to learn listening is probably to listen to full sentences. Even learning how the word sounds in isolation won’t really prepare you for when they get used in sentences. There is a bit of: practice the skill you want to learn.

Thanks to the Listen Every Day challenge you can find several posts with audio resources (podcasts especially) that goes from absolute beginner to native. I’d suggest going with something like that for audio.


The whole point of learning a language is to get to a point where you don’t need to use another language as a crutch. I don’t need Swedish to use English. Neither do I want to use English/Swedish to use Japanese. I still do because I’m not past the hurdle of needing to anchor Japanese words to a Swedish/English gloss. But there are Japanese words now that are just words, where I get the meaning without having to translate it in my head.

The quicker you get to that point, the better. And the best way to do that is to use another language as little as possible. Time progression is usually that you start using another language to help with the new A LOT, and then as you progress the old language get used less and less and less, until you don’t need it at all.

So it is more efficient to work towards that goal sooner rather than later, but we’re all different. And if this approach is working for you, then use it for as long as it is useful.

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Just wanted to say thankyou for this post, because I didn’t know that kaniwani existed. Now I have more fun!!

My approach is probably the three-prong spproach, but more a “coming at it from all sides” attack - I use Wanikani, Duolingo, I have a tutor who takes me through the textbook Minna No Nihongo, and I’m working through the Genki textbook on my own. I listen to the NHK language podcasts and a few Japanese/English youtubers.

I might be obsessed…

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Very interesting read and thanks for posting. I learned a lot reading through all the comments here.

My initial first reaction about the original post was, “Hey, I was thinking the same way!!”

I’m about to reach level 10 and I’m living in Japan now. Recently, I had been getting annoyed with myself that I can’t recall the kanji character or pronunciation of an English word I know I’ve learned in the last 9 levels already. So I started to use Kamesame.

But having read through the arguments of others in the post, I’m not so sure anymore. I do agree that the point of fluency is not to think in your native language when using the learned language of choice though.

Now I’m thinking twice about continuing Kamesame to avoid becoming dependent on English and using it as a crutch. Among those that have used Kamesame or Kaniwani up until the higher levels in Wanikani, I wonder if there were any other benefits for using it other than the English to Japanese prong.

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EN => JP might be useful when you can’t think what to put in front of the card, (or don’t want to think, because of time-cost). Perhaps recall-type flashcards can be done in a better way?

I also find that useful only for initial memorization, but not for deeper learning or “burning”. So, I used (at later levels) even before learning Kanji of the level.

It doesn’t seem to useful for recall or production for me, though.

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I’m of the mind that an idea can sound great and still fail stunningly. I think a lot of people tackle a new language with certain expectations and a lack of ability to objectively see language learning as it really is, stemming from lack of experience.

Also, probably a distinct lack of understanding of the foreign mind. If you were able to read the thoughts of a native Japanese person, assuming you could understand them, their way of thinking would be so different from yours that they might as well be a space alien to you at your current level of Japanese.

THAT is what you are contending with. It isn’t just dozens of thousands of vocab words with some grammar bits gluing them together. It’s centuries of a mostly isolated island nation with values, culture and history strikingly different from anything you’re likely familiar with. That is one of the major reasons the dropout rate is so high - it’s not the kanji.

And that is why EN->JP will never be remotely useful from a fluency perspective IMO.

Edit Of course, I may gain more experience and change my opinion in the future. I’m allowed to do that.

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I do use KaniWani in addition to WK, but I don’t regularly test myself on audio except for right after learning new items on WK, since I run the self study quiz on all new lesson items. But that’s the only time I ever do any sort of audio quiz with my flash cards, and I do it just to help cement the new lesson items in my memory.

I understand other people’s reasons for not practicing recall, but for me personally, I have found it to be beneficial. Just comparing my experiences between Spanish and Japanese, I feel like I have a better working vocabulary with Japanese than I do with Spanish despite knowing far more Spanish words and being able to read Spanish far easier.

I’ve never even SRS’d Spanish, and study almost exclusively through immersion (excepting three years of high school Spanish class that I did many years go), primarily by reading books/articles, listening to podcasts, and by watching shows and movies in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.

Meanwhile, with Japanese, as far as deliberate vocabulary building goes, I do a combination of things: I study some words/kanji out of context with WaniKani (and KaniWani), and I study some words with context provided by my textbook, Minna no Nihongo, which also involves production exercises, and then I study some words with context that I encounter while immersing with native media. I have both recall and recollection cards for all three.

When I got started learning Japanese, I assumed I’d have practically no use for production, since I was studying primarily just to be able to read and watch media, but I’ve completely changed my mind on that, largely thanks to accidentally becoming a fan translator with a public twitter account haha :sweat_smile:.

Now I’ve found myself wanting to talk to Japanese fans and participate in hashtags and such for Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, which I’m translating stuff for, as well as replying to tweets from wrestlers, and that sort of thing. There’s also a possibility I might end up having other conversations in Japanese because of that account (wrestling fan translators sometimes get contacted to help facilitate interviews and such, or do actual paid work for a company. I would like to be able to properly and politely communicate that my skill is not good enough for that yet haha).

Basically, I have multiple reasons now to actually work on my production, and I’ve already benefited from practicing recall in a few twitter interactions I’ve had, especially with the wrestling vocabulary I’ve learned through immersion, because I’m able to call to mind the very specific terminology that I need.

Would it be more efficient for me to go very hard on input until my Japanese comprehension is higher? Maybe! Would it be better to try to stay away from English as much as possible? Maybe, but as a translator, that goal is literally impossible, haha :sweat_smile:.

If I want to keep translating TJPW stuff (and I do, because if I don’t do it, no one else will), it’s going to slow me down a bit with Japanese, and that’s just how it’s going to be. Most of my Japanese reading is necessarily very, very intensive, and I’m learning a heck of a lot about translation at the same time, which means that I spend a lot of time thinking about how to phrase something in English instead of spending more time trying to just read in Japanese.

Perhaps the timing was bad, and I’d be better off waiting a couple years to get better at Japanese before attempting this, but the timing was completely out of my control. So instead of thinking about what would be the most efficient, I just focus on what keeps me happiest. I focus more on getting more out of the stuff that I am learning rather than going for the full quantity over quality approach.

If I’m able to keep this up for years, I will eventually become proficient in the language even if I go about it in a non-optimal way. To me, that’s more encouraging than worrying about what I may or may not be wasting my time on.

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