Frustrations with the vocab

Has anyone else tried to used certain vocab words and been told they’re incorrect?

I have a few native speaking friends who I’ll chat with, and quite often, when I drop a new word I’ve learned on Wanikani, they’ll reply with, “oh no, you should use this word instead…”

Some examples…

東方(とうほう) vs 東の方(ひがしのほう)

中央(ちゅうおう) vs 真ん中(まんなか)

町民(ちょうみん) vs 地元の人(じもとのひと)

Since the vocab is mainly there to help you learn the kanji, a lot of the time you will learn quite uncommon words. There may or may not be a plugin though which tells you how common each word is. I’m not sure…

中央 is also literally the name of a place, but 中央 and 真ん中 aren’t quite the same word, 中央 is much more likely the geometric center of something, while 真ん中 is more of a “central” area.

Anyway, you ever seen two people make two different English corrections? It’s exactly like that. But also it could be that you’re using things a bit wrong so examples would be better. For example, 町民 and 地元の人 don’t seem like the exact same thing to me.

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This is a kanji reading site, not a general Japanese instruction site or vocabulary building site. It has the added benefit of adding these words to your passive vocab, but since WK doesn’t teach how to use vocab, you shouldn’t be just adding these things to your active vocab willynilly. You should be researching how to use them first; don’t base assumptions off of the English one-word translation.

Edit: and remember, there is a bias in the vocab being formal or literary when you are only studying kanji vocab. In casual conversation an onomatopoeia can often be the best choice, but WK doesn’t teach those for obvious reasons.

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Just like @Leebo said. Make sure you’re reading lots, so you can get an idea of how different words are actually used! I suppose hearing it directly from a native is pretty good help as well

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WaniKani effectively just pulls Japanese words that provide reinforcement for the kanji out of a dictionary. Just because a word is in a dictionary doesn’t mean it is used commonly (or at all) or doesn’t have a contextual limitation. Choose a day to tell everyone “I’m feeling quite gay today” and see how many don’t, at first utterance, question your sexuality. :stuck_out_tongue:

There are a lot of cases in which some words have a nuance or specialized definition for them that wouldn’t be easily recognizable. The first time I used 語る to refer to “telling a story” because my students kept writing “talking a story,” my JTE informed me that 語る is rarely used because it is prideful in nature, so they use 話す instead.

A great example of this would be the now-removed 先年. I had to explain to natives what I meant by writing the kanji because when I said “せんねん,” the only thing that came to mind was 千年. Many of the words aren’t MEANT to be used normally. Since there was plenty of vocabulary to cover the readings of both 先 and 年, having a word so unusual now was pointless. On the other hand, your friends understood your usage of words, meaning they are both useful for reinforcement and recognizable (albeit either situational or strange colloquially) in conversation, so there’s little harm in learning them.

Personally, I love those situations where natives clue me in on those types of things, because then I can research why one is better (or more correct in that situation) than the other. I think one the biggest broad examples of this is all of the Chinese/Japanese synonymous verb pairs. It’s both frustrating and fun to figure out which to use (experience has indicated typically to use the Japanese unless their is a specific nuance or grammatical difference like 理解する vs 分かる), especially when they tell you to use the other but then can’t really figure out how to tell you why it’s better.

There is a building near me called 中央公民館.
There is a bus service called 中央バス.

Are you trying to say that Wanikani should only include words that are recent and common?
Don’t you know some advanced words but choose to use a more simplified version?

It’s not that one way of saying something is better, but more like this is how to read this compound.

This explains a lot. I wasn’t aware of this.
I will be a lot more careful of using Wanikani vocab from now on.

What would you suggest would be an effective way to research the words? I don’t just rely on Wanikani. I use, Tatoeba and a couple of iOS apps, which are great for finding example sentences, but not really much info on the correct context to use the word.

Yeah, true. My grammar is getting better so I can start reading more varied sources. But I’m yet to run into many of these words in the wild.

Yeah, having a native speaker help is really handy, but I have to choose my moments. They get a bit annoyed if I bombard them with questions haha.

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Oh, I remember that one. I had the exact same experience, haha.

Yeah, I don’t mind the situations happening either. I’ve just accepted the fact that I’m gonna be the clueless gaijin for a long time. I guess learning the nuances of these sorts of things is just gonna be trial and error.

There are books dedicated to vocabulary usage, as well as some apps that specifically focus on vocab, though I can’t really recommend anything. At higher levels, I like the Shin Kanzen Master books.

For me, I always look up words in a Japanese dictionary, though you need a baseline level of Japanese to make effective use of that. For confusingly similar words, searching google with 違い can get you results in Japanese. I also have a Japanese thesaurus (類語辞典)

No, that’s not what I’m saying. I realise that the focus is on learning the simplest kanji first, even if they aren’t the most common words etc. I just wish Wanikani would make note if a certain vocab is common/archaic/literary etc.

Yeah, I think what made me think differently, is that WK advertise the vocab list as “6000 useful/common words” which isn’t necessarily the case. Ah well, I’m not too fussed about it. It’s still handy to learn them, I’ll just be more careful about how I use them in the future.

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All three of the vocab you mentioned are common words though. So that wouldn’t solve your problem here at all.

Also I’d highly recommend not using Tatoeba or any example sentences from it as many of the sentences are created by non-native speakers.

Thanks, that’s really useful info. My grammar is might still be a little too weak, but I’ll give it a go.

Yeah, in these cases you probably just used them in the wrong context. That’s where the thesaurus can help, because it gives you those little nuanced definitions all clustered together.

Googling 東方 gave me this while Googling 東の方 gave me this, so I think I can see where the confusion lies.

Anyways, I do suggest the Weblio thesaurus, even if you only understand one or two of the other words it can be helpful to get an idea.

Also, I wish this site taught more “other” words, I had to learn 仇 on my own, like a schlub.


I would rely more on actual experience to get the hang of what words go for what situations. Really the definition of a word is just like an english synonym, but synonyms aren’t always used in the same context. “Assemble” is a synonym of “construct” but assembling a house is different from constructing one.

Having some example sentences are very useful in my opinion because it allows you to get a little of that experience I talked about WHILE learning the word.

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