Help improving recall ability

I was wondering if anyone had any advise as to a resource I could use to improve my ability to quickly recall words.
I’m currently level 17 wanikani, I use Pimsleur (currently level 3), I use iknowjp daily for vocab to try and eventually get through the 6k words. I use Duolingo religously and Busuu once or twice a week to get grammer lessons. I also occasionally use Satori reader, though I’m trying to do that more often.

If I had to rate my ability, I’d say I’m probably around A2 or early B1. I started using Pimsleur and I really liked the 5-7 second spaces before coming up with a response.

I guess I need to focus on my recall ability. With Iknowjp and wanikani I probably have close to 2k vocab, but my ability to draw upon that vocab is way smaller.

I view it as a bank account vs a wallet. My vocab bank is growing everyday but I need to find a way to grow my vocab wallet beyond just Pimsleur and I was wondering if anyone has any advise.

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(If I understood right) this is simply an active vs passive vocabulary thing. Your active vocabulary will always be smaller than your passive one, just like in your native language. The easiest way to expand your active vocabulary is simply using the language more. If you listen/read a lot, your active vocabulary grows. At some point you’ll have to move to more advanced material for that to stay true, but as a beginner that isn’t really relevant yet.
You can improve your active vocabulary more artificially by quizzing yourself English → Japanese (e.g. the front of the card says Cat and you have to answer 猫), but imo that time is better spent doing other things unless for some reason you need to improve your active vocab fast right now.


Weren’t kaniwani and kanisame made for this express purpose? You might want to check them out (I understand they use the WK API so only stuff you’ve learned on WK is tested)

I guess my question is…are you sure thats what you need to focus on? Do you have some reason you want to start training recall this early? And if you do, do you have confidence that you could use them correctly? Being able to recall a word is only as helpful as your ability to use that word. Just looking at learners japanese sentences in general, I rarely ever think that recall was their issue. If anything they usually end up using overly difficult words improperly over a perfectly natural simple alternative, and more than that their are grammatical issues in their sentence that make it hard to comprehend. So all I’m saying is maybe theres other things to focus on.

Setting aside the preachy, I think you should do a lot of listening if you want to improve your active recall. Being able to hear a word and effortlessly understand it is a lot different from being able to look at a word and effortlessly understand it when it comes to recalling those when speaking. Apart from that, you just need to output a lot…but again my personal opinion is that it sounds pretty early to just take the output a bunch step.


My reasoning for improving recall ability is twofold. One is a fear that my japanese knowledge is too shallow in as far reaching as it is. What’s the point in knowing 2k vocab words if I need to see the kanji to jog my memory as to the meaning? That’s great for reading but not so much for speaking.

And secondly is I am planning on taking the JLPT by the end of the year. Or at least a mock up of one if nothing else to force myself to make some strides towards better proficiency

Is there a mobile app for kaniwani? I use flamingdurtles for wanikani and have no complaints with that one.

I mean, are you doing any output practice? The way you improve your recall is by doing recall practice. The best way to do recall practice is output practice, rather than just adding on more flashcards. Output practice can also help you to identify misunderstandings in usage issues that likely exist. I 10/10 agree with @Vanilla that a lot of beginners (especially those who take a really vocab/flashcard heavy approach) make the mistake of trying to use overly complex vocab when there’s simpler vocab that would fit the situation better.

Imo if you want to improve your ability recall Japanese, the best thing to do is actually use Japanese. Try doing some conversation lessons on iTalki or find a language partner on HelloTalk


I do use Pimsleur but maybe I’m at the point I need to practise with actual people now. Before I waited because there was very little I could say and any conversation would be stunted. That’s still sort true now

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Ultimately your conversations will be stunted so long as you don’t practice conversation. You’d be suprised by how far you can get conversationally at an A2 level so long as you know how to apply what you know well. (Trust me, I teach A1-A2 level efl students lol)

If you’re just starting out a conversation tutor would probably be a better option since they’ll sit patiently and help you as you struggle instead of wanting to switch to English for the sake of their own practice


That is a fair point. In which case I would recommend getting a teacher, a tandem partner or a talking group.

Maybe if talking to someone is still to intimidating, you could just write journals. Personally, I found that having a rule of writing at least 4 sentences every day or every other day is a good goal.

It forces you to gradually make your sentences more complicated (add more adjectives and descriptive words) + remember grammar rules. Eventually you will write a lot more than 4 sentences because you forced yourself to learn and remember how to say daily life stuff.

When I was a beginner, it would take me forever to write 4 sentences (like 40 minutes) and I was glued to a textbook/Google/a dictionary, but now I can write several paragraphs in that same amount of time.

I write my journals in a private Discord server to keep track of them, but a Google Doc can work as well (then you can pick fonts and colors you like seeing or even add emojis to keep it fun). You can also post them on HelloTalk or italki for corrections. Then when you do decide to get a conversation partner, you could use italki’s community tutors rather than the licensed teachers since it’s cheaper and more casual.

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To grow your active vocabulary, you… have to output. Can input help with that as well? Yes, somewhat, but only insofar as it provides you with models for ‘good’/natural output. It’s really a matter of learning how other people say things and getting a feel for how you ought to say them in order to be understood. Honestly, I think it’s a lot more valuable if you remember phrases or sentences. The point isn’t to recite lines, even if you can work with that if you enjoy doing so; the idea is to have a mental database you can check yourself against.

You can definitely use stuff in the EN->JP direction like Kaniwani or Kamesame, but the issue with that is essentially exactly the same as learning vocabulary via WK alone: you aren’t required to recall or understand the context in which something is used in order to answer correctly during reviews, because you’re just translating keywords.

What I’d recommend is to go look for memorable input that you want to recall. Go look for Japanese content that you’ll be happy to look back on, whether it’s a podcast, an anime or a magazine article. Pick out phrases and sentences that pique your interest and study them (i.e. figure out what all the words are, work out the relationships between them and decipher the overall meaning of each phrase/sentence), and memorise them if you like. The ideal is to pick sentences that are linked to a really emotional or striking moment so it’ll be vivid. After that, well… review them with an SRS or notebook if you need to, but if the scene was that impactful, you’ll probably think about it spontaneously. After a little more study of how to use that phrase… voilà, you’ve got active vocabulary. Why am I recommending this? Because I think that until we build a habit of using a word ourselves, we rely on inspiration in order to use it.

Some examples (most of mine are from anime, and just for the record, I don’t use an SRS – I do revise, but not on purpose, and I’ll explain that in a bit):

  • 「うううう!忌ま忌まいまいましい!」: this word means ‘irritating’, and this phrase is taken from The Rising of the Shield Hero in a scene where an antagonist is frustrated by the protagonist’s success in a race (I don’t remember all the details, but I remember the race, how the antagonist tried to secure a win, the characters, and I can hear the antagonist’s frustrated voice as I think back on this)
  • 貴重きちょうくすりを…てくださいました」: another one from Shield Hero. Can’t remember the whole phrase, but it meant ‘He gave[keigo] me valuable medicine’. The scene? The deuteragonist making a spontaneous speech in defence of the protagonist after a forced duel while standing in an arena. Struggling to remember that 〜てくれます becomes 〜てくださいます in keigo? Well, you won’t after hearing this speech – it’s just 〜てくださいます over and over and over again, with tons of passion. It also helps that the speech starts right after a resounding slap.
  • ぱくぱく食べる」: I’m not 100% sure this was the sentence, but it was something to that effect. The phrase means ‘to eat heartily/voraciously’. This one’s from season 1 of Quintessential Quintuplets. I’m not entirely certain of the context, but I’m pretty sure it happened in the school canteen, and if you know that one of the quintuplets has quite the appetite… it’s easy to remember. I know I wrote the word on a folding whiteboard to remember it, and I believe I used a red Pilot V-Board Master to write it (had to look up the model name, but I can see the marker in my head).
  • 「どう?あたまいいでしょ?」: this one’s from Konosuba. ‘How’s that? Aren’t I smart?’ Basically any time the goddess in the main cast has done something she’s proud of (which typically ends up being the cause of another disaster), she says that. It’s a shortened version of 頭がいい, literally ‘head is good’ i.e. ‘having a good head on one’s shoulders’ = ‘being smart’. It’s so much of a flag in the story (it sets up tons of jokes and catastrophes) that there’s no way you won’t remember it. The goddess also always says it the same way, with the same sort of expression, so it really sticks.

I think you can tell from the way I describe all this that my memory is pretty good to begin with (in the sense that I clearly vividly recall a lot of circumstantial detail, including how I learnt the word), so perhaps this isn’t something that will necessarily work for everyone. However, I think we can agree that many – maybe even most – of us remember certain phrases or scenes for being really impactful in our lives. This is just an extension of that.

Now, as for how I revised… in this particular case, it just so happens that I really loved most of these anime, so I used to watch them on repeat. Quintessential Quintuplets is the only one of the three I’ve just mentioned that I only watched twice; Konosuba and Shield Hero are anime I’ve watched… maybe five times each. At least. However, the point wasn’t revision – I was just having fun. Still, I did try to pay a little more attention to the words used each time I watched them, because I really wanted to learn more words.

In short, what I’m saying is this: short of doing output practice – which isn’t always productive, depending on how you do it, especially if you’ve got no guidance – you can also focus on acquiring vivid memories of specific phrases that you can then

  1. Imitate and reuse
  2. Use as models for natural usage by extending how they work

That brings me to output practice. I’m not gonna bother with a long explanation this time – the best option is getting someone focused on helping you learn to encourage you to say/write things and then correct you – but I will say this: if you don’t have a teacher – and I didn’t, not for three years, unless you count my friend who occasionally checked my sentences, and I frankly didn’t ask get much feedback from my teacher in my fourth year of Japanese – then what you need to do is to study examples. You need to go into output practice asking yourself, ‘How can I say this naturally?’ and then check how people actually say similar things. Don’t expect literal translations to work, especially for idioms; look out for equivalent phrases or general ideas instead. What you can use for this are sentence databases and dictionary example sentences from sites like and, as well as translation suggestions on HiNative and DMM Eikawa (this is a Japanese site for English learning, but you also get lots of questions on how to say something in English, or what an English phrase means in Japanese). Observe how other people use phrases, then do something similar yourself. Sometimes you’ll be wrong (e.g. I incorrectly inferred while writing an essay in Japanese that armed conflict could 暴れる – roughly ‘act violently; run rampant’ – since storms and natural disasters can), but most of the time, it works.


Don’t worry even a little bit about your knowledge being “too shallow”, is my suggestion. You’re very early on.

On your second point, you answered your own question. Reading. The point is to use that knowledge to read.

If you want to be able to recogize words without needing Kanji, then my suggestion is listening as per my last post. You don’t need to be able to recall them, only recognize in that case.

The JLPT doesn’t require you to produce any Japanese. It does, however, require you listen and maybe is more conservative with Kanji use. Again, to prepare for those things I would suggest listening.

Just my personal opinion, but the reasons you listed aren’t reasons you should be trying to output and really just suggest that maybe some basic listening practice is what you’re looking for. Sorry if that’s not the sort of advice you were looking for, but thats the best advice I can give you.


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