Hitting an absolute brick wall with vocabulary

Hello everyone!

After learning hiragana i decided to take the plunge and start learning kanji on wanikani.

Everything was working swimmingly for a few days, radicals, kanjis, all getting commited to memory…

…And then vocabulary started and I am getting absolutely crushed with a 15-20% of correct answers and that’s only really because of the vocabulary pieces that are identical to the kanji that goes with it. I’m not entirely sure why but I just can’t commit the spelling of each to memory. The meaning is typically fine, but somehow I can’t get into my head the alternative spelling(s) and end up answering something random.

Any advice for a newbie?

Spend more time on your lessons. Really pay attention and read the mnemonics. Make your own mnemonics of you think the ones provided aren’t good enough. Look up simple example sentences you can understand from Weblio and enter them into Anki.

It’s a lot of work and the lessons only get harder, but you get used to the different readings.


The point of the vocab is really because kanji can and do have alternate sounds, which come out differently depending on if its a kanji, a word, or a kanji compound word.

Wanikani tries to use the most common reading for the kanji and then have vocab fill in some of the spaces and some of them are quite unintuitive; especially looking at the level 1 stuff.
大人 for example is a pretty odd reading of both 大 and 人

For some of the hard to remember vocab, you probably cant do anything but listen to them in context or look at sentences. Try jisho.org for example.
I’ll add, maybe something like iknow or cleverdeck will help too for words you cant remember.

Just an aside, the numbers as counters are especially hard to remember.


are you supplementing wanikani with a vocab app? seeing vocab in multiple places really helps me. I would recommend ‘Memrise’ or ‘ScribeJapan’ (latter is for i-phone and my favourite) and maybe start with Duolingo as well.

The multiple readings are hard for everyone, but (as stated before) spend time on lessons, maybe write the word out a few times as well. The main thing is repeated exposure though, so then you might get a new word and say ‘ah, I know that word in kana, now here is the kanji version’ and then it gets easier (if that makes sense)

Here some things which helped me.

  1. Read the mnemonic.
  2. Repeat it until you can say it without reading it.
  3. Scroll up to the Kanji-Vocab.
  4. Repeat the mnemonic while looking at the Kanji-Vocab.

Do some physical exercises until you sweat.
I was able to retain a lot more information’s since I started it.
I run ~20 minutes on my treadmill. I hate it every time :hugs:. But it helps.


I don’t use anything else at the moment, I Initially learned Hiragana from a mix of a game called “learn japanese to survive” and from tofugu.com’s mnemonics (I have to admit that visual mnemonics worked extremely well there)

Speaking of, should I start going through katakana right now? The only two katakana words i’ve had so far where for french and american which i can recognise quite well now but is there going to be a lot more katakana vocabulary down the line?


One thing that did help me when I was first starting out on WK is that I’d already learned a handful of vocabulary words (in hiragana and romanji) through apps like Human Japanese and especially Kana Town. So I only just had to associate the kanji. This included the days of the month which was very painful to memorize at the time, but worth it when they came up on WK.

It might be worth putting WK on hold a couple weeks and going that route just to begin with, so that you can build confidence. Now I couldn’t go back to not learning the kanji along with the reading, but it does make it less daunting initially.

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Katakana is relatively rare on WK, but you definitely do have to learn it anyway.

There won’t be an abundance of katakana going forward with wanikani, but it definitely helps to know the two easiest character sets before learning the hardest one.

Relatively speaking.

Katakana and loan words are absolutely everywhere in Japan and Japanese media.


There are not that many vocab with Katakana on WaniKani, but I would nonetheless recommend that you immediately start learning it.
Katakana is used for English loanwords, so if you can read Katakana, you can immediately read hundreds of “japanese” words (if you can guess the English word which it is based on, which can sometimes be hard - for example マクドナルド [makudonarudo] = McDonalds).
At least for me it was a motivation boost when I looked up the Japanese Wikipedia article for a video game and could read about half of the headlines, because they used loanwords like ストーリー (sutoorii - story), スタッフ (sutaffu - staff) or テレビアニメ (terebi anime - TV anime).

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Lol I already edited that. I only meant on WK, yes it is all over. I’ve seen tons of non loan-words written in katakana for emphasis/effect in manga too. (Just to add a bit more difficulty…)

there’s already tons of good advice in this thread, so I’ll just say

1: when you finish a review, go back and open the individual pages for each of the ones you get wrong. go through one-by-one, look at it, read the lesson for it over again, and before moving on say the meaning and the reading outloud to yourself. I personally also do this during lessons before moving onto the next one in the queue, idk if it really helps that much but I think it’s a nice way to tell your brain to remember it.

2: idk if it’ll be helpful or not to you, but there’s a site called KaniWani that shows you an English word and you have to type in the way to say it in Japanese. I’ve found this to be a useful supplement, even though it can be really frustrating I think it helps drill pronunciation & meaning into your head a little bit more.

mostly tho just follow this thread and don’t give up! you’ll get it eventually!

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Honestly when I started I knew most of level 1 from previous classes, and sometimes I feel like I’m just failing miserably on spelling with days/things vocab. But if you really pay attention to the neumonics, it helps you remember the spellings much better!

With the katakana, I learned it a long time ago in a college class but never really got the hang of it so I’ve just been remembering ones from those two words, and when they add more katakana vocab I just pay attention to them and I’m learning them much faster than I ever did with going over like a katakana chart. I also have started being able to automatically pull them from memory without having to sort of guess at what it could be.

Try listening to this: The Language Mastery Show - Grandmaster of Memory Mattias Ribbing on How To Master Your Memory & Optimize Learning on Stitcher

Somebody shared this podcast in different thread (sadly I do not remember who). it is interview with memory grand master and they talk quite a lot about visualistion, memory and language learning. And even now, month after I listened to this, I still remeber the swedish word for running (It is used as an example in this podcast)

I create a lot of my own mnemonics for words, cause many of WK does not feel right for me (cultural diferences and so on), and it realy helped me (and there is a lot of Baywatch and Batman in my learning…do not ask). So listen to this podcast, create your own mnemonics, visualise them for few seconds.


To make the mnemonic stick, I sometimes close my eyes and try very hard to visualize the scene being described. It helps pull memories until you find the reading in reviews.

Also, this is something you’ll get used to. Associations between mnemonics and sounds tend do be coherent, and you’ll remember them more easily as you go.

I don’t think any WK user ever forgot Hard Gay, Joseph Staline or Charlie Sheen. :stuck_out_tongue:


I also try extra hard to memorize the mnemonics.

An alternate to mnemonics is seeing the words in use. I started with Duolingo and it was excellent for giving me a convenient and repetitive environment for memorizing the basics. People dump on DL because it is pretty bad for learning anything advanced, but at low levels you just need tons of practice on the basics. Once you have that foundation, it’s a lot easier to build on top.

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Interplanetary gay tour, HOOOOOOOOO!