How do you efficiently study kanji you're unfamiliar with?

So as I’m progressing further into WK, I’m noticing that it’s becoming harder to remember kanji/vocab. Usually when I do lessons/reviews, I write down Kanji - Reading - Meaning, and if I really struggle, I take a peek at the mnemonics, but they don’t seem to stick with me very well. Usually things start to stick with me once I learn vocab associated with the kanji I learn… Is it possible that I’m burning out? Am I just overthinking by looking ahead? How are you studying WK efficiently?

I know this is gonna sound unfortunate, but my suggestion is use the mnemonics in a very thorough (i.e. memorize them) way or make your own. They really help with getting things to stick long term. Not sure why they do, but they do, at least in my experience. In my case, I spent the most time upfront learning the mnemonics of the kanji. Then after I learned them, I would pretty much always get them right.

That or read an absolute ton…but reading is difficult at level 12 without a lot of prior knowledge.


By doing more than peaking at the mnemonics, heh. Even better if you make up your own.

It’s just simply the case that it’s hard for the human mind to remember so much information without memory tricks. I think most people let the mnemonics fall away eventually, but they help get the information there in the first place.

If a mnemonic doesn’t stick, don’t use that one. And for me, like, I find that when I’m first learning a new kanji and I have it in my short term memory (first two or three reviews), I often recognize the kanji right away without recalling the mnemonic. I have to sit there for a second and intentionally recall the mnemonic. This is worth it in the long run, because eventually I do need the mnemonic to remember when the kanji is transitioning into either being forgotten or going into long term memory, and I haven’t seen it in a week.


i learn a bunch, let wk run it’s course, then decide a day before the guru review which of the kanji need help. i then create a deck on quizlet and drill them.

i only need this short time of drilling, the vocab you get for them helps a lot, and in a much better way.

Out of curiosity, how many reviews are you typically getting per day? How many apprentice level cards do you have? There’s such a thing as having too much stuff floating around at once, makes it easy to lose focus or motivation.

I typically have around 90-200 reviews per day, and have about 128 apprentice cards at the moment.

Sometimes I think the mnemonics given on WK are a bit ridiculous and complicated, and too much trouble to memorize and I think “Ah, I’ll just forcibly memorize this item with no mnemonic” and often times I forget the pronunciations or meanings when I do that. I’ve tried just giving the mnemonics a chance now, whether they seem to make sense to me or not, and I have had better luck remembering things since I started doing that. If I truly dislike a mnemonic, or something else pops into my head that would more easily remind me, I just write my own mnemonic in the space provided for that, but yeah… I’ve found that using the mnemonic really does help for some reason. Even if I have to gradually remember each piece of the “story” in my head to finally get to the proper answer, it seems to work better for me than just randomly trying to remember the proper pronunciation. I don’t tend to have as much trouble memorizing meanings as pronunciations, though I do get a lot of “wrong” answers for typing in an answer that is a synonym to the meaning, but isn’t on WK’s list of acceptable answers.

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And how do you feel about doing that quantity of reviews? Does it feel like a lot, or is it reasonable? Can always pump the brakes a bit on new lessons and focus on what you’ve got in hand.

That’s not a bad amount of apprentice cards though. I try to be there or under. 150 would be my personal hard limit, but it varies by person.

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I’ve been doing all of my Kanji learning in two stages. When you learn a Kanji in wanikani, you’re going to wait at least four hours before your first review of that kanji, which is kind of unacceptable to me. (Most people probably already understand the need to study outside of Wanikani, but systemizing things seems to always work out for me.) The odds of memorizing it unless you really stick with the mnemonics system is kind of low, which is why I supplement the Wanikani system with a first stage using these quizlets I got from here: I don’t know who “Stiffy” is, but I thank them dearly.

Stage 1: Short term memorization

  • Star half of cards (usually the first set after leveling up in Wanikani)
  • Memorize the English meaning of all of the kanji. Of course, implementing your mnemonics.
  • Then, keep reviewing them with the randomizer on.
  • Next, learn the reading of all of the kanji. (Make sure randomizer is turned off.)
  • Again, review with the randomizer on until you can thoroughly and quickly recall both the meaning and reading for that set of kanji.
  • Unstar that set of kanji. Star the next of kanji. Repeat the same process.
  • After those are thoroughly learned, unstar that set and just keep reviewing all of those kanji.
  • Create a short term SRS system

Stage 2: Wanikani’s System

  • Use Wanikani’s SRS like normal.

Using this little addition step which takes around 30 minutes to an hour every time I get a new set of kanji (about weekly), I’ve been able to go at the top speed in Wanikani since in August. The quizlets are so convenient, too. It just all works out, for me at least. I’m not a neuroscientist or anything, but I really trust this method. I’ve never had trouble recalling kanji meaning or reading when seeing one in the wild because of this. One last disclaimer (as I’ve said before): I hope I didn’t say something stupid.

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Whether I like them or not, I sit and really truly visualize all the given mnemonics like I’m reading a novel. The mnemonics are vulgar, violent, and ridiculous in order to help you visualize them in the most vivid and lurid way possible. Often they’re a bit negative/scary/bloody because your brain tends to remember negative things better than positive things. There are lots of times when I’ll step through the radicals in a Kanji and remember each piece from the mnemonic story to get the full picture again. It really does work if you sit and work with the mnemonics like they’re a book.

Like others mentioned, each time you review a Kanji, even if you know it well, re-tell the mnemonic story to yourself again. I agree that this really helps. (Even if it’s your own self-made mnemonic.)

In the later levels, there are a lot of Kanji that look visually similar, so it’s easy to get them confused. I’ve installed this script to help identify similar Kanji, so that when I get a mix-up, I can compare right away to see what the differences are. This helps sort them out fairly well.

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I personally just look at the kanjis and try to learn the meaning and it’s reading. I look at the mnemonic when the kanji meaning is a weird one or when I feel like it’s something I wont remember at all. When the first review comes up, if I am able to answer, that’s well and good, if not I’ll focus on the mnemonic. This way has been working great for me and I am going at a pace of 8 days per level.

It feels like an in between. It’s a lot and it’s a little bit overwhelming, but I can do them. Sometimes I do multiple review sessions through out the day and break them up into smaller review sessions.

The reason mnemonics work is because our brain is better conditioned to remember stories and feelings than plain lists.

In the first case, you are creating connections with previous knowledge, and so the new thing has something to grasp on, whereas with rote memorization, the information will often just hit a brick wall and slide right off.

Our brain does this because is it’s way to filter the most important information, i.e. the one that had the most impact on us and seems like it will be more relevant and useful to know, because it can’t possible hold every single piece of information it receives on a daily basis, that would be unbearable.

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These are usually called “leeches” and there are several userscripts written to help you with those, for example the Dashboard Leech Table or Self-Study Quiz


I almost always make my own mnemonics for the non-WK kanji I learn nowadays.

In my experience they don’t even need to be particularly good, just thinking them up is probably helping, and having even a bad one helps nudge my memory until I recognize them properly.


Admittedly, some of the mnemonics are a little weak or maybe try too hard to include all the radicals. Some of them are pretty funny. Like the revolve one for example; very easy to remember the meaning and reading. A weaker one, in my opinion, is “end.” The story is all about being a shooter/sniper, but the part about the meaning being “you wish winter would end” seems forced just because of the presence of the winter radical. I just added a mnemonic of “You end someone by shooting them” which is easier for me and makes more sense.

However, I think they are very useful when you take a moment to recall them. Sometimes it takes a while to just remember the mnemonic, much less the kanji, but once I’ve recalled the story I very quickly work through the meaning and reading. It’s very rewarding when you see kanji/vocab later on and immediately recall the meaning/reading without the mnemonic.

that’s pretty nice. i made my sets myself, but these look good, so i’ll just save myself the trouble and switch over. thanks for the link :slight_smile:

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200? That’s like close to having 0 Lessons at a time right? Recently I’ve been clearing my lessons asap and I’m only getting 120-140 reviews max. I would find 200 a day to be a lot. If you cut down you would definitely memorize a little easier. I noticed at some point it was just easier to memorize new kanji after going through the process of mnemonics.

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