How far into a kanji reading mnemonic do you read?

Some kanjis have reading mnemonics which present the reading or keyword in a simple sentence, and then build the context further into the mnemonic. Here are two examples:

  • 三: “Three is the number of chances you get with Santa-san (さん). He has a list, and when you get to three “naughty things” lines, that’s it. You’re on Santa-san’s three strikes and you’re out list.”.
  • 抹: “It turned out this cork hat was given to him by a centaur (せん). You look into it and it turned out it IS a really big cork that centaurs use on their big wine casks. But the king didn’t understand, and thought it was a hat. The centaurs are probably still laughing.”

Here I’d usually stop reading at “Santa-san (さん).” and “centaur (せん).”. This is especially true when the first sentence is part of the context of the preceding meaning mnemonic, as in 抹: “The king has a hat that’s made from a tree but the more you look at it, the more it looks like it’s just a big cork. It’s a big, wooden plug that he’s just placed on his head. It can hardly be called a hat.”. In my mental image, I just need to add the centaur to that context, and that’s it.

This reduces the effort and time of learning a level, which fits my schedule. Also, when I get to the vocabulary and start using the kanji reading, I rely less and less on the mnemonic, until I don’t need it anymore.

Here’s an example of a mnemonic that hinders this method:

  • 一: “As you’re sitting there next to One, holding him up, you start feeling a weird sensation all over your skin. From the wound comes a fine powder (obviously coming from the special bullet used to kill One) that causes the person it touches to get extremely itchy (いち).”

Here are some data of interest from analysing all available kanjis reading mnemonics through the API:

  1. The median of the length of kanji reading mnemonics is 34 words.
  2. The median of the number of words a user reads until seeing the keyword (as in “centaur (せん)” in the previous example) is 15 words. The median of the number of words in the first complete sentence is 18 words.
  3. The median of the percentage of the mnemonic a user reads until seeing the keyword is ~47%.
  4. ~41% of the reading mnemonics introduce a complete sentence with the keyword within 50% of the mnemonic content.
  5. ~9% of the reading mnemonics introduce a complete sentence with the keyword within 30% of the mnemonic content

Points 4 and 5 are of interest for the method I use. I’ve focused on kanji reading mnemonics for simplicity here, but this could apply to vocabulary and meaning mnemonics.

So some questions:

  • What’s your experience with reading mnemonics? Do you typically read the complete mnemonic or use a method similar to mine?
  • Does WaniKani staff follow any principle/format when writing these mnemonics? I think almost 10% of the mnemonics following the [short sentence at 30% + longer context] format may be a hint.
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I mostly relied on mnemonics for items that felt unintuitive to me and which I had no previous experience of seeing as part of other words. So, I’ve relied a lot on the example words for memorization of the readings, rather than the mnemonics. But, from lv 40+ I also mostly used the Keisei script to recognize radical components that gives you the reading.

Again, that means basically ignoring the mnemonic.

At other times, I would write my own if I felt inspired somehow.

Basically, if you wanna go fast through lessons, not using the mnemonics is defo faster.

But, as I said, whenever I felt like the mnemonics were the best way to memorize something, I would read them in full.

if the mnemonic is only one line sentence, I read it.

otherwise, those wall of texts I completely ignore and create my own.

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I read them in their entirety. I never found it a great burden (way more of my time was spent on reviews than lessons), and besides being helpful, they’re often pretty amusing.

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I might read the whole mnemonic to get a visual picture in my head, but the ‘meat’ has to be in a shorter sentence for it to be really effective. If I’m having trouble cramming a new word in my brain, I’ll try and create a mnemonic that has all the essential items in one short sentence.

For Example: WaniKani / Kanji / 数

WK Mnemonic

In the winter, the woman has to go through all the rice and count each individual grain. Once she’s counted all of them, she’ll have an amount / number so that she can split them up accordingly.

My mnemonic:

The winter woman counts the rice, her name is sue.

Example 2: WaniKani / Kanji / 紀

WK Mnemonic

The thread you weave together to tell others about oneself is the account of your life. It’s your very own narrative, tying everything you’ve been through together.

My Mnemonic

The account(thread) of oneself is the key (き)to your past!

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I almost never read them at all. For me they often made it harder for me to remember. Sometimes my brain made its own very simple one.

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Personally, I read the highlighted words quickly. Then, if they are, for lack of a better term, stupid, I see if my own brain can come up with something (for about 5-10 seconds). If I can’t, then I go with the given mnemonic for now. In reviews, I keep trying to come up with my own mnemonic since that is a better form of remembering for me. If I still can’t, then the silly mnemonic given by WK is probably my best bet, so I read it thoroughly. Thank goodness for mrs. chou!

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I tend to read them all eventually. They are pretty amusing, and I try to remember the general story for the context as well as the key words that are necessary for remembering the kanji.

For example, for 港 I’ll remember こういち stupidly swimming in the harbor by himself even though we’re supposed to do it together in a typhoon. (The bold indicates the reading and meaning and the italics indicate the radical meanings.)

It might not be the exact story, and I may take liberty with changing parts, specifically key words that help me remember it better, but I’ll remember something to help me. Eventually, the details of the mnemonic will be gradually be forgotten as the kanji takes a permanent spot in my memory. (And that’s the goal.)

If it’s a kanji character I’m really familiar with (I wouldn’t mix it up with something that looks similar), then I wouldn’t need any key words describing the radicals. Sometimes I don’t need a mnemonic to remember it at all if I already know the kanji and all its readings and meanings completely. In which case, maybe I’ll skip reading the one that WK provides when doing lessons, but I’ll go back and read it eventually for the laughs.

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