How is Wanikani choosing which words to teach?

Thank you very much for calling me out XD


We need an Anime and Manga Corpus.


I actually came across this in a childrens book recently and I cannot tell you how delighted I was.

I’ve just been through a couple of levels with a lot of baseball terminology and yes I know it’s popular in Japan but for those of us outside the US, it really doesn’t help with learning the kanji because I have no idea what those words mean in english (I added ‘baseball term’ as a synonym because if I ever come across them in a japanese text I reckon that will suffice for my understanding).


I know nothing of baseball. I think I’ll follow your lead and just put “BT” as my code word XD

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That’s correct. You’ll still have to learn a ton of vocab and grammar. You don’t have to make a vocab card for every new word if you don’t want to, though. Just look it up and move on.

As others have said, you should definitely start working on native material earlier than that. Wanikani (kanji) is just part of the equation.


Here’s a link to the Absolute Beginner’s Book Club Home Thread. They are currently a good ways into the manga ハピネス. The next book on the schedule is a collection of stories about/from each of the Japanese prefectures, I believe. :grin:

The Beginner’s Book Club also just started with the first chapter of Yoru Cafe this week, if that catches your interest a little bit more. Just in case you choose to join a book club to get started reading. :grin:


I’m not expecting Wanikani to teach me vocabulary, I’m expecting it to teach me how to read. Naturally, encountering unknown words is inevitable when switching to native material. Even in English or German I still encounter words that I have to look up.

The thing that bothers me is that I cannot even read words I know, even though they might be fairly common. It would be rather annoying if most of the words I end up looking up are words I already know, and the words I don’t know come on top of all that.

My wording on that sentence might’ve been at fault for this one. I’m not planning to hold off on immersion until Level 60. What I was trying to say is that even if you were to hold off for that long, you’d still barely be able to read.

I don’t think your Wanikani level is telling of when you’re supposed to start at all. You could have every item on Wanikani burned and you might still not be ready. The way I see it, what really counts is grammar and vocabulary. Hence, I’m not waiting to reach a specific Wanikani level, I’m waiting until I finish my textbooks. And until I do, I don’t have to worry about getting rusty about what I learnt, because I’m getting at least an hour of exposure every day.

That’s amazing! I feel like if there was an extended list of that, it would really complete the purpose for which I’m using Wanikani. Then you could pick out the ones that would be helpful (obviously, vocabs in there like the numbers you’d just skip) and study those. That would be so much more efficient than being perplexed stumbling upon every single one of them in native material.

Is there perhaps a list of top 10000 (or 5000) most used Kanji expressions? Is there a way to immediately compare that with Wanikani’s vocabulary database and remove every matching word?


I really don’t understand this distinction you’re making, sorry. The way words are written and read with kanji usually have a coherent traceable history if you dig into them fully, but from a modern perspective, they’re fairly arbitrary. The words that you know how to read without having already read them are effectively zero. I mean absolutely if you use WK’s common readings and apply them you’ll guess right frequently enough. That would be a little hard with this particular word because as someone pointed out, the okurigana is kind of inconsistent.

If you’re not looking for Wanikani to teach you vocab but want it to have taught you how to read this word… I don’t really understand what you want. It does teach you 取る and 引く which is the closest you’re going to get without having the exact word taught as vocab. But if they did that, your problem would just be another word down the line soon. If you couldn’t read this word then for reading… you kinda didn’t know it. You seem to be defining knowing purely as knowing it phonetically but I guess the misapprehension you’re under then is that kanji is going to be so patterned and logical that you can always make those connections given what WK has taught you. It frequently doesn’t work out that way. There’s a good reason to kickstart your reading by independently learning kanji like this, but in the end the thing that matters is just the words. And the only surefire solution for every word you haven’t encountered in written form specifically, is to look it up.


Yeah, I don’t understand OP either. Fluent reading is pretty much seeing words you know and have seen hundreds of times, not just guessing compound words readings.

Can’t learn how to read without learning the vocab.


Respectfully, this part seems to have gone by:

I agree with this in that if WK is your only study source, you won’t be ready to read no matter what, but I also just use WK level to gauge how long somebody has been at their journey (operating under the assumption that everybody knows WK shouldn’t be the only thing you’re doing). But if you believe this, I’m very confused by your stating that you expect WK to teach you to read… I may be misunderstanding something, but it feels like you’re flipping back and forth… Your WK level has nothing to do with when you should start reading, but by level 60 you should be able to read? (Which, you should be more than ready by that point IF you are learning grammar elsewhere). Those feel like contradictory statements…

Regardless, you should start to read when you feel ready, of course. I can’t tell you how you should study, or guarantee that the way I’ve done it would work for you. Every person is different, after all! :grin:

That being said, anybody who has learned from a textbook and then tried to read native material will tell you that there’s a rude awakening involved there. Textbooks are a sanitized version of the language designed to make introduction easy. Even after finishing a textbook, you aren’t going to be able to read easily, I’m afraid. That’s why I encourage jumping into native material as early as you feasibly can; that point will be different person to person, of course, and dependent on their level of patience with ambiguous phrasings, contractions, grammar points you’ve yet to learn, and the like.

There are core 10k decks, and Tango N-Level decks that exist for Anki, but I’m not really sure where. A Google search for either of those terms will probably get you there. They will include kana only words too, though, I’m sure.

As far as matching it to the database, it probably would be fairly simple to write a program to do just that (somebody may have already done so, honestly), but that would require some searching as well (or the time/ability to write the program yourself).


The reason I didn’t respond to that point was because I agreed with it. I didn’t have anything to say that would contradict it. I felt like it was written based on the assumption that I was relying on WK for grammar and comprehension, which is not the case. So I can’t respond with anything other than “I would have said the same thing”.

When I say I want WK to teach me how to read, I literally mean just that: reading. I can read Norwegian, probably not understand much of it, but I can read it. If I wanted to understand it, I would need to learn the vocabulary and grammar of the language. I’m not putting this responsibility on WK. If there is a sentence I can read in Kana, I want WK to help me read it if it’s in Kanji. If I cannot understand it even in Kana, then it’s the same situation as in any other language.

By level 60, I feel like you should be able to read most of what you see, even if you can’t understand it (except for the Kanji words you learnt through WK). The reason why your WK level isn’t relevant is because there’s no point in reading if you can’t understand anything.

Although you made a fair point that the WK level could be indicative for how long a person has been studying Japanese, which is actually a good guess in my case because I’ve started WK and my grammar studies around the same time. However, I’ve put about 2 to 3 times as much time into grammar.

I think this greatly depends on the textbook itself and how that person used it. Nonetheless, someone who picks up a textbook with the expectation of being able to easily understand anything afterwards will have a hard time facing reality regardless of how effective the book was. Such expectations are not really suitable for a textbook.

Still, a textbook is the more efficient way to learn grammatical structures. Imagine these two cases:

Case A: You encounter a new grammatical structure while immersing yourself in native material. You won’t be able to understand how it works from that one sentence, and you won’t be able to understand that sentence properly. Worst-case scenario you don’t even realize that it’s something new (e.g. passive and potential verbs often share the same form). Depending on its complexity, you might need to see that structure hundreds or thousands of times until you get the gist of its functionality, and you might still get a false idea of how it actually works.

Case B: You encounter it in a textbook, read an explanation of what it means and how it works, do a couple of drills, and then you jump into immersion. You come across that structure and actually understand the sentence, and those thousands of times you encounter it afterwards become repititions to help you internalize it.

A is obviously less efficient, requires a patience that most people can’t be expected to have, and thus makes them very prone to ending up burn-out. And this is why I think textbooks should be put first. They provide so much knowledge that I have yet to learn. I couldn’t imagine attempting to acquire all that knowledge through constant cryptography-like guessing games rather than just sucking up the information perfectly laid out for me to learn methodically.

My stance on this is that textbooks are for studying, and immersion is for internalizing.

(This part of the conversation completely derails the actual topic, but I still wanted to respond because I’m really passionate about this part of language learning.)


That helps a lot to understand what your expectations are. But again, I’m sad to say, Wanikani is not going to do as much as you want it to, for several reasons. One is simply all of the kanji not on WK, when you say you want to be able to read “most of what you see.” I’m reading a visual novel right now that I’d consider on the easier side and it’s actually startling how many non-WK kanji come up every day. But that’s not all.

Kanji have a whole lot of readings, so many that WK doesn’t teach many even for the kanji it does teach because the scale would balloon out to something monstrous. Does a word use straight onyomi readings or not? There are tendencies you can guess with but that’s never 100%. Same for rendaku and other exceptions.

That’s not even getting started on words that can be written in a bunch of different ways. Take あなた, a simple word for “you.” It’s commonly written in kana so Wanikani doesn’t teach it at all. But it’s not always. Sometimes it’s 貴方, and sometimes it’s 貴男. Both of these are essentially “exception” readings. You can’t prepare for reading this word any way other than already reading it, yet when you do, you’ll shake your head at the fact that it’s a word you, in one sense, already knew. I definitely have multiple vocab cards for the same exact word written in different kanji because I have to figure out every way I could see it.

I don’t mean to be argumentative at all! But I think kanji and reading is a larger beast than you realize from what you’re describing. To be fair, with so much inconsistency in pronunciation in English, I’m not sure they’re substantially different in that way. It is what it is. But Wanikani is only the beginning of being able to read, even under the definition of simply being able to figure out the sounds of what you’re looking at. You’ll always be checking on readings.


Well, if the point is to be able to sound out everything, then I think you can do that by level 60. Of course, it depends on what you mean by “most”. You will keep encountering a lot of kanji you have never seen before (that are not taught on WK).
For kanji you know, there are some rare(r) reading that are not taught on WK.
For compound words, roughly 80% follow a on’yomi-on’yomi pattern. However, some kanji have multiple on reading, and rendaku can make things a bit annoying, but you’re still mostly okay.
The next category is kun’yomi-kun’yomi (like 取引). You’ll also get a feel for those eventually, and won’t mind the lack of okurigana (so you’ll be fine with 受付, 締切, 書出し, …)
Then, you have mixes of on and kun (like 台所), and words where the kanji are just there for meaning, with reading completely unrelated (like 山葵 わさび). There’s basically no way to read those if you don’t know the word already.

So, you’ll never be able to just read Japanese. However, depending on the tolerance implied by “most”, level 60 will allow you to reach your goal (a lower level, like 30, might even be enough).


You can. Except for a small part of the 常用漢字 set and a large part of the 人名用漢字 and a bunch of other kanji that are commonly recognized but aren’t part of a standard set.

It’s not binary. There’s a point around level 35 or so I’d say where you’ve a learnt a critical mass of kanji and your phonetic guesses become much more reliable and your intuition for meaning gets better but it’s more of a gradual thing.

By the end of WK, you’ll be better prepared for reading but no preparation is ever going to be perfect.


You can’t compare a phonetical script to a logographic one. Sounds are not one-to-one. That’s not how this works.

TBH I couldn’t imagine keeping all those readings memorized without understanding the words :sweat_smile:. That’s just not gonna last without exposure. Heck, I still forget simpler ones sometimes (even if I know the meaning).

I guess beginners often underestimate how multi-faceted kanji recognition and reading in Japanese really is. That’s what makes it fascinating.


“police”, “soldier” :rofl:

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I’m not sure I understand which words you are talking about :sweat_smile: For words I have never seen before, I may guess the reading, guess the meaning, or even both.

… I think I’m really missing something in your answer. You can’t see new words if you aren’t reading Japanese, so exposure is built in the question. :sweat_smile: I’m confused.

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To clarify, though, if I remember the numbers correctly for the average 100k char light novel there will be a few thousand instances of words not included on wanikani that use kanji. Ignoring the fact that some will have furigana (furi is especially irrelevant for VNs) and some will use kanji not on wk, those few thousand instances won’t necessarily be stuff you can sound out. They will be stuff that you have an educated guess for how to sound out.

I think what morte is pointing out is how your reply can be misleading in the sense that it makes it sound like youll be able to read stuff even if you didn’t learn it. When in reality its more like you might be able to guess it correctly but won’t have confirmation unless you look it up assuming theres no furi.


I mean, if you can sound out 51% of everything, then you have reached “most” territory. I feel like level 60 allows you to make an educated guess (and be often correct) about more than that.
Whether that’s satisfactory or not for OP depends on their definition of most, which was my point. If “most” is low enough, a lower level probably works too.


While I agree with you personally, I think OP was asking a different question from how I interpreted it.

Using 51% of our definition for most, for example, his wording makes it seem like he wants to be able to read 51% of kanji he comes across correctly 100% of the time. Similar to if you know 51% of kana then youll be able to read 51% of stuff written in kana (assuming even spread and screw へ、を、は) since you’ll know how those kana are read 100% of the time. But for kanji its more like if you know 100% of the kanji you come across, you can guess the reading right 51%+ of the time.

I think OP was looking for a way to consistently read most kanji correctly, and thats just not possible unless you know the words. And I think thats why morte said