How precise are Wanikani's definitions?

Hi everyone, I’ve been using WaniKani for about 3 months now and studying Japanese for about 4 (I started with a summer course at college). This is my first time posting on the forum but I’ve been lurking almost every day! Most of my kanji and about half of my vocab is through Wanikani (I’m about halfway through Genki I with my class).

I’ve noticed that when using other sources like Torii or dictionaries, the same words or kanji might have slightly different definitions. I’m not quite at the point yet where I have noticeable leeches, but there are definitely words that I consistently get wrong, such as 対談 (is it ‘Discussion’ or ‘Conversation’, I can never remember). Also some that only accept answers like “For some days”, but not “For several days.” Usually, I think I understand the meaning, but not Wanikani’s more exact definitions.

The fact that they DO distinguish between words like conversation/discussion or several/some make me think that there is some subtle context that will become more apparent as I continue to learn. I was using Kaniwani alongside Wanikani but I eventually stopped because I was adding so many synonyms that I felt I was muddying the meanings of the words.

So I guess what I’m wondering is whether it would be better to start adding synonyms to words I believe I understand the meaning of, or to just trust Wanikani and make sure I’m memorizing these particular definitions. I’m really enjoying Wanikani so far, I just want to make sure I get the most out of it even if it is more difficult.

Thanks for any advice! This community seems very supportive and I’m excited to be a part of it.


Short definitions, and especially single-word definitions, rarely capture the nuanced meaning of a word from another language. It’s best not to get bogged down by precision this early. As you read more, you will grow to understand the full use and meaning of words.


Thank you, that seems like very good advice. The binary right/wrong structure of Wanikani does trick me into thinking that only a specific word can be used, but I think I might start adding definitions from other sources. I’m not able to read much yet but I suppose that will iron out any weirdness I pick up along the way.


I have no advice to add, but welcome to the forums! :slight_smile:


Thank you! I wanted to wait until I started burning items to post so that I would be sure I understood how the SRS worked and wouldn’t ask any embarrassing questions, but 対談 showed up again today and I just had to know.


welcome to the forums ^^

words are notoriously imprecise, in the vast majority of languages. japanese is no different, indeed, because japanese relies so heavily on context, definitions are possibly even more imprecise.

add to that that 1-1 translations of words are themselves problematic, and very often fail to get nuances across.

it follows that the definitions which WK gives us are (mostly) neither precise nor exhaustive.

what i’ve found is that my understanding of words increases massively when i encounter them while reading. in a few cases i completely misunderstood the definition i learned with WK, simply because the english word had multiple meanings, and then when i found the word in text it was suddenly very obvious that it was a different meaning.

reading has really been the thing which allows me to understand the words i learn here, and not just learn them by heart.


Thanks, I love hearing other people’s experiences on this forum. Can I ask around what level you began reading? Grammar is my weakest point right now, but I’ve been able to understand some very basic graded readers (around first grade level). I do know most of the kanji I see in these though! I tried reading Shirokuma Cafe and it was way beyond my comprehension.
I feel like graded readers are too light on kanji but everything else uses grammar that I’m still months or years from understanding. I just need to be patient.


i started reading around WK level 12, i think

before then i’d sometimes tried reading articles on NHK easy, and looked at graded readers (utterly boring), or indeed a few manga (didn’t captivate me).

what got me going was the shortlived やがて君になる (Bloom into You) bookclub. i had loved the anime, and was enthusiastic about reading the manga, even if it was way above my level.

in the beginning it was a slog. not only did i have to look up tons of kanji and vocab, but my grammar wasn’t up to the job either. to make it worse, the print quality of やが君 is not the best, neither on the kindle nor apparently in paper. an hour for 10 pages was quite normal.

but i really wanted to read that manga, so i powered through. and i learned a lot, i improved all aspects of my japanese.

i don’t know if that method would work for others. but for me, having this thing i really wanted to do kept me going strong ^^


NHK Easy will have to be my next goal! I’ve looked at it before but I haven’t been able to understand a full article yet. My biggest motivation right now is reading Harry Potter (I’m basic) and Shirokuma Cafe, but mainly because I thought those would be a bit simpler than they are. I’ll start looking around for some manga that looks interesting, there’s a Japanese bookstore near me that has a lot of native manga that I’ve been too afraid to really check. Thank you for your advice!


It’s completely valid to add your own synonyms but make sure you actually know it. I know some words through anime and I understand the feeling and context you get with the word, but WK doesn’t match my definition, so I just put a synonym if I feel like using WK’s would be annoying

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I’m currently enjoying this with 光る which means to shine or glitter according to WK. But then you go to weblio and they translate it like this.

光る: scintillate、sparkle、coruscate、gleam、glimmer、excel、stand out、surpass、outshine、shine

If you google 光る you’ll get a bunch of glow in the dark stuff. Glow isn’t even on the Weblio list.

It’s a pretty wide word and although I know what it means, pinning it down in English is difficult.

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With Kaniwani, I had to add synonyms to words like ‘sister’ and ‘woman’ since there were just so many ways to say them. I know that the differences are important to know because of formality or context, but without reading them in context it’s hard to know. I think adding synonyms and getting into reading sounds like the best option. Some of Wanikani’s definitions just don’t stick with me.

i’d also recommend getting something like 10ten reader. it’s a browser extensions which allows you to hover your mouse above japanese words and get a little popup with basically a short dictionary entry.

it’s very handy when reading, because you’ve got an instant dictionary lookup. but also, in the context of this topic, it will often give you just a bit more info on the word than WK does - again without having to actually switch to a dictionary.

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Thanks, I just downloaded that and it seems so useful! I’m using the font randomizer script so I do end up mousing over words in Wanikani a lot, I’ll have to remember to disable it for reviews!

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same :smiley:

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