How to determine which words to study when reading

I tried searching the forums but couldn’t quite find the answer I was looking for so I’m turning to all of you lovely folks that learn new words from reading as opposed to a core 10k etc deck.

I’ve tried reading the news, the graded readers, the books for elementary school children etc but as life has shown I just get burnt out from trying to force myself to read things that don’t interest me. So I’m reading something above my level, but this series is something I’m very familiar with and have 26 volumes + 3 novels to choose from depending on my mood.

When reading I use to look up unknown words/expressions and write them down on slips of paper I keep between the book pages. Originally I had planned on adding all of the words to an SRS for learning but with 2 simultaneous SRSs being as exhausting as they are I realized I need to prioritize some words over others (for the time being).

So, here comes my question - the series has yōkai, excorcists, spells etc. I don’t mind learning this type of vocabulary since it comes up again and again. The issue lies in the fact that a decent portion of the words and expressions that I look up don’t have the “common” tag on The characters don’t use cellphones (let alone smartphones) so even though the setting is modern for all I know it could all be taking place 10-30 years in the past. It also seems like the author has the yōkai specifically using outdated vocabulary (but not always).

So, how do you usually determine which words to learn when going through a series? I get learning vocabulary relevant to the theme of the book (e.g. fantasy, sci-fi etc), but how do you determine which words are most likely to come up again and again and as such are worth the effort or learning right now (as opposed to learning them later down the line when you’re more comfortable with the language and it’s easier to learn synonyms)?

Any and all advice/thoughts are appreaciated, thank you!

I use Yomichan for this. There is a dictionary called “Innocent Corpus”, which shows word frequency from a set of thousands of books. It’s not perfect of course, but it’s a good enough indicator most of the time in my experience. The number indicates how many occurrences there were in the set of books, so higher means more common. You can just pick some number as a cutoff (I use 1000) and mostly only add words above that frequency. Of course, exceptions are also perfectly fine. Use it as a guide, but if you see a word that Innocent Corpus says is uncommon that you think is interesting or you’ve simply noticed it a lot in the series you’re reading, feel free to learn it anyway.


I also look it up on, there you can see if the word is common or a jlpt word. Thats how I mostly decide it. And you should also ask yourself how many times did I already see this word? Could I use it on a daily basis or not?

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I use a dictionary on my phone called takoboto that has word lists. When I look something up, I add it to a word list corresponding to where I came across it, and if I see I already looked it up once or more than once before (because it’s already in a different list), I also add it it to a special list that I export periodically to anki.

That way I might have a lot of words in my anki deck, but I can know that yes - I really do come across them all in multiple scenarios.


Generally, I search for the word with quotation marks on google (gives you exact results). If it gives me more than 1 million results, I learn it.

I have a decent Japanese vocabulary by now, mind you. Someone else might go for 5 million, or even 10.

What’s the name of the series? Maybe there’s a frequency list of words in that series available around the internet already.


I think people have mostly covered the frequency angle (common is relative, what is generally uncommon might show up a bunch of times in whatever you’re reading, who knows!), but on this I’d add if a word really comes up time and time again, deciding not to add it to your SRS the first time around isn’t a big deal. You’ll have other opportunities to add it or not, and if it really comes up a lot, you’ll probably learn it from sheer exposure without the SRS!

On the other side, if you decide not to add a word the first time around and it doesn’t show up again for a really long time, did you really need it in the first place? :grin:

Basically I wouldn’t stress about it too much, any words you choose will help out your vocabulary in one way or another.


Thank you very much for all the replies! @rodan I’ll be sure to check out the app, @natarin couldn’t agree more. I’ve read other series with the same mindset, it was only with this one that I felt really unsure on how to proceed. If I didn’t like this series so much I don’t think I’d had it in me to read something with such vocabulary. :sweat_smile:

@jprspereira I had thought about doing that at one point but like you mentioned the cutoff point can vary by person. The series is 夏目友人帳 (and if I’m not mistaken you imported the bookclub vocab deck to kitsun - thank you for that! :bowing_woman:) but I wouldn’t know how to go about checking for a frequency list. I’m assuming this query would have to be made in Japanese? Can’t imagine english sites creating vocabulary frequency lists for Japanese media.

And @seanblue Thank you! I’d heard of Yomichan before but never had any incentive to set it up before now - it’s exactly what I was looking for. Assuming I set everything up correctly it seems to confirm that a number of the characters do in fact use less-common vocabulary. When i quickly went over ~45 pages I already got this :sweat_smile:
1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Fingers crossed nobobody now says that these are all common words that they know and use daily.


There’s a word list with frequency on Koohi. Here’s the link to the book’s word list: flfl-cli (I think you have to log in to see it)

edit: ah… seems like the word list was for the anime and not the book :see_no_evil: sorry! Could still be useful since much of the vocabulary is the same.

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I might have seen 機転 before, but definitely not the others.

For 上がり込む, keep in mind that 上がる can be used when entering a home (you can say 上がって to tell someone to come in), and 込む as a suffix can just mean “to do (verb) into” or something like that.

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Everyone already gave very helpful advice so I don’t think I’ll be able to add more, but…

Like you, I also chose not to learn from pre-made vocab or core decks, but from reading, so I get where you’re coming from. Aside from trying to figure out whether to SRS “uncommon” words, another minor issue that also bothered me was that some of the words I encounter/wanted to add are also in the upper levels of WK - the redundancy!

But the more I read, the less these bothered me. I eventually only SRS’d anything that I found interesting. Whether they’re uncommon, or will be in WK, didn’t matter. As long as I connected with the word, I add it in (I’m also very partial to quirky expressions :stuck_out_tongue:). For words that were common in the book I’m reading but don’t SRS - they get drilled any way due to repetition.

Good luck to us!! :relaxed:


For me it comes down to two things:

  1. How common is the word, in general use?

Others have mostly covered this already, but you can use things like the “common” indicator on Jisho or other dictionaries, or search common corpus collections for the word. If it seems overly “technical”, or has very difficult kanji that I haven’t studied yet, then even if it is common, I usually don’t bother memorizing it initially.

  1. How common is the word, in what I am reading?

@natarin touched on this, but this one you have to figure out for yourself.

What I do is, when I look up a word I then save it to a list with the name of the book / manga / anime / other source material (I usually use the app Takoboto on my phone, which has a built in “save to word list” option). If it is a common word, I add it to my study list. If it is not a common word, BUT I end up looking up the same word many times for that book OR I look up the same word when reading a different book (when I go to add it to a list I can see what other lists it is already on), then I also add it to my study list.

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I look everything up but I don’t actively try to memorize anything, and it somehow works, but maybe it’s not for everyone. Basically, I just go the “don’t think about it, just read” approach.


Don’t learn any of them. If they’re common enough you’ll see them again anyway.

@magsl Haha, yes, I still get mixed feelings when I see that a word that I looked up will be taught in the higher WK levels. :sweat_smile: From all the lurking I’ve done on the forum threads about WK vocabulary usefulness I somehow had convinced myself that the higher levels aren’t worth it and that maybe I should just go up to 42-45 and then continue learning from other sources. The amount of vocabulary that I’ve been looking up that is taught on levels 40+ onwards though has made it abundantly clear that every level matters and is going to teach you something useful. :crabigator: And I like your approach when adding words, I guess I’ll also add WK vocabulary if it seems useful but won’t show up for awhile. Good luck! :blush:

@deliana88 Second time Takoboto being mentioned so I went right ahead and downloaded it. I’ll be sure to make use of the list function, thanks. :+1:

@sigolino I have learned a number of words and expressions that way, but sadly I’m not quite there yet in my Japanese skill to be able to easily absorb all the new vocabulary that I encounter without some sort of revision. Not to mention the somewhat obscure vocabulary the author is using. :sweat_smile: I do think it’s a great approach once you have a solid foundation of vocabulary though and I eagerly look forward to learning Japanese just from reading. One day. :slight_smile:


I always used midori on iphone for dictionary, since now I have android smartphone, I was without any good dictionary

thanks for takoboto recommendation!