How to make new words stick?

So I’m still pretty new at seriously studying Japanese, and my vocab and grammar leave a lot to be desired. I recently started working through Genki I (self-studying), which is going fine aside from the chapter vocab. I added a deck with the first chapter’s vocabulary to, but no matter how many times I drill it some of them just immediately fall out of my head.

I’m having a hard time describing what I’m missing, but I need a way to get the word initially into my head so that I can actually use the SRS properly. I know, I know, mnemonics, but I’m pretty bad at coming up with them for things like “international relations.” :disappointed_relieved:


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When I started Japanese at university, we also started with Genki 1, and what I found the most helpful was making physical flash cards - so writing the kanji on one side, and then the reading and meaning on the other side. Writing them out alone really helps with memorising them, I mean you could simply write them out repeatedly until they stick, but I find this is really time inefficient. You could even try colour coding them for different readings. So I recommend the flash cards, and also getting someone to test you if you can :slight_smile:

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Mnemonics can be really hard to come up with, but taking even 5 minutes for one word that you can’t make stick is worth it. Having said that, Genki has a lot of vocab words like “international relations”, “economics”, “marriage” that you can completely skip over. Don’t feel like you need to have every single vocab word memorized before moving into a chapter. Skip over any words that you just feel like are a waste of time. If you learn even close to 90% of the words, you’ll be fine.

The important thing is to keep yourself motivated and to do a little bit everyday. If something as abstract as a hand full of vocab words like “international relations” is going to get you down on the whole thing, just skip it.


Yeah, I guess I’m getting hung up on the list of words for different college majors. I think I’ll just move on to Chapter 2 and see how that goes. :slight_smile:

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For me the best way is to use SRS and to continuously immerse myself in Japanese. Usually, when I hear a new word or an expression in context it sticks. Japanese is a big part of my life and I use it and listen to it a lot every day.

So yeah, SRS + immersion.


I hear you. I have so many words I’ve reviewed 4,600 times, and still can’t remember. And of course, countless vocab I’ve memorized, then months later have zero clue.


I haven’t studied Genki, but i am doing Genki deck on Kitsun.

And Hey, I’m right with you. When I saw “international relations” i was like this is not very beginner friendly, cant even remember what it is myself. Then there’s economics, major, speciality. Tbh I haven’t even really used this words in english…

I haven’t done genki so not sure why it threw this words at you early on (chapter 1?), but I wouldn’t get caught up, and through exposure working through excercises you will learn the important words.

@RegicidaManic provided good advice, though Marriage is quite important wouldn’t want to get accidentally hitched… Joking aside marriage seems to come up a lot, through my own studies. Maybe its Japanese From Zero, but im sure it came up in other resources and I remember at the start I would get 結構( けっこう) and 結婚( けっこん) muddled up. But I came across both enough.

Anyways, I think you be fine. I have one of the worse memories every. I sat through The Crazies and like 20 minutes before the end I was like i’ve seen this movie… Thats how bad my memory is…

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The (implied) justification in the book is that you are obviously a college student since you are using this textbook, and therefore must be majoring in one of these normal to semi-obscure subjects (as a former psychology major, I feel left out!). Some of the exercises ask you to state your major while introducing yourself.


On a side note, it’ll be nice to start including kanji, since I feel weird writing in just kana after being a WK’er.

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As someone who has never enjoyed rote memorization or ever put real effort into that kind of study before resuming serious Japanese learning last year (and now taking the N2 in December):

  1. Using them on your own - Nothing is going to stick a word better than using it. If you don’t have access to Japanese conversation partners–which is likely if you aren’t living in the country–try journaling at whatever level you can and using recently acquired grammar and vocab, even if it’s a little awkward.

  2. Encountering it in the wild - Again, this is something that really helps stick new vocab, because you’re forming practical connections to it. This is just to say, read and listen as much as you can. This is easier at higher levels, because you’re inundated by less unknown language (more n+1 opportunities), but still try to do as much as you can for your level. There are people on the forums who are really great at providing suggestions for graded resources. I feel like the easiest level of the Easy Japanese news app can also be useful at like an N4 level.

  3. Take notes - This is, I feel, a must-do. If you encounter a useful word that’s not already part of an SRS system like iKnow or Wanikani, either write it into a Word document (I have one that I used for cataloguing all new vocab and grammar from my N2 books, along with my own explanations/mnemonics, and now it’s a super handy searchable document when I forget something), or make a physical flashcard. Either way, the simple act of writing and defining it on your own helps, and you have something to easily review later. Add example sentences and write your own mnemonics if you feel it will help as well.

  4. Use SRS systems like iKnow and WK - I particularly recommend the former for vocab. Some people will swear by Anki too, but it just depends on how much time you want to put into planning and organizing your own study, I guess. (For me, it’s none at all; I’d rather have the management part taken care of for me outside of textbooks and my own reading/listening time.) If you have tough words in these SRS systems, add them to your own notes/physical flashcard collection too. I’ve done that more than a few times.

  5. Take solace in knowing that the more words you know, the easier it is to acquire new ones, because you have more of a foundation in the language. Language-learning has its own momentum like that.

Edit – Also, if you’re really just getting hung up on words included in the first chapter of Genki, don’t stress and move along. The dialogue and example sentences will keep building foundations for you, which will help you remember more niche vocab down the road. I wouldn’t sweat it for now, but keep everything above in mind for more serious vocab acquisition later.


Words don’t feel real to me unless I see them in context. Occasionally they don’t stick until I see them in more than one context. I make sentence cards in anki, and let leeches stay suspended; I’ll eventually encounter any word that matters again and it will be easier to learn the second time.


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Thank you for all the helpful advice! (And thank you for the laugh, @acm2010. Smart*ss. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:)


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