How to study with very little vocabulary

Hello! I’m almost to level 4 in WaniKani and I was reading Tofugu’s “Learn Japanese: A Ridiculously Detailed Guide” the other day and saw that it recommended not learning any grammar until you know about 300 kanji (or are level 10 in WaniKani).

I think that’s great advice and I’ve found myself consistently overwhelmed by grammar and more complex resources, but also I’m caught up on my WaniKani vocab and I want to keep learning! Does anyone have any suggestions for challenges or resources I can work on along with pre-level 10 WaniKani learning?


Get a beginners textbook and start working through it. Personally I don’t agree that you need much vocabulary at all to start learning grammar. A couple nouns and a verb or two are enough to get started.
Very quickly you can run around your household holding a pen and scream in everybody’s face that you meet. これはペンです


I saw the post just now (via web search), but then I don’t really agree with it. (Also, I didn’t see the published date, so I don’t know whether Tofugu has changed its mind.)

Personally, I have no problem learning a little bit of grammar, even with no prior or limited vocabularies. Sure, it is hard to write sentences filled with your thoughts; but knowing some grammar is definitely a requirement to notice vocabularies in context (mining), that aren’t so explicit (like conjugated).

I don’t really have sympathy for those who complained they can’t learn grammar because they don’t know enough vocabularies yet, tbh.


If you don’t want to learn grammar right now and only want to learn vocab, maybe try one of those “core” vocab lists? Those would help you learn some kana-only vocab too, which you wouldn’t learn through wanikani. There’s also an app called Drops which only teaches vocab. Disclaimer: I only used Drops for like a day b/c I wanted to focus more on grammar instead of just vocab lists, but I liked what I saw and I’ve heard good things about it

But personally I would start learning grammar even before level 10. You don’t have to start with anything too complex, just some basics like the plain form of verbs, the て form, the past tense. Basic particles like が and を. Learn that adjectives end in い. That kind of stuff. Otherwise you’re just learning vocab in isolation. And learning that stuff will help you with some WK vocab too! So if you’re okay with learning grammar now, you could always follow along with a beginner textbook or other structured resource.


I generally think waiting until level 10 is bad advice. You can learn beginner grammar without any kanji knowledge. My recommendation is of course Genki 1. All the kanji in the book has furigana, so it’s not gonna pose any challenges. The vocab Genki teaches is more useful than wanikani’s too, imo.


I disagree with needing a lot of vocab/kanji in order to learn grammar. It might be easier with that knowledge (I don’t see how, but then I’m not taking that path), but it also seems to create an additional barrier (especially if you’re making yourself wait till you’re level 10 on WK, that takes months).

I’m using bunpro alongside WK and finished all the N5 grammar with no problems. Also, I’ve taken multiple Japanese classes over the years, none of the teachers or books even taught kanji in the early chapters, and went relatively slow on kanji later on, meanwhile you’d get 2 or 3 new grammar items per chapter right from the start.


I believe you will always be overwhelmed in terms of vocab x grammar

even in my own native language sometimes I hit a wall and I have to look up the meaning for a better understanding of a sentence, let alone in japanese that I have only a grasp of its understanding.

My advice is, if it appears several times in your studies, you try to remember that particular word as much as possible, that’s what I do when reading subtitles in japanese.


I appreciate everyone’s advice, I think I got a little freaked out by the Tofugu guide. I’m collecting resources from these comments so please feel free to continue giving advice but I just wanted to say I appreciate everyone who chimed in and I’ll start working on a way to get the Genki books.


Yeah I STRONGLY disagree with any advice that tries to gatekeep beginners from actually using the skill they want to learn.

You want to learn piano? Practice scales for 8 weeks and then maybe you’ll be ready for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! Want to learn to paint? Don’t even think of touching a brush until you’ve spent an entire month learning color theory! Cooking? Oh gosh, don’t try to eat anything you make, you’re not ready for that!

Someone says “I want to learn Japanese” the answer should NOT be "Sorry, you have to spend at least 60 days learning to recognize squiggle-doodles before you can learn the secret mysteries of「友だちの田はどこですか?」and 「あなたがぼくのお母さん?」”

steps off the soapbox

Anyway. Most beginner books will have furigana (phonetic writing to tell you how a kanji is pronounced) and and Akebi (android/iOS app) are two great, easy-to-use, dictionaries. Go forth and have fun!


Personally, I’d suggest reading simple graded readers. Grammar without much vocab can trip you up for sure, besides since you’re likely new to the language your kana reading might not be that fast. And simple graded readers do have the early kanji you learn so you can practice those by seeing if you can recognize them outside of WK.

If you really do want to do grammar, at the very least you could try not to do too much right away, and just take it slowly

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This a common question for you?


Are you implying that

is, in contrast, a common question? :upside_down_face:


Literally this. That advice from the mentioned Tofugu article is not great. One doesn’t need 300 kanji to get started. 50-100 is more than enough to start learning grammar. Genki 1 + 2 are a good place to start. Otherwise Tae Kim’s guide to grammar.

Here’s one a little more mysterious to spice things up a bit (spoken to a cat)


Sadly I do not have any friends with rice paddies, I should probably do something about that.
…but, yeah, what @Naphthalene said. :joy:


Hey, I could at least see it in like a Dororo context. :sweat_smile:


Wouldn’t be better if it was an affirmation? Be the chaos you want to see in this world! Be the madness that seeps through the cracks!

イア! イア! シュブ=ニグラス!千匹の仔を孕みし森の黒山羊!

I… think I might have overdone it.

Edit: Specifically, my thought process was: “it’s fine to say whatever you can to practice, even if it makes no sense” → “it’s actually better if it makes no sense” → Lovecraft.


Hey! I would suggest trying out Bunpro for their one-month free trial. I have personally grown a lot since using it and find that the N5 level is perfect for where you (and I) are (below level 10). It also will change the lesson order to match the popular Genki and Tim books that were previously suggested.

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My guess for that “300 kanji first” advice is so that you get a bit of time to become accustomed to various facets of the language. By that point you’d probably be fairly comfortable with hiragana, maybe katakana, and you wouldn’t be totally freaked out seeing a string of kanji stuck together. You would probably be adapting to the idea that verbs are going to end in “う”, etc.

That makes some sense to me… At some point, one of the first things you’ll likely have to deal with is conjugations; if you aren’t really comfortable with hiragana, you may get more frustrated when trying to practice this. Being unable to read hiragana will hurt your ability to recognize the difference between godan and ichidan verbs, for instance. It would be more frustrating trying to make 聞く into the polite form if you don’t know the hiragana for “ki (き)”.

But then again, people are usually pretty driven at the start I’d believe, so they probably get a decent handle on hiragana quickly. I watched a bunch of youtube videos on various grammar-related topics prior to level 10, and definitely have revisited them over time. Nothing wrong with searching for resources and getting started early, as long as you feel comfortable with it!


0 kanji is enough to start learning grammar – there are lots of resources (textbooks etc) that assume the traditional Japanese-learning path where the student does not study kanji at the outset but instead gradually works on them alongside everything else.



Level 10 is two and a half months’ of consistent wanikani usage, which is a really good chunk of time for beating some of the most basic grammar into your brain and getting comfortable with it.

You could not know a single kanji and it would have 0 influence on your ability to learn how to conjugate 寒い、寒くない、寒かった、寒くなかった (personally this is the first part of Japanese where I had a hard time and needed to drill it 23490849 times). Your learning resource of choice is going to have furigana at that point still.

Dive into Genki or LingoDeer and just have fun with it.