How WK Handles Synonyms

I’d personally like WaniKani to get a bit better about handling synonyms. Especially as I move into the 20s here, it seems like a lot of words, primarily the vocabulary introduced, is synonymous with one another. There seem to be a lot of words that are defined as “condition”, for example; or what’s the difference between 批判する and 非難する? It would be nice for WaniKani to explain if these words are truly interchangeable in most contexts, or if they differ in nuance.

Additionally, it sometimes feels like certain answers I would consider synonyms in English aren’t accepted. That’s fine, I totally understand these are merely parallels and not meant to be either fully encompassing or truly 1:1 definitions, but this feels a bit more opaque than it needs to, imo.


I think that would be outside of WK’s scope. The focus is on learning to read the word and figuring out the nuances is something you’re expected to learn as you read.


Yeah, I can understand that. I don’t expect WK to become a dictionary or something, but it’s a bit disorienting as a way to learn vocabulary, when you’re taught three or more words that seem to have the same meaning. Not so useful when you want to use one and find it’s only used in specific circumstances / formal situations, etc.

WK actually handles this well sometimes. Just today I learned the words 演芸 and 上演, and they specify 上演 is usually used for theater. That’s great! I also think this could be more clear in the example sentences, though I personally find the sentences are often just used to tell a joke rather than give some context that helps explain the definition.


You know about adding your own synonyms, right? You’re level 23, so I would guess you do, but it’s always possible some users aren’t aware of it.

As long as a word isn’t blacklisted, WaniKani isn’t taking a stance on whether its wrong or not. You could still add it as a synonym.

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Yep, I know! It’s a good feature, though I personally don’t use it much.

Really the issue I have is that it’s not always clear if a word is a synonym in Japanese the same way it might be synonymous in English, if that makes sense. I don’t want to add a bunch of definitions that maybe be wrong.

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Getting back to your other point, that’s the thing… this is not the purpose of WaniKani. WaniKani is focused on teaching how to read, and if you encounter one of these words in context after you learn it here, you’ll probably be able to understand it and know the reading. That’s mission accomplished from WK’s perspective. They didn’t set out to teach you how to use it in conversation, and in some cases it would take a lot of extra text to do all the disambiguation.

I usually go to a thesaurus to learn about the subtle nuances between similar words. It’s easy to say “why didn’t they have more information here to help with this other word I learned” but then it’s not just that page, and they have thousands of words.


I understand the focus is on reading kanji, but this feels like a slightly strange argument to me. WK is clearly teaching a lot of vocabulary as well, and the definitions they give for both are often the same without specifying how one word differentiates from one another. That complicates your ability to comprehend even when reading written Japanese. I’m not asking them to become a fully fleshed out dictionary, but adding sentences like the example I give above adds a ton of clarity for all aspects of learning Japanese.

Yes, there are plenty of ways you can find the difference, such as asking a native speaker, using a full dictionary or thesaurus, or trying to figure it out in context through reading, but it’s something that would make the product a lot more comprehensive in a way that I certainly don’t feel opposes, and actually works quite well with the goal of the program.


I guess I just don’t see how you would be in a difficult situation if you encountered a sentence with 演芸 or 上演 and had only the information from WK. You know the gloss “performance” and all the surrounding information would tell you what kind of performance it is.

If you learn that 応募 and 塗布 both mean “application” you might be confused initially (if you ignored the quite helpful meanings of the constituent kanji themselves). But then when you see them used, you’d see that 応募 is used when talking about applying to join something, and 塗布 is used for applying something to a surface, and it won’t be confusing at all in the actual sentence.

I do see how using the words on your own would be difficult with just the WK info, but that’s a different thing as I was noting.

Additionally, these two words do have multiple other English synonyms listed by default. Like 上演 has staging and presentation as well, while 演芸 has entertainment.


If I learned two words with the same definition listed in WK, and then immediately encountered them in some native media where I could tell from context the nuance of the word, it wouldn’t be an issue. But I might not come across them right away, and start building bad habits or misunderstandings on a word or phrase based on the definition I’m now being drilled on. Whereas if they added some differentiation between them initially, it could prevent such a misunderstanding.

And I realize it’s separate, but I don’t think it’s that unusual for someone to use WaniKani as their primary source for acquiring new vocabulary, in which case it makes sense to add clarity whenever possible. There’s a ton of words in both English and Japanese that non-natives make mistakes on because they seem like they should be synonymous, but they’re not used that way. And once a habit is built, it becomes difficult to break it.

I totally get the RTK idea of just getting some rough understanding down, since it will never be perfect to another language. But I still think there’s room to improve in just adding clarity between similar words that could be built into the program.


Have you started reading yet? I had some of the same reservations when I was just doing WK but actually reading made it all kind of moot.

You will definitely have misunderstandings no matter how well you drill Kanji because language is just messy that way.

WK is a really good starting point, but you still have a mountain to climb afterwards.


Yes, but only within the last few weeks. I’m reading Yotsuba now, and playing Dragon Quest. I definitely need to read more, and just get a lot more native input down, no arguments here!

It’s just something I’ve been thinking about re: WK especially with all the copious “to criticize”-s I’ve been taught lately, and then with 上演 and 演芸 I saw how easy a potential solve could be. I think in general too I wish the sample sentences were a bit less jokey overall; they’re not as useful that way, imo. Though of course through reading I’ll hopefully start to come across more stuff soon.


Would you recommend a site, some resources for studying vocab?

The site I linked to above is what I usually turn to for learning about nuances between words.

Of course, it would be difficult for a beginner to get the most out of it, since it’s all in Japanese. Though some things, like the usage comparison charts can probably be understood at low levels.

For a beginner, something like Essential Japanese Vocabulary is probably pretty good.

Each word has an entry with example sentences (perhaps people who don’t like Tofugu’s style will prefer these more straight-forward ones), as well as a paragraph or two explaining how to use it and how it differs from some key similar words. Of course, it really is the essential vocabulary, and not much more beyond that.

The Amazon page I linked lets you preview the book.

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But we have so much more to learn about the life and daily mishaps of こういち.
It’s like reading a biography written by employees.


I think Wanikani does a bad job with regard to meanings of words and disambiguation. What it results in is making us associate the word written in kanji with an English word or two, instead of showing us the actual meaning of the word in Japanese context. It leaves out re-associating the word with its real meaning until sometime later when we start encountering the word, and that’s essentially re-learning the word and forcing ourselves to forget the imprecise meaning, which could have been avoided in the first place with good disambiguation.

I like what KanjiDamage (which serves the same purpose as WaniKani) is doing in that regard. When it shows you a kanji, for example 暑 (Kanji for hot place) | KANJIDAMAGE , it also gives you a link to a list of synonyms of „hot”: hot | KANJIDAMAGE , and there the disambiguation makes it clear how one „hot” differs from another.

Leebo’s argument makes about just much sense as saying that WaniKani could just have given us a list of kanji without any meanings and let us find the meanings by asking other people to translate the japanese dictionary for us, and it still would have done the best job it could, because actually conveying those meanings for us is outside its scope. WaniKani should make it as easy as possible for us to associate and retaing the actual meanings without confusion when it’s clear how to do it. We shouldn’t be assumed to have the ability to decipher definitions in kanji, and time to do so character by character, word by word and having no idea whether we translated them for ourselves right. We don’t know how to read in Japanese yet, that’s what we’re trying to learn.


That’s called a kanji dictionary, if you just learn the kanji without English meanings. There are sites that do that, and they are satisfied with the scope they set out to do. If WaniKani had done that, it would be strange to say “you shouldn’t be a kanji dictionary, you should be something else.”

If WaniKani wants to add a more comprehensive vocabulary side of the site, then cool. They have to put resources and time into that. It’s not a small change. And these kinds of threads tend to sound, to me, like “well, they just have to write a sentence here or there, why aren’t they doing it.”

WaniKani gives us the foundation so that when we start to read in Japanese, we don’t have to spend more time also looking up kanji, since we learned them already. We can focus on the sentence-level structure or words we don’t know.

Also, if you want to reply to me, then it helps to use the @ sign or something so I see it.

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I replied to the original poster, and that’s what I intended to do. I pointed them to a site which might provide them with what WaniKani is lacking.

I don’t have the time for extended discussions with people who spend half their day here - no matter what the truth of the argument is, they’ll make it appear as if they’ve won it, because the have time to massage all the words and like it. As they say, „don’t wrestle with a pig in the mud”.


Just wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt that you weren’t taking a pot shot, but that’s fine if it’s what you were going for.


Yeah I’ve found them less useful the longer I’ve used WK although I’m not a fan of sentences out of context in general in any language.

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I think the answer is fine as long as it won’t be about WK synonyms anymor. Not a pot shot at you personally, I really don’t have enough time and skill in English to get my points across repeatedly in an extended discussion with people who do. Rather than being an effort in getting to the truth of the matter, these discussions tend to devolve into pages of hedging about everything and the original points get lost. So these days I prefer to voice my opinions in one post, in which I can give them the best shape I am capable of, and let the post stand, rather than burying it in the subsequent discussion. StackOverflow solutions with their comments are a better suited medium for this than Discourse. I am sorry to have made you feel bad. I had an opinion about your stance in the matter, I voiced it, I think it has the best chance of standing as it is, I think you would have smeared it all over discussion and deformed unrecognizably if I started discussing it, as you have much more eristic skill and time than I do. That’s nothing bad, it’s just the way things stand.