I am new and (somewhat) helpless

So, hi everyone!:slightly_smiling_face:

This is my first post here and while it’s not meant to be an introduction post but a post full of needing help and questions, I might need to post a bit more.

I am not a native English speaker (I am from Germany) and want to attempt for the second time to seriously learn Japanese. “Second time” because I did try it during university 15 years ago (where we learned with the Genki book series) and completely and utterly failed after the first year, but even the midterms of that year were really bad for me and I barely made it into the second half. Grammar wasn’t too bad, but the Kanji broke me. Wish I still had the Genki books, but they got lost in a flooded-cellar-accident. :frowning:

Now, 15 years later, I am a disabled woman stuck in her apartment who recently found her way back into wanting to learn Japanese because of a video game. Thought I had left my fangirl days long behind, but apparently not really. So I tried and started with Duolingo, which is… pretty bad and without remembering a few things, I would have likely already failed. But as the Kanji there don’t get really taught, I needed an extra source. Found this website when I saw a link on tofugu, where I was for good hiragana sheets. Looked great, exactly what I needed, so I signed up.

And so here I am. Level 1. Already struggling.

I didn’t mind the initial waiting time. It’s not like I have that much time, checking twice a day is okay for me. Had a few slight issues with the first few radicals, but all went pretty well.

Now I unlocked the first set of Kanji today. It’s hell and that when I basically still knew more than half of them.

My issue is that I never learned well with mnemonics before. Somehow I never got them to stick in my brain and that’s the issue I have again. I don’t know why it is that way, but that stuff always feels like “extra stuff” I am supposed to remember on top of the actual thing (here: Kanji, reading, meaning). It’s like my brain is too small, I don’t know. I mainly liked the SRS approach of this site, which is why I wanted to give it a go, but stuff is already not sticking to my brain. And the stuff that sticks the least is the mnemonics. I’m not kidding. Even for Kanji like 三 where I knew both the meaning and reading, I cannot get the mnemonic to stick. Not a biggie in this case, but for unknown Kanji where I need to learn meaning and reading? Yeah, it’s pretty bad. Not being a native English speaker also doesn’t exactly help, though I do think I’m pretty fluent there at least.

So I guess I am wondering how to proceed when I suck at mnemonics. I am fully committed to doing the “free” levels and am thinking of subscribing if it works for me, even though the monthly cost will go from my food money, but I feel like being overwhelmed at level 1, with prior knowledge of some of the Kanji, is a very bad thing.

Thank you for reading this wall of text and helping and I am sorry for any English mistakes!


Your English is very good. I don’t usually have the stories stick, either. Some will, but mostly not. I learn with the repetition of SRS. I don’t even try to learn the mnemonics. If they work, great. If they don’t, that’s great, too. I wouldn’t get too upset about not learning them. They’re just help to learn, not something you need to memorize.


Aye, you don’t need to remember the mnemonic. You don’t need to use WaniKani’s mnemonics either. Hey, you don’t even have to use mnemonics at all.

The mnemonic is simply an aid to help you remember the meaning and reading - they’re intended to fade from your memory once you have the kanji down pat.


I’ve noticed only a few stories stick and even then only for a little. That being said I will never forget the evil Chou and handsome Kou. Go at your own pace. This language is hard but fun. The SRS is well worth it even if your brain doesnt use mnemonics. Everyone learns differently. You have to find what works best for you. The important thing is to stick with it. If this app doesnt work then find something else but you cant stop. Dont look at it as hopeless but as a fun challenge. It hit me really hard when I realized I wouldnt be proficient in a few months but by changing my mindset if have come further than I ever thought I could. Hang in there and keep hanging out with thos community. Everyone here is so friendly.


Thank you for the fast replies, everyone!:slightly_smiling_face:

I think one of my main issues is that I do need some sort of help to get things to stick, but mnemonics just don’t do it for me.
One of the few Kanji/Radicals I didn’t know or remember from university that I got in level 1 is this one: 力. I already mixed it up in the radicals with 九 a few times but eventually got at least the meaning down. But well, my next review is in two hours (or more like… in the morning after I get up because it’s 2:20am here in Germany…) and I already have no idea about the reading anymore. Not even the slightest recollection. And it’s been in my critical list right from the start. In fact, a lot of the Kanji are in my critical list… far more than there should be, given that I still knew what a lot of them meant, though obviously not what they are being read as.

So yep, Level 1 and a lot of things in the “nope, you failed that one!”-list already. Not sure if that’s normal or not, especially since it will only get harder.

I will definitely go at my own pace, though; I don’t have too much time for this anyway and I think that, after/if(?) I make it to level 3, I will only subscribe and go to level 4 after I really, really, really have every single kanji of the first three levels down. Feels like this will take some time already.

It’s such a pity I don’t have the Genki books anymore. I think I could profit a lot from them, especially when it comes to grammar on top of Kanji, but they are way too expensive for me to buy anew.


I read through the mnemonics once and if they stick, great, but if not I just memorize the reading without it. Mnemonics just don’t work for me most of the time and I find that memorizing a whole story instead of just the few syllable reading to be more difficult for me.

I think it’ll be hard to do it that way at first though, but the further you get, the more you’ll see the early kanji show up inside other kanji and often (though not always) the bigger kanji inherits the reading of the smaller one. That helps me way more than any mnemonic ever could when I see it.


From a language learning strategy perspective, ask yourself where you are at your Japanese ability already. It sounds like you are very basic. If this is the case, I would advise against learning kanji at this point. Rather, focus on vocabulary acquisition. Learn N5 and N4 vocabulary, paying most attention to words and expressions that you can use. Learn N5 and N4 grammar. Find a conversation partner online and practice to make sure you’re learning things correctly (don’t spend 10 years studying alone only to find out that no one understands what you’re saying because you never tested your assumptions about the language). If you do these things first, kanji won’t be a problem at all. The reason why it often is difficult for the beginner is because you aren’t just trying to learn the kanji, but also it’s meaning and how to read it and all manner of other things. If you learn the meaning of the word and how to use it first and how to pronounce it and write it in Kana, then when you come to the Kanji you’re just learning the kanji and not five other things a well. Hope this helps.


If mnemonics don’t work for you even if you make up your own, consider taking the extra step of writing down each items and using images from the internet to associate with them. You could make paper lists or flash cards or do it on the computer or use other memory programs like Quizlet or Anki. People here seem to like Anki but I think Quizlet is easier to jump in and use.


I think that is exactly the issue and also why it feels so frustrating.

Hope I don’t sound like some lazy person who wants an easy way out, but the thing is: I will never go to Japan. There will be no one I can ever speak Japanese with. I am heavily disabled and cannot even leave my room without help. The only thing I need to know is what the Kanji means. Technically, I could even get away without knowing what it reads as at all since all I will ever do in terms of Japanese is look at text.

Yes, that’s a really bad way to look at any language, but before the internet and youtube, that’s what my English was like as well. I haven’t spoken English in over two decades and only learned what a lot of words are actually pronounced as when I got fast internet and could use youtube (which was three years ago). Before that, I used all these fancy English words without having a single clue of how to say them.

So… I do kinda feel like I’m learning more than I need to. Which is bad; I should want to learn more than that to really understand a language, but well…

Actually a really good idea, but duolingo (for the grammar) already has me write down notes for over an hour each day basically and that’s as much time as I have for Japanese. I dunno if I should stop learning grammar just for the sake of Kanji…

That’s really motivating - that it might at least not get that much harder further in. I admit, I’ve been intimidated by having skimmed the forums and having heard that some people have like 500 reviews to do after taking a break even for a single day or two. My health sometimes has me in hospital for weeks at a time, so I’m pretty frightened by that.


I use Duolingo as well. They will soon release an update that includes a lot more kanji…so you will hit a wall there eventually. They include a picture along with the new vocabulary but only the first time it’s introduced. Taking screen shots of those helps a lot.

You can store them on your computer and review offline. Something like that may help with WK but it would eat up some of your study time to create them yourself.


Oh, thank you so much for telling me that! I actually do already store their images, but my issue with Duolingo is the grammar. I am at “Time 3” right now, where に and へ are introduced as particles for movement and nowhere, not even in the “lightbulb”-section you can click on when selecting a lesson, does duolingo explain the difference. So that’s why Duolingo takes up so much time - I have to click on the discussions and work my way through a million threads to find explanations to why things are the way they are because Duolingo refuses to teach grammar and just does things without explanation. I lose so much time just from having to read through threads of 100+ replies…

Duolingo’s Kanji teaching is also not very good… The Hiragana lessons were great, though, but the rest is pretty bad. I do hope that an update will fix these issues! More Kanji actually does sound good; having Kanji actually used in sentences might help me with remembering them better. Too bad about the fact that Duolingo’s font is so small that it’s hard to really identify the radicals and such.

Yeah it’s not the best for an absolute beginner with no other resources. Genki can be found online and may work out better than Duolingo.

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This is exactly me. I’m doing this strictly for reading purposes so you’re not the only one. I’ve thought about really only learning the meanings but I think learning the readings really help your brain understand the kanji.

This is really easy to control. The lower you keep your apprentice items the less reviews you have per day. In order to get 500 reviews after a missed day they probably have their apprentice count above 150 items.

I’ve heard that Duolingo is pretty bad (I haven’t used it before) but LingoDeer is an often recommended alternative if you want to give it a try.


If Grammar is troubling you, I’d recommend Bunpro, which operates on similar principles as WK (minus the mnemonics) and focuses exclusively on Grammar concepts.


Wait, Genki is online for free? I really have to check into that in the morning! :open_mouth: Thank you for letting me know! I do need something better than Duolingo…

Oh I am so glad I am not the only one! I so far always assumed as well that I should know the reading to understand the kanji better and make it stick, but so far - though it’s been about Kanji I mainly knew already - I am great with the meaning and really, really, really, really bad with the readings, so if anything, WaniKani made me doubt that assumption for now.

I will make sure to keep that in mind. So far I always did all my lessons at once… though really I only had lessons two times so far… and maybe I should pace even those few a bit better.

I tried the one free lesson you can get from LingoDeer and it was quite complex (much harder than Duolingo’s first lesson) and LingoDeer is also really expensive. I heard it was free once, but now it’s quite a bit of money I don’t have. Because of being disabled, I live from food stamps and the like, I don’t have enough money to dump 30 or more Euro into something just like that. I could never subscribe to WaniKani with a yearly subscription, either - the monthly fee would already hurt enough, but at least be doable. I think LingoDeer was like 29 Euro or something, I forgot. Not doable, sadly.

I never heard about that before! Thank you, I will check that out tomorrow! It’s 3:20am by now, I should probably sleep instead of still checking out the internet.:sweat_smile:

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Even if you don’t stick with WaniKani feel free to keep visiting these forums. Everyone here is really nice and willing to help with any questions you may have.
:point_down: Here’s a big overwhelming list of free resources. :point_down:



I’m working on Japanese after 15 years again too! It’s great to hear someone else in the same boat.

It sounds like you’re really frustrated. And, I might be wrong, but it sounds like you feel like you’ve failed or are a failure because you can’t remember the mnemonics or kanji that you “should” know. It’s not a matter of failure or success, it’s just that you haven’t learned the kanji yet. With the SRS, you’ll keep seeing them until you do. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, you will eventually learn them. Reminds me of the concept of “My Pace” that shows up a lot in anime.

I find it helpful to instead of thinking “I failed at that kanji” think “I don’t know that kanji yet” because that shifts the focus to the future, is less frustrating, and is gentler on the soul. I find it easier to learn when I’m not super frustrated with myself!

Your English is perfectly fluent; I would never have known you weren’t a native speaker. I think you’ll be able to do Japanese as well. I’m really impressed!


Thank you so much for that! I will look through that list for sure and see what works for me! I will definitely try WaniKani more, though - no reason to not do free content and who knows, maybe it’ll work for me after a “slow start”.

I guess I sorta am. I was the worst in my Japanese class in university and failed for a reason, but I also felt like it was “okay” because I had a lot of other, difficult subjects to work on and we had weekly Kanji tests that got graded and it was just too much at once. So I figured I would do better 15 years later without that pressure but I feel like I am still bad at it, just like before.

Part of it is actually why I am fluent in English. I actually barely got a D in English for the first few years I had it in school (with an F in Latin), so I am not known for being a language genius or something. I then learned English solely through videogames and, later, the internet. Basically learning by doing in combination with what I learned in school. I don’t know a single grammar rule in English. Unfortunately, that method just doesn’t work in Japanese when you can’t read the text, so that’s why I think I failed so much and which is still my issue. It’s kinda funny - both in English and even in German, my native language, I don’t understand grammar at all (and it’s what also broke me in Latin); I always considered grammar my weakest point. But in Japanese, I felt at least in university that it was pretty easy and that the Kanji were the hard part. I dunno… hard to tell. I think the best approach might be to really give WaniKani a chance (since I doubt the SRS really had a chance to work yet with this being my third day here) and do test these three free levels to the end and then decide if it works for me.

At any rate, thank you so much for the tips! As it’s 4am now (oops) I really need to sleep but will check back tomorrow!:slightly_smiling_face:

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I’m rather new to wanikani and have only been doing this for about 2 months now.
‘Just do it’ is my best recommendation! This system works, you just need persistance.
You are going to fail and get things wrong CONSTANTLY. I do!
Whenever there is new radicals/kanji to memorize I barely get things right 20% of the time to start off with, but then each time I revisit them they start sticking more and more. The key is consistence!

The mnemonics help! Associating symbols with sights/smells/actions/events/people makes learning certain concepts faster. I’d be lost without Koichi, the saw-carrying, godzilla fighting, construction worker who’s also my dad (and sometimes dads).

By the time you start finishing up level 3, you’ll be almost scared how quickly you are learning.


I’ve definitely had similar kanji learning issues in the past, so I feel your pain. Kanji was always the worst aspect of learning the language for me, and I failed so many kanji quizzes in college because I just didn’t understand them or how to study them. I always tried to study just by looking at them, and that wasn’t enough for me. Everyone has given excellent advice above, so mine might just be fluff, but I’m curious if you’ve tried writing kanji at all. While I can learn kanji just from looking at them, I need something more to make sure they stick. I find that writing practice helps me a ton, and even if it’s something you’re not interested in, for me at least it allows the images of the kanji to become recognizable to my brain instead of being a jumble of lines. I’m a combination visual-auditory learner as well, so in addition to writing them down, I also make sure to say the readings to myself as I work through them, and I do that every time I study a kanji I don’t know or one that’s hard to remember for me. Again, this may not help you at all, but good luck in your kanji learning endeavors! You can do it!