All great questions. Let’s go over them one by one.
So for example we have Kanji 工 (contruction), it means construction. Why is it the meaning important? Just to associate a name with the visual representation of character?
Yes, you’re learning the English word “construction” to have something to associate with the kanji. That’s why some of the meanings you’ll find for the kanji (and especially the radicals) are a little… modern sounding. They’re just stuff WaniKani made up to give your brain something to latch on to.
Kanji are generally thought to have “meanings” even in Japanese but I think this is more related to the fact that individual kanji are usually also words in and of themselves.
They will also have historical meanings, since the kanji themselves either are or are derived from Chinese characters.
In Japanese, in situations where a kanji isn’t a common word, Japanese people will refer to a compound word that the kanji is used in and say something like, 人工のこう.
Then we have On’yomi readings, こう, く. Are these supposed to be words with meaning, or just standalone characters which fit in a broader context. If they are words, why is there no translation?
The kun and on`yomi readings are just potential sounds that the kanji might make. You can read this if you really care about learning the difference, but I don’t think it actually matters that much.
The vast majority of kanji can just make different sounds depending on what word it is used in. There are rules for guessing which one it will likely be, but I honestly don’t recommend trying to learn them, especially not right now. Just learn individual vocabulary and words. So you’ll learn 人工 as じんこう, and you’ll learn 一人 as ひとり, and you’ll just know, “Oh, I guess this time 人 is pronounced り.”
I know that sounds ridiculous but it actually isn’t as confusing as it seems.
Trust me, just learn the individual vocabulary, and your brain will start to just feel it out.
Finally we see the character as a part of a combination 人工 which means, artificial.
So when I see the character 工, am I reading it as construction, or as こう or く, or do I see if there is another kanji next to it making something even different. I just don’t know what is going on here.
When all is said and done and you actually get to the point where you are using Japanese regularly, you will look at 人工 and think じんこう. And when you think about what it means you’ll either wordlessly think about the concept of something artificial, or maybe you’ll think something like 人間が手を加えて作り出すこと.
In the meantime, WaniKani is building some scaffolding in your brain to climb up on. You might not need to break down each kanji into English words in the end, but trust me, it is helpful in the short term. And in the end, when you learn to fly, you can leave the scaffolding behind.