Honestly yeah, take a break and focus on fun stuff in Japanese for a while! Work on your grammar, read a book, give your brain some time to absorb stuff. If your only exposure to kanji is WK then it’s hard to recognize kanji in the wild. Just do your reviews every few days or so to avoid a review avalanche and pause your lessons like you’ve already mentioned. WK will be here when you’re ready.
Feel free to take a break, and do the things you started studying Japanese for.
A lot of us hit a wall at some point or another.
I finished wanikani in 2017, then I basically put down japanese and focused on my career.
After my interest rekindled, I realized my immediate retention was abysmal. I didn’t want to reset my original account so I started a new one. Something that stands out to me though, is this time around it only takes a few seconds of study for something to stick again. You may feel like you aren’t retaining anything, but you are.
In fact this is true of all knowledge, really. It gets rusty, but it’s easier and easier to re-learn it every time. I find this is true even in knowledge I use almost all the time. For example, I haven’t written Python in a year or two now, and I feel like I’ve forgotten everything. That isn’t really true though, and after a week or two I would have recovered almost all of my knowledge.
I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. Learning a new language can unfold over multiple decades, and your interest will wax and wane if you aren’t surrounded by it on all sides. That’s completely natural and O.K., just take it when it interests you. Just don’t think that your human condition means you can’t do it or you’re less than, it’s perfectly normal. It’s even normal in our native languages.
You’ll forget even words that you burned occasionally. It happens to me. With words that I’ve known for over half my life. It doesn’t mean you don’t know them. Everybody brain farts. I know that sounds depressing, but I think it’s reassuring. It means you never have to be perfect.
A Japanese-learning YouTuber who I… don’t like but is right about this… pointed out that 100% retention isn’t desirable. It means the material’s too easy and isn’t pushing you. I’ve had bad days too, but the hard-to-remember new items usually clear up on their own. I actually just went through several words that’d been bugging me for days and I finally got them right!
I’d echo the others and encourage you to try something new. Try watching trending Japanese YouTube videos. Watch a Japanese show on Netflix with Japanese subtitles. Read a light novel. You don’t have to take a break from WaniKani entirely—although you certainly could—but I think you’ll see your progress and remember why you’re doing all this.
I made it to level 23 (interestingly close to where you are it seems) and was burning out. I was doing 20 new lessons per day as seemed to be the usual advice here. My accuracy was plummeting, sometimes I’d be at like 70% to sometimes 30%. I felt like I was spending a lot of time, constantly failing, just dreading it.
So I reset to level 1. Best decision ever!
I’m now back to level 20 and according to WK Stats my accuracy is 98.56%! I do 10 lessons per day in the morning, review those new ones in the afternoon, and do my longer review in the evening. I feel like I’m hardly spending any time at all and everything is just so much easier. Even things that used to be hard to remember like rendaku are effortless.
Something to consider.
Become a snail!
Also, start reading native material if you’re not already doing so. Read it with an English/insert-language-here translation right next to it if you have to. This will help you with items you’ve already burned as well.
I want to say that I echo your sentiment! WK is not necessarily making me hate learning Japanese, but I’m definitely feeling overwhelmed! I feel like it’s giving me more than my brain can handle!
But, I’m not going to lose hope!
Same. I find that 10 lessons a day or every other day depending on how I’m feeling is ideal!
Srs is a good method for learning it seems, but it might not be the best for everyone. I still think nothing beats Immersion. Maybe you need context to retain stuff better. The knowledge you have now is a lot more than zero. It will help you when it comes to looking up words in the dictionary for example. The “I should have known that” feeling is not a bad thing. It means you are familiar with an item, which is again better than nothing.
While true, when first starting out immersion can be even more intimidating than SRS. With SRS it’s at least a drip feed at a consistent rate. When I first tried immersing myself in Japanese, even the NHK Easy News stuff, my first impression was “Oh my God I don’t know anything.”
I think SRS is good to frontload enough basic material to where you can start taking baby steps into immersion in content.
Tell us some more about this, let’s try to diagnose the problems.
How long does it typically take you to get through ‘X’ reviews? And where do you find yourself with wrong answers most often? Readings vs meanings? Kanji vs vocab? Anything in particular?
It’s about… 30 seconds per item? Give or take? The issue becomes if I have more than about 30 reviews my accuracy starts getting wore and worse as the review goes on as my brain gets tired, so I start taking breaks in the middle of reviews. Which basically means that, since I only have like 7 hours of the day I can actually review in on weekdays, I’m sort of alternating between reviewing and “recovering” from reviewing, leaving not a lot of mental energy for anything else.
As for what I’m messing up, I don’t think it’s one thing. I’ll just go through my latest review
手伝う - Knew it was “hand transmit verb”, couldn’t think of the meaning. Even given the meaning, couldn’t remember the reading. And now, like 20 minutes after the review, I can only barely remember the reading.
詩人 - Forgot both the meaning and reading of 詩
消化する - I knew vaguely that it had something to do with extinguish, turns out that was just the first kanji. Couldn’t remember reading.
kanji 終 - Couldn’t remember the meaning, couldn’t remember the reading once I got the meaning, when I looked at the mnemonic I wrote I didn’t even recognize the logic
誕 - New kanji for my current level, refuses to stick
食事 - Reading refuses to stick in my head. I know the first kanji is sh_ku, but I can’t keep it in my head if it’s しゃく or しゅく or しょこ, and then I always get 物 and 事 mixed up, so if I see 事 I spend a bunch of time thinking “is is it こと or もの or ぶつ or じ or what?”
目覚める - I hate this word. The kanji make no sense to me for the meaning. I’ve mostly locked the reading to the meaning at least.
義務 - Didn’t recognize the kanji
責める - Even like 20 minutes after the review I don’t recognize the kanji, and even when I look it up, I don’t remember the reading
建設 - I can never remember the 設 kanji outside the context of vocab I recognize it in, and I can’t remember 建 as construct. Even when I do, I mix up the reading けん and ちく, and for 設 I keep mixing up けつ and せつ.
I’ve reset several times after feeling frustrated and almost gave it up last year when I took a 10-month break from any study of Japanese. I started again, but with a somewhat different attitude towards WK. I look at WK for learning kanji primarily and vocab only to reinforce the kanji. I started with iKnow also and find it suits me much better for learning vocab. It constantly refreshes the words presenting them in spoken sentences, and I find getting them in context and with different conjugations and grammatical usages is helping much more to make them stick. Helps with listening also. So now I use a script with WK and if I make vocab mistakes I just undo them and don’t worry about it, and let iKnow’s SRS take care of vocab. Working much better for me. YMMV
I just wanted to say I completely understand where you’re coming from. I’m really getting fed up with learning these words without any context or point. Radicals and English names for the Kanji seem even more pointless. I’ve been thinking that I might put WaniKani into vacation mode soon and just learn words that appear in my immersion. You should do the same if you’re not enjoying it or finding it helpful.
Yeah 30 seconds per item definitely adds up. I think if you gradually push yourself a little faster every day you can get that down considerably, at least for items you know reasonably well. And the less time per item, the quicker it all goes.
Likewise about ~30 items in I take a breather… but only for like a minute. Maybe I’ll pop over to Gmail and catch up on something. I feel like that’s enough to reset my brain.
Now for a few other ideas…
A couple things here. For one, 覚 has a variety of meanings, including “awaken.”
But you could also do something like just look at 目覚 next to each other. Both kanji contain the “eye” radical, right? One is big and “wide open.” The other is kinda squinty small with a brow above it or something. So it’s like when you’re first waking up and one eye is open and the other is just slowly joining in.
I always get 物 and 事 mixed up
Maybe you could see 事 and think… it’s almost got like a slender “J” running down the middle. “J” for じ.
“Leeches” are tricky, sometimes have to sit and think about it a bit like, “Alright I don’t want to get this wrong again, what’s some other way I can look at this to remember it better.”
So how are you feeling about it now, 7 days later?
I can feel myself approaching this feeling lately, I have some strategies in mind, but I’d like to know if anything is working for you before making up my mind. I’m all too familiar with burnout, and I know I must avoid it all costs.
I can’t really add anything new but just note from an older thread that the level 20s are prime burn-out stage for a lot of people (I feel it too). I’m spending way more time on grammar now and obviously trying to keep up with my reviews as much as possible but I know my accuracy is pretty crap at the moment.
Language learning has peaks and troughs, so at this stage it’s about learning what pulls you out of your burn out because usually, burn out will be followed by a period where everything starts to click again. Rinse and repeat your way to fluency.
I know my reply isn’t going to solve your problems, but I can empathise with feeling like an idiot and not wanting ot review something: I often feel that way about the stuff I’ve been tackling in uni lately, and that’s also why (even though I know it’s a bad idea) I never ever touch my notes after getting home, because the thought of going through everything that I should have understood in class just makes me angry (and sad).
I guess I’ll just throw some retention ideas out there. (Call them ‘mnemonics’ if you want, or don’t if you’re starting to hate the word.) My impression from your first post is that the mnemonics on WK aren’t working for you, and my impression from the examples you posted is that you’re running into some of the intrinsic issues with learning kanji using a single meaning keyword, especially when that meaning keyword isn’t sufficiently general or literal for you to link it to the kanji’s other meanings. Most kanji have multiple meanings that are usually (but not always) related, and the easiest way to remember them all, in my experience, is lateral thinking based on a ‘core’ meaning of the kanji + knowing words in which the kanji is used.
I don’t think that diving into immersion is going to solve all your problems either, but I do think that you probably need to start looking for ways to give meaning to what you’re learning so you’re not trying to absorb it by force. Ideally, seeing a kanji or hearing a word should remind you of something else that helps you make sense of it. That aside, some light immersion (ideally something like anime where you have a full translation so you don’t have to work everything out yourself) should help you reinforce what you’ve learnt provided they’re common enough in the sort of material you’re using.
One caveat about the suggestions I’m about to give: I tackle memorisation very visually and add other senses if possible. If you’re unable to visualise things or imagine things (because people like that do exist), then my way of looking at things might not help you, though I’ve been told that how I describe things is sometimes whacky/unusual enough to make it stick even for those people.
Oh, also, I’ve been speaking Chinese since I was a toddler, so that probably affects my perspective.
- If you ‘transmit a hand’ to someone, you ‘give [that person] a hand’. Therefore you help/assist that person. It’s logical.
- For the reading, break the word down. Do you know the reading and meaning for 手? If you do, you’ve already got one kanji down. All you need to work on from there is 伝う, which is read almost the same way when it’s alone. I don’t know, I just feel like つだう or つたう (which is how it’s read when alone) convey the idea of transmission. Feel the shape of your tongue in your mouth as you pronounce the sounds:
つ – it’s curved slightly upwards, and your mouth is almost completely closed, as though you’re holding the ‘package’ to be conveyed somewhere at the back. (If that doesn’t make sense, imagine that the air you’re using the pronounce the sounds is the package. With your tongue up and your mouth almost closed, the air is having trouble coming out. That means the package hasn’t been passed on yet.)
だ – your mouth is wide open, with your jaw down. The tip of your tongue comes downwards forcefully, and your tongue is now curved downwards. It looks like a little flat hill, or like the arc of the package as it’s transmitted to the next person. Feel the air (i.e. your breath) flowing over your tongue towards the outside of your mouth, uninhibited.
う – your lips come a little closer together, signalling the end of the word. The package has been transmitted
If you want to put it all together, imagine that the package you’re transmitting is a little hand or a childish handprint painting. Alternatively, imagine tracing the path of the air/package in your mouth with a finger as you pronounce this word.
You’ll get this with practice and exposure, but for now, here’s a simplification: you’re looking at an on’yomi here. (By the way, you might want to get an on’yomi/kun’yomi second chance script if that’s giving you trouble and giving you extra leeches.) The sound component of this kanji is 寺. Its on’yomi is じ. How do you remember that? Uh… do you know of any famous Buddhist temples in Japan? Like the Kinkaku ji (金閣 寺) in Kyoto? That’s the component being used here. Everything that contains this component is pronounced し or じ when you’re saying the on’yomi: you just add or remove the dakuten (the two dots). That way, from now on, you know that there are only two possibilities here: し or じ. In this case, it’s し. As for the meaning, it’s ‘poem’. How can you remember that? Imagine a monk writing a poem in the temple. It’s the 言 (speech) radical because you’re using words. Alternatively, imagine a poet visiting a temple garden for inspiration when writing. That’s almost definitely happened over the course of Japan’s history.
You need to know how 〜化 compounds generally work. That should save you time. These things almost always describe processes along the lines of ‘transformation into ~’. If you want the verb form 〜化する, just know that it’s generically similar to ‘~ify’ in English. For example, here, you’ve got ‘extinguish’. If you ‘extinguish-ify’ something, you make it crumble away and vanish, right? When does that happen in the human body with liquids (氵is the water radical, remember?) present? When you digest something, yes? So 消化 is digestion, and 消化する is to digest.
I don’t mean to suggest that this is easy, but then change the mnemonic. If it doesn’t work and you can’t get it to stick no matter what, then throw it out. It’s useless after all. As for how you remember this… we like to talk about the four seasons as a cycle related to life, right? In spring, everything is born and comes to life. In winter (冬), everything withers and dies. Therefore winter is the end of the cycle. You need to imagine these on a timeline, and what does a timeline look like, if not a piece of string (糹)/a thread of silk (糹)? So when you come to the end (winter=冬) of the rope= 糹, you get 終.
My opinion? The WK mnemonic doesn’t make the ‘birth’ meaning clear. That’s why you can’t remember it. Do you know what 延 means to begin with? I don’t think so, because it’s only taught at level 30. I can’t imagine why, but anyway… WK says ‘to prolong’. That works. I say ‘to extend’. Up to you which you prefer. Point is though…
You know how in various creation stories (fictional, religious, science-fiction-related etc), something is born because someone speaks about it? You’ve got ‘Let there be light’ in the Bible. Gods and powerful figures in every religious tradition speak things into being. In anime, characters cast spells and summon objects with words, and even a scientist in those stories says, ‘Behold, my greatest creation!’ when unveiling something. It’s the same thing with this kanji: words extend out into space and cause birth with their power. (Please visualise light appearing out of the darkness or your favourite creation/summoning/apparition scene from a movie.) Why does the right side have to be so complicated? Well, don’t you think it looks like an object being brought forth on a gilded dias? Birth is a grand thing! (Especially because, yes, this kanji can be used figuratively for stuff like ‘the birth of a new empire’.)
As for how to remember the reading… I can’t really help because you don’t know 延, and 延’s on’yomi doesn’t help much anyway. However, just learn 誕生日 (たんじょうび; level 24) and you’ll be fine. It means ‘birthday’. Go look for some happy (anime?) scenes of people going「誕生日おめでとう！！！」(‘Happy birthday!!! Congratulations!!!’) to help it stick. Pretend you’re learning the set phrase for the sake of a Japanese friend, at the very least, just like how you might learn こんにちは for a trip to Japan.
OK, first of all, I have no idea how 物 and 事 ended up feeling so similar for you. I’m not blaming you at all, but I’m just frustrated at the very idea that it could have happened. Was it something that WK reinforced because it allows ‘thing’ as an alternative meaning for 事? I understand that both words are used as generic words that refer to ‘things’, but 物 are generally concrete and 事 are abstract, like concepts. I think the best translations for 事 and 物 when it comes to their fundamental meanings (and telling the difference between them) are ‘matter’ and ‘object’ respectively. The one usage of 物 that refers to something abstract involves habits or the normal/correct way of doing something, and in those contexts, it’s so obvious that what’s being discussed is abstract that there’s no way you can be confused. Would it help you to know that these two compounds exist: 物事 (ものごと) and 事物 (じぶつ)? Does that help you remember the difference? Because 物 and 事 are not being juxtaposed as synonyms in these words: both words encompass ‘objects and matters’ at the same time. That’s why both kanji are there.
As for 食事 itself, I think the WK meaning explanation is clear enough. For the reading… do you know of any other words that contain 食? Like ‘teishoku’ for ‘set meal’ or ‘washoku’ for ‘Japanese food/cuisine’? Maybe you’ve seen those words at Japanese restaurants before? Anyway, remembering the く at the end should be easy: 食う＝くう and means ‘to eat’. Also, the top of 食 looks like a く on its side, even if that’s not actually how the shape is written. You clearly have the SH down. How can you remember the O? I don’t know… OK, how about this: which vowel fits most nicely into the 曰 in 食? It has to be O, right? None of the others will preserve the symmetry of the symbol as nicely. Try saying ‘shoku’ a few times while visualising the O over the 曰 in 食. That’s what I would do to make it stick. As for why 事 is じ, there’ve been other good suggestions including seeing a J in 事, but otherwise… it’s because this whole compound uses on’yomi, so しょく and じ, both on’yomi, go together.
Throw out the WK meaning of ‘memorise’ for 覚. It’s the least fundamental meaning of the kanji, even if it’s the most common one in everyday usage. You remember things because you feel them, and that is what 覚 really means. You can then extend that to waking up: when you awaken, you start to feel. Notice also how there’s a 見 in 覚, with 目 meaning ‘eye’ and 儿 looking like a person’s legs. Doesn’t it look like an open eye perched on a pair of legs? That’s essentially what we become when we wake up: our eyes open, and we start to see/sense the world around us. 覚める itself means ‘to awaken’, so if your eyes awaken, then you wake up too. That’s what the kanji are about.
I guess the question is why. What do you find difficult to remember about these? They’re complicated-looking, definitely, with a lot of strokes, but are there other more specific things about them that you can’t remember?
義 is something like ‘justice’ or ‘righteousness’. You can see that it’s made up of 我 (‘I’) and something similar to (but not the same as) 羊 (‘sheep’). You could say, ‘Taking it upon myself to carry an injured sheep is a righteous thing to do.’ (See how the kanji makes it look like the ‘sheep’ is being carried by 我?) Alternatively, you could take it that the thing that looks like 羊 is a beautiful headdress, and that righteousness allows you to adorn yourself as a shining example for others, and that translates into that beautiful headdress.
務 contains a spear (矛), what WK calls the ‘winter’ radical and 力, which means ‘force’ or ‘strength’ or ‘power’. Imagine yourself as a solider of old (in Japan or somewhere else). You’ve got your spear with you, it’s the middle of winter, and you’ve been ordered to sort through some hay, which is going to require effort and strength. (See how the ‘winter’ radical is above 力? You’ll be using your strength under the cold, grey winter sky.) Therefore, 務 refers to a task or something to do, which is exactly what sorting through hay is.
A ‘task of righteousness’ is therefore a duty.
責 is both ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’. I think you can see how those are linked: if you’re responsible for something bad, you take the blame. If the WK kanji mnemonic doesn’t work for you, then imagine this instead: you know those toy hammers with accordion-like heads? Divide that head in half: there’s a thin, cylindrical bit, and a bit with three accordion folds. Doesn’t that look like the top of this kanji? When you want to blame a shellfish for something, you’re angry and want to smash it with a hammer. Bash, bash, bash. Blame, blame, blame. The shellfish is crushed under the weight of reponsibility and blame.
As for the reading… I’m pretty sure nothing in English is going to help. On the other hand, Japanese itself can help. せめる (written with another kanji) can also mean ‘to attack’, and attacking and blaming are very similar processes. Also, when people are angry with each other in anime and start blaming each other, they always say things like「おまえ の せい だ！！！」(‘It’s your fault/doing!’) せい and 責める（せめる）. Does that help? If not… watch the beginning of this dialogue:
The second line is「ひと の せい に する な よ！」(‘don’t make it someone else’s fault/doing!’) and is translated as ‘don’t blame me!’
It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember 設 in other contexts as long as you remember it in words, unless you want to use it yourself when creating a new compound. However, well, here’s an easy word that you can use for memorising it: 設定（せってい）means ‘setting’ (like on a phone or in a story) and 設定する means ‘to set’. The big つ just becomes a little っ because せつ is followed by another T sound. For that matter, why not remember 設 as ‘set’ or ‘he/she sets’? ‘Sets’ sounds exactly like せつ: it’s just missing the barely-there う sound at the end. Throw out the WK meaning of ‘establish’ or just add ‘set’ as a user synonym. Don’t waste your time with meanings that won’t help you remember. ‘Establish’ should just be an auxiliary meaning for nicer-sounding translations. (The first three letters are an anagram of ‘set’ anyway, for what it’s worth.) It’s pointless for day-to-day use. For that matter, you know what goes on in my head when I come across 設? I heard the Mandarin reading (shè) or the Japanese on’yomi (せつ) and I see a stake being driven into the ground i.e. being put in place. Why? Because it uses the sharp, falling fourth tone in Mandarin and has a sharp, cutting sound in both Mandarin and Japanese, so I imagine something being set in place with force.
As for 建, have you never been taught 建てる（たてる）, which is related to the more common 立てる（たてる）, which means ‘to cause to stand/to stand (something) up’? It definitely means ‘to construct’, because you’re making something complex and structured (just look at the kanji!) stand tall. For that matter, doesn’t the entire kanji look like a boxy building? 廴 is the foundation and the scaffolding, and 聿 is the building itself. Construction in progress! As for the reading, ちく is this one: 築. When you say ちく, a lot of air hisses out of your mouth, especially for ち, just like hydraulic mechanical spikes stabbing into the ground in a formation like the roots of that 木 in 築. No way 建 can be pronounced that way. Do you know that けん is also a word for ‘sword’? Yeah, well, doesn’t the long curved almost horizontal stroke in 廴 look like a sword? Therefore, it’s けん.
Wow, that took longer than expected. I hope at least some of this is helpful.
PS: I’ll be linking to this reply on my mnemonics thread where you can find other ideas like these, including for kanji that aren’t on WK. I hope you don’t mind. I’ll try to convert them into the format I normally use at some other point if I have the time.
(Ah, an enormously long yet helpful post, it must be Jonapedia)
That’s the king of the shellfish. Shellfish find the せきest shellfish and make it king for a year. The king gets blamed for everything during the year (bad crops, etc). At the end of the year they せ, “look at all the things you’ve done, you’re no longer our きng”.
For things I have trouble remembering, I make up a mnemonic that combines the meaning, and the on and/or kun readings I’m having trouble with, and relate it to something I know - in this case The Wicker Man.
 common practice among molluscs
That may well be by far the longest I’ve seen, even for Jonapedia.
Hahaha. Very nice.
Hm… yeah, might be even longer than that grammar post I did ages ago. I didn’t think that writing an entire chain of mnemonics would end up taking that much text, but there we go. I guess the real reason they require so much text is because I’m explaining what I see, hear or feel in my head instead of drawing it out (like how I described the tongue flexing and airflow in the mouth when pronouncing 伝う as mirroring the process of transmission). I’ve taken to photo editing to get my point across recently:
But that honestly takes even more time than typing, I think, especially for complicated mental images. Pictures are probably easier for everyone else to understand though… Well, ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’, and in this case, we might take that literally.