Ideas for learning Japanese vocabulary

I have a hard time learning Japanese vocabulary. I have learned hiragana and started learning kanji and a lot of grammar, but I have a hard time learning words because I can’t find a systematic way to learn the language. Any suggestions for getting a better vocabulary?

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Get exposure to native content? Use WaniKani?


It sounds like you are quite early on in your journey (correct me if I’m wrong). After prolonged, repeated exposure to words they will naturally stick effortlessly. And that’s a key point IMO because if you try and make a systematic strategy towards learning vocabulary it’s going to frustrate you. This is going to sound like some yoda chit but you need to empty your mind a little.

The first stage of Japanese is getting the fundamentals down (learning hiragana, katakana, some kanji, some grammar, etc) which may not be fun. Then the next stage is to start reading, listening and writing, which is when it should start to get fun.

Keep going and it will come to you, just make sure you put in the hours and have fun!


I’ve heard of this WaniKani thing, is it any good?


I heard it’s a scam


This isn’t meant to be rude, but it’s kinda funny that you signed up to a website that uses a systematic way to teach you how to read the language (teaching you vocabulary along the way) to say you can’t find a systematic way to learn the language. You do see a bit of irony (in the Alanis Morissette sense) in that, right?

It seems kinda fishy… That Koichi guy sounds like a sketchy dude from what I’ve heard.


Watching anime. :stuck_out_tongue:


Learn to speak from the masters like Kenshiro and Jotaro. :joy:


I heard it’s actually a cult :speak_no_evil:


Funny story about that, actually. At school, one of the Japanese teachers explained the absolute disaster of a situation that occurred when one of students wrote お前はもう死んでいる on the blackboard as a “greeting” to the guest the class was recieving from Japan. The teacher panicked, had to yell at the student in front of the class and everything. Poor kid. (But honestly, you should know better not to do something as silly as that.) :joy:

But yeah, you could stick with Wanikani and supplement it with vocabulary apps like Torii SRS or KameSame. I also highly recommend sentence mining native material as well.




Well, the Church of Crabigatorism, isn’t it? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

@Sifkg I guess you want a simple answer, and I have an anime episode to get on with, so I’ll try to keep this short. (Not one of my strong suits, if you’ve seen my posts here.) First of all, as everyone has said, WaniKani is the reason these forums exist, and it seems it’s pretty nice and systematic. It teaches you radicals and the like so that kanji is easier to grasp, and also teaches you vocabulary along the way so you know how to use the kanji you learn. I haven’t used it before because I’m a Chinese speaker, so I already know kanji: I’m just here to use the forums. However, I have the impression that it’s a pretty good system. The first few levels are free, so why not try it out to see if it suits you?

If, on the other hand, it happens that you’re like me, and you’re trying to use (mostly) free resources, or perhaps only resources that require a one-time investment (I still buy textbooks, for instance), then OK, WaniKani may not be for you. What then?

For kanji, learn radicals and other components, then try to see the link between components and meaning. If that’s not possible, use a mnemonic. Honestly though, how I learnt kanji while growing up was by checking the dictionary/asking a teacher, finding out the meaning, and then getting used to that meaning through exposure.

What about Japanese in general? Learn the few grammatical prefixes and suffixes that there are. That aside, it’s mostly gonna be individual words + some compound words. So, how do you learn words? You can make vocabulary lists organised around themes, like in textbooks. You can use those with flashcards and ‘spaced repetition systems’ (SRS) if you want. Do it if you like such methods. It’s up to you.

How I do things personally
It’s not exactly systematic, but I think it’s memorable, at the least. I just use something or other as my vocabulary source. In the early stages, a textbook is best, but honestly, what you really want in general is something interesting and natural-sounding, like a children’s story or some other native material. The reason it has to be interesting is that I remember better that way. It could also be a news article from NHK. After that, I just listen/read and look up words as I go along. When I learnt French, I used to write new words down, not so much to review them later as it was to force myself to engage with them and imprint them in my memory. I suggest you do the same with Japanese since you’ll need to get used to the characters. The whole point of my approach is to learn vocabulary in context, and ideally learn them with memorable example sentences so I’ll know how to use them in future. You can even use this with anime (if you like it) with the help of transcriptions.

In essence though, the basic steps are

  1. Learn kana (hira and kata)
  2. Learn kanji basics (radicals and simple, common kanji like 今 and 日)
  3. Learn basic grammar so you can start figuring sentences out. If you find a resource with example sentences, you can probably learn basic vocabulary at the same time
  4. Start accumulating more vocabulary from textbooks, native material, dictionaries… whatever works.

Some resources for you to consider:

  1. Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese (just google it): example sentences are usually quite simple. Start with the first chapters to learn the basics.
  2. Maggie Sensei: I love her articles because they’re full of examples, quite detailed, and very easy to understand. However, be warned: she also loves pet pictures. Some people don’t like that. I’m fine with them though.
  3. Duolingo: I honestly think this is one of the worst ways to study a language (no offence to anyone who enjoys it). However, it’s an excellent free way to get an idea of basic vocabulary and grammar. If you have no other ideas on how to structure your learning, you can start here. However, once you get more advanced, unless you find it really helps words stick, you should drop it. The translations it offers are often not the most natural.
  4. NHK for School: this is a site for Japanese schoolchildren, so maybe you’ll only want to tackle it when you’re around intermediate level. Videos are often transcribed or have Japanese subtitles, and there’s a variety of topics. ばんぐみ一覧 | NHK for School
  5. Anicobin: this is an anime reaction blog. You can find screenshots with transcriptions of dialogue on it. To find such things, just search ‘[anime name] [episode number]話 感想’. This will allow you to know what’s being said, and you can just copy and paste new words into a dictionary. However, in order to use anime Japanese in real life, you need to know enough grammar to be able to convert between formal and informal speech on your own. That’s why learning basic grammar is so important.
  6. and are the two EN-JP dictionaries I use. The first is good for kanji learning, especially stroke order. The second is good for example sentences.

That’s it from me for now. Hope it helps. So much for trying to keep it short. I hope this helps. Now then, time for me to get back to my anime episode. :stuck_out_tongue:

EDIT: Forgot one type of resource
7. TangoRisto and these are two pieces of software (one for smartphones, the other for the computer) that automatically give you furigana and translations for individual words. There are even labels for the JLPT level of each word. Perfect for doing reading practice on texts above your current vocabulary level.


The Kitsun 10,000 deck is pretty good, and I like the context sentences. If you like thenSRS learning style that should work welll for you. There also a decent N5 deck. I’m working through both.

I was nearly put off by the sheer size of the former, but it actually starts with mostly basic words and moves through.


You should definitely check Torii out. It has the core 10k in a nice and simple interface, with many useful features. Its also free.


For vocabulary I like learning in categories. Maybe it’s not the best but I like it.
Transportation words this week
Food words next week


The cult that is Wanikani makes the KKK look tame.

That sounds like a good idea!

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Thank you! Seems like a cool side


Thank you for the long answer! It’s very helpful:D Will definitely check most of the things out

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