I'm a bit lost

I have a few questions, if you can help then thank you!
I’m level 10 here and I learned 20 grammar points from Bunpro.
I can’t say or read most basic sentences yet but I want to practice conversation so I joined the Tandem app.
People send me sentences but I don’t recognize 90% of the kanji used.
How can I figure out what kanji they’re using if I’ve never seen it before?
Do I just keep leveling up on WaniKani until I know enough kanji to talk to people?
Around what level can you start to have basic conversations?


Search by radicals. The main point of WaniKani’s system is to help you to understand how to break down a kanji into its components by sight. For example, let’s say you come across, uh… 麓. It’s a joyo kanji, but one of the less common ones. When you get the hang of it, you can look at it and go “oh, that’s two lots of tree above deer, and deer is canopy+helicopter+compare.” Then you turn to, for example, Jisho’s search-by-radical function, and hit “tree”, and let’s add in “canopy” too, and oh look, there it is among the 19-stroke kanji.

(Though there’s a small downside here to WaniKani’s “no strokes! only radicals!” teaching method is that you do need to be able to count the strokes in the radicals and the whole kanji in order to be able to use this function. Many of WaniKani’s radicals are unique to WaniKani, so you also need to be able to recognise the official radicals - the “deer” kanji does happen to be one of the official radicals, but since it’s down with the other 11-stroke radicals, using “canopy” was easier for the purposes of taking screenshots. :stuck_out_tongue: Other dictionaries have similar functions.)

Talk, as in speak aloud? Or chat in text over the internet? Because you don’t need to know any kanji to be able to speak, only grammar and vocab. For the latter, you’ll have learnt 80% of the 500 most-common kanji by the time you complete level 21, and 80% of the 1000 most-common kanji by level 30, so you should be able to have at least a fairly general conversation by that point, provided you’ve kept up your grammar and vocab studies.

Not to labour the point, but you need some grammar and vocab in order to have a conversation, and WaniKani won’t teach you those. Also some listening practice, if you’re having this conversation in spoken form.


A practical answer is use an OCR app, such as google translate. Or if you have an iphone japanese text is supported in text extraction from a photo.

Basically, take a screenshot of the message, then import it into google translate and extract text. Then you can copy the kanji you don’t know and paste them in a dictionary of your choice.

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It seems to me you’ve jumped too deep here… you can start having basic conversations at any given point, but in order to do so it needs to be tailored to your level, as in more guided than the way you use tandem.
If you can choose a tutor/teacher that will start with you from the basics, in tandem, try that, if not maybe iTalki?
Have some exposure/practice with material dedicated to having conversations like the human japanese series + satori reader and pimsleur (all paid subs/one time purchase) or go over irodori which is a free resource with tons of conversation drills.


I can draw a kanji way faster than anything else for look-up, plus is practical for getting used to stroke order. Jisho’s app allows a draw function and Mazec is a very good keyboard app add-on.


I agree! Drawing the kanji is a much quicker approach, and better for practice. My android phone has been able to understand all of my kanji attempts!


Actually, recently I had to change my address at the bank, and saw a kanji that I wanted to know the meaning to. So I just drew it on my phone whilst the teller was inputting my address. The kanji was 窓 and it took me about 5 seconds to draw it on my phone screen!

FYI, you forgot to fill in the link for HJ+SR, so it’s a dead link at the moment.

Thanks, didn’t realize the cut&paste went nowhere…

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Wanikani will help you learn kanji, which is how Japanese is written. You need to learn grammar to actually speak with people.

If you have any kanji displayed on your screen, on a phone or a laptop, you can select it and look it up in the dictionary. You’ll have to enable English/Japanese dictionary in your settings.

Here is a screenshot from my phone. I have selected the word 動物 and I am about to press “Look up” to get the dictionary definition. You can also copy it and paste it into http://jisho.org


This is so helpful! Thank you.
What do you mean WaniKani won’t teach me vocab. It teaches radicals, kanji and vocab, yeah?

It teaches you some vocab, to help you properly hammer home the kanji readings, but it doesn’t cover anywhere near the full range of commonly-used words.


WK primarily teaches vocabulary that reinforces the kanji it is teaching, but there is a boat of load of high-frequency kana-only vocabulary that you need for conversation (and otherwise) that it doesn’t teach.

I practice kanji drawing extensively so I’m fairly comfortable with stroke order and all that but I still find component search generally faster and more reliable.

There’s also one other big advantage of searching by component: you can do it even if you only recognize parts of a kanji. Admittedly this is mainly relevant to my hobby of playing retro Japanese games because often due to the low resolution the kanji are mangled and/or simplified. I presume it must also be useful if you deal with handwritten Japanese or characters written in a weird stylized font.

Imagine playing a game and encountering this kanji:

If you don’t know it already you may not be able to break that down well enough to draw it, in particular that upper right part is a bit of a mess. But you can clearly see ⻖ and 示 so you look that up and you find it immediately:

Let’s try an other one (I actually didn’t know this one):

There’s ⺘ on the left, ⻏ on the right and some mashed potatoes in between.

5 seconds later:


I can see the utility for sure, I just never got fast on radical search but maybe because I find it painful, however, I’m not playing 8-bit games all that much either…but if I’m looking at written kanji (or written font), a more common scenario for me, stroke order is more convenient for my purposes.