Japanese People Constantly Tell Me No One Uses These Words

I am wondering if anyone else is having the disappointing experience I am with trying to use words I learn on WK.

I live in Japan and I find it extremely hard while trying to retain thousands of kanji, grammar, etc. for JLPT N2 to retain vocabulary. I constantly forget words, etc. I am trying to speak more to combat this.

The problem is whenever I use a word from WK vocab, 75% of the time Japanese people tell me “no one says that”. Most recently I used the word 電飾 for “decorative lighting” as WK has it. Friends laughed and said “no one says that”.

edit*: Thanks guys for all the great replies. I love WK and will keep chugging along. Hope to reach the 50+ team soon!


This is a somewhat common question these days, it seems. Here’s another post from just 5 days ago.
Are there incorrect vocab words on WK? How best to supplement vocab with other sources?

Yes, not all the words WK teaches are commonly used. The purpose of WK is to teach kanji. The vocab you learn from WK are used only to help you learn their kanji. You can’t always find three unique words for each new kanji you learn that doesn’t use kanji you have yet to learn, so it follows that less common words are going to be chosen.


Even though no one uses some words that WK teaches us, you are still going to see in books, magazines and games. So yeah, its useful.

Just think about your native language. I bet that there are thousands of words that no one uses, but you are going to see in books, so you need to learn them.


Meh. I guess I understand that although it really lacks the imo vital point of being able to use certain words in real life to help retention. If I learn a kanji and never use said word then it makes retention a lot harder when you get into the 1000+ range.


Chinese-derived kanji words make up 50% of the dictionary, but words of Japanese origin make up 70% of conversations. You’re learning the equivalent of Latin and Greek origin words here. And that’s why you’re here. It’s a site for learning how to read Japanese, not speak Japanese. These, perhaps surprisingly to some, are not the same. Koichi isn’t doing something wrong.


We all know far more words than we use. There’s another thread around at the moment where people have been questioning the use of the word “atrocious” in English. What’s interesting is, although a lot of people are saying they’d never use the word themselves and would even find it weird if someone else used it, there’s nobody saying they don’t know what it means - in other words, everyone’s learned it from somewhere. I think a lot of WK’s words are like that.

I get what you’re saying, but, for reasons mentioned above, there’s not really any way around it. What I do think could be improved is making users aware of which words are uncommon.

Edit: Decorative lighting’s actually a bit of an odd thing to say in English too, isn’t it? Like, I could imagine reading it in a home improvement catalogue, but I can’t think when I’d ever say it myself.


Well, when you start consuming japanese media you will be able to retain the vocabs even if you dont say them. Thats how I learned 50% of my english vocab. By reading. Probably 95% of my english vocab is passive. I cant use them in real life, but by seeing them everywhere I was able to retain their meaning.


All above explanations are valid to some degree. I would also point out, that a language evolves itself and each social class speaks a little bit differently. E.g. young Japanese people speak differently than elderly people etc. Not to mention, that the validity of things you learn are always limited, from my experience every book for JLPT has tonnes of stuff Japanese will laugh at and tell you they never use it. From my point of view, it would be helpful if WK would distinguish more some words with similar meaning, there is a number of vocabularies which can have the same meaning, however, it would be nice which one is used more often than not with particular meaning. For example thought - 思想 vs. 考え


Just remember that kanji are not words, they are characters. Wanikani is meant to help with reading, not necessarily vocab building

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I don’t hear even half of the words I read in written English. I don’t see a large part the words I read in English novels in non-fiction text. In fact, I can read pages and pages of non-fiction without problem but fiction is hard to read. I don’t hear most of the words in the narrative part in everyday dialogue.
I don’t even use the same words I use to write when I talk. I would, for sure, explain this with different words if was talking.


The way I see it, you should be learning speaking from experience and practise, not from WK. I don’t think WK is intended to be used as a means of picking up vocab to use in conversation; it is about being able to recognise Kanji, and that’s about it. Even building your written vocabulary should really be done through reading practise. Even if WK did somehow restrict itself to using only commonly used words, it simply does not have the capacity to give you experience of these words being used in context, it’s not set up that way. You would have to find another tool that allows you to do that, and there are plenty out there.


The point of wanikani is to teach you kanji. Not words or vocabulary. The words are chosen simply for the kanji they use, not how useful or common the word will be in real life. There are tons of other resources to teach you vocabulary and how to speak and all that stuff. I think you came into this site with the wrong expectations from it, that’s all. Wanikani just uses the most efficient method possible to cram as many characters into your brain in the shortest amount of time without any regard to grade level, usage rate, or anything else.

Once you have the kanji memorized, it should be fairly easy to learn new words (and more common ones) that use those characters you already know.

From the very start, I was of the understanding that you cannot use this site alone and hope to suddenly be able to read or write or speak japanese. You would need to use many other resources in conjunction with it, so I’m not sure where other people got the idea that this is a one site wonder resource.


I’ll also add that in every language there is a different vocabulary in speaking and in the written word. Nobody I know ever says “Furthermore” in conversation but of course it is really common in written pieces, especially academic writing.

Ultimately, I see WK as a foundation. There’s still an enormous amount to learn and you will do so by speaking and reading, not by doing even more WK.


The amount of vocabulary required for everyday conversations is very low compared to what is required to read.

Outside of theologically arguments people who read English at roughly a 5th grade level are expected to be able to pick up a KJV Bible and understand what is being said. But outside of a Shakespeare festival people havn’t used English is that way for conversation in several hundred years.

Basically boils down to the fact literacy is much harder than having the ability to speak. While I’m sure they exist, there are not many native born people who can’t speak their countries language at least conversationally. On there other hand there are plenty of people who never learn how to read or write.


Learning words that are not necessarily used is also important in my opinion. The words someone uses is defined by the environment they are in but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn about other environments too.

One question from a beginner: Wouldn’t it be great if WaniKani also created an extra program exclusively for Vocabulary? Like a 10k most used words or something, divided by complexity/usefulness. I know there’s a lot of decks on Anki but I don’t really like Anki’s system.

I’ve started learning Japanese (seriously) like 2 months ago. I tried the Anki decks and everything seemed useless. Not sure if I was just being too selective of what I should learn or if it is a Anki’s problem. Probably both.

I started WaniKani like 4/5 days ago but now it seems that I’m actually getting into learning Kanji. This seems like a game to me. The goal of this game is to keep accuracy high. The only way to do it is to actually study the concepts before playing the game. Everytime I get something wrong, I try to make my own strategies to get it right next time. The whole system stops me from making any impulsive decisions. I can’t be selective and say “Oh, this seems useless. I’ll learn it another day.” Everything counts the same way and it’s allowing me to increase my focus.

I’m probably being naive because I’m just a beginner but oh well… would love to hear your thoughts! This would solve all the problems of WaniKani not being that useful for vocab learning.


There are things that could be done to improve both understanding of context and help in understanding differences.

I’m still relatively new to Wanikani, having just recently subscribed. One of the things that I find valuable about WK over my previous anki study is that it does combine learning the kanji with learning vocabulary that uses it. Which helps greatly in learning different readings. But I do find it occasionally frustrating that it doesn’t give much in the way of context around similar words or any indication of how common the words are.

As I’ve been going through the initial vocabulary one of the things I’ve been trying to do is add additional notes to assist with some of this. Vocab word for 火, but I know that fire is also 火事? Do a little googling and add a note describing the differences between 火 and 火災 and 火事. Works great when I know to ask the question… but not so well when I don’t know to ask.

For other words, like 大した, it was more from my wife laughing at me and telling me it wasn’t used much and that it would be more reasonable to just use すごい! I don’t mind learning the word, for all the reasons mentioned in this thread, but having context is always better than not, and it doesn’t seem like it would be unreasonable to add more details when there are more common words or synonyms with different meanings.


Hey bomaran-san,

The teacher is me is very sad for you, that you had this experience. No one likes to be laughed at for putting in honest efforts. I try my hardest to be encouraging and positive for my students; I don’t ever want them to feel embarrassed about trying to use Japanese. I hope the people that laughed at you weren’t too cruel about it, or that they gave you advice about what would sound more natural.

It’s hard to be a language learner in the culture of your target language… (In this case: you in Japan, learning Japanese) You have to accept that some people are going to laugh at you, I think. I had plenty of experiences like this myself, once that happened over ten years ago but I still remember how I felt. You can’t change how people will react to you, of course, just how you respond. I hope these experiences are few and far between for you, but my advice would be to say, “oh? This word isn’t used often? What would you say instead?” and turn it into a vocabulary-building experience.



I’m reposting what I had written in the thread Kumirei linked, because I believe it’s important and really what’s at the heart of this issue:

I think the main thing is that WK teaches you kanji and vocabulary made from that kanji in order for you to be able to read Japanese. That is the main reason to learn here. Speaking Japanese will of course be different, as the language used in books versus speech of your own native language will be as well. Usually only people who are big into reading have these larger vocabularies.[/quote]

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Lol, had same experience with taishita…and a few others I can’t remember off the top of my head…and that may be a good thing…:wink: Have fun with them ask your Japanese friends to write the kanji for rose 薔薇 see how many can write it…and why the kanji for horse and deer is the same as “baka”…gets some laughs form my bent friends anyway.


You still get embarrassed when you mess up your Japanese? Better get used to that. Plus, making memorable mistakes is a great way to learn.