Japanese to English in Reviews is not helping me think in Japanese often

I was doing a review session earlier but stopped halfway through. I’ve been trying to revise my Anki Cards lately and trying to change my mindset with EN → JP in mind. I think this thread is more like feedback, but I believe JP → EN doesn’t help me personally. I don’t want to waste my mental energy/brain power on constantly translating between English and Japanese in my head.

But I do want to learn more about Onyomi and Kunyomi readings, and the meaning of Vocabulary and how these words are brought together with the Kanji that makes them up. I love doing that the same way as how I love looking up names and learning their etymology. Someone in a Japanese study circle mentioned that he had an easier time learning the Vocabulary first, THEN the Kanji. I would like to try this method instead at some point. For me, I can understand Kanji and Vocabulary better if the process is more meaningful.

While I appreciate James Heisig’s method of remembering the kanji with mnemonics, but trying to connect “Life” and 生 (せい)" through use of imagery no longer makes sense, and it is starting to lose its effectiveness. (I also notice the mnemonics on WaniKani are a long paragraph. How many words do you need just to explain how a mnemonic works? I also stopped paying attention to the mnemonics lately too.) So now I have to wait two more sessions or so just to get one Kanji over with. On the other hand, I do wish I understood Heisig’s methods better enough to where I can write Heisig’s first 1,000 Kanji in 29 days. Did SRS exist back in Heisig’s day?

This has been a ramble, but I also want to know more about everyone else’s thoughts or if there is anything helpful I can consider to approach my learning sessions more meaningfully. Do you think learning the Vocabulary first is a good idea? How have you diverged from a typical study workflow (whatever that could be) since beginning WaniKani that has helped you become better at learning Japanese?


Even if you start with the vocabulary, don’t you still have to start with the English, or some other language you understand? Unless you’ve got someone willing to interact with you like a parent would with a toddler.

Like, say you want to learn the word 生活 as part of learning about 生. How helpful is it going to be to see



Everyone’s context is different, so I don’t want to take away what works from anyone else, but speaking from my own perspective as a 100% self-learner who has no immediate cause to speak in Japanese day-to-day… I don’t think JP-to-English is as much of a bad thing to be concerned about as it can feel like starting out.
Nowadays, for example, I’ve practiced reading a lot in Japanese. I’ve stuck with Wanikani’s system and never made any major concrete effort to avoid JP-to-EN instead of JP-to-JP… but then every time I read something, do I have to translate to English first in my head? No of course not! Because I’ve practiced reading Japanese. The Meaning prevails, so to speak. If you work enough in the system, the system takes over.
And I HAVEN’T practiced speaking, so on the flipside, I’d be pretty terrible at that without resorting to English!

… Which is to say that trying to immerse yourself in Japanese without resorting to English is great… but JP->EN isn’t going to poison you forever either! It’s just about what you practice and what you get comfortable with. And from my perspective I think it’s leaving money on the table, so to speak, to try to emulate Japanese babies in language learning too much, when I’ve got at least one huge one-up on babies: I already know a language!!! I’ve got a headstart!! Eat shit, babies!!!

Which is all I guess to say that I found WaniKani’s structure very helpful, and you might be likely to encounter that more than the reverse here (since it’s a wanikani forum), and I also found that at least for the areas I’ve been targeting with practice, the “thinking in Japanese” developed naturally and incorporating English wasn’t too much of a concern. YMMV and that’s okay too.


You mentioned EN-JP. Have you looked into KameSame or KaniWani? Since you have a lifetime account, why not try to use these at the same time. They basically take the words you learn in WK, and make you answer EN-JP, and then either kana or in kanji, depending on which programme you choose.


This got a little long…

Study methods
I think what you find more useful will depend on what you are interested in doing with the language.

If your immediate goal is production (i.e. being able to speak or write in Japanese), then EN->JP may be more useful for you right now.

However, if your immediate goal is consumption (i.e. being able to read Japanese books or articles, or understand Japanese audio or video), then JP->EN is probably more useful.

There are other options, too. For example, for words which can be represented visually (e.x. 猫 = cat), JP->picture or picture->JP can be a useful way to learn. There are some learning methods like Rosetta Stone that use this almost exclusively to start out. However, there are also many words that cannot be represented visually.

Also, at some point in your studies you will get to a level where JP->JP becomes possible. That is, you can use a native Japanese dictionary or describe new Japanese words you learn in terms of simpler Japanese. This is very useful for words that don’t really exist in English or aren’t commonly used. (e.x. 親不孝=親を大切しないで、心配や苦労をかけること。JP->EN dictionary shows this as “lack or filial piety”)

My Workflow
Wanikani does, I think, a very good job at creating JP->EN associations for kanji and drilling in kanji pronunciations and meaning associations via vocabulary (and this second feature is what really sets it apart, in my opinion, and what makes it work better for me). I sometimes use the “Lesson Filter” script to learn vocabulary sooner. Usually, I try to do 5 kanji + 10 vocabulary, for example, instead of 10 kanji at the start of a level.

As @Saida mentioned, there are tools that work well with Wanikani but in the opposite direction, so you might want to look into those for EN->JP.

I personally came to Wanikani after studying Japanese for many years because my kanji knowledge and thus my reading ability was far behind my speaking and listening abilities, and I find the Wanikani vocabulary is mostly review for me with only the kanji being unknown.

However, I do supplement Wanikani with other studies, like:

  • an Anki flashcard deck with sentences and audio
  • Reading Japanese books and manga
  • Using an Elementary school level JP->JP dictionary (I bought a physical copy of 小学国語辞典)
  • Watching Anime with no subtitles or Japanese subtitles
  • Karaoke with Japanese subtitles (or memorizing Japanese songs)
  • studying Japanese grammar from a textbook (I also use “Handbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns” to look up grammar I find while reading)

The key for me is to keep learning fun and not overwhelm myself with too much that feels like “work” because otherwise I get demotivated, but everyone learns differently so you should definitely try different things and see what works for you. :smiley:

I was thinking something like, English → たんご → 漢字. You’d learn the Japanese vocabulary, and then you would learn about the Kanji in the vocabulary. I haven’t tried it yet though. That’s what I want to look into sometime this week.

Your reasons for learning seem different from mine and there is nothing wrong with that.

I found out about this last night. I read in some threads that mention something about the API, which I know nothing about. I’ll try to find some threads that will help me making use of anything to get started with KameSame and KaniWani.

Thank you very much. I understand the use of JP → EN. now. Do you sometimes watch anime for the first time with no subtitles? I was thinking of watching a short anime once in EN subs so I get what’s going on, before rewatching it again and seeing if I understand a situation in Japanese. A problem I have with localized media is that the English translations are sometimes off because some things get lost in translations or worse. My thinking here is that I would learn about a situation in anime in English, and then correct my understanding in Japanese, if that makes any sense.

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It’s very straightforward! KameSame and Kaniwani can be found in these links to forum threads. If you run into any trouble getting set up or later on, you can ask for support there. The API key can be found on the main Wanikani Dashboard, but there will be a link once you go to the webpages for the apps, as well as instructions for permissions you need to click, I expect.

+1 to all the recommendations of KaniWani. A pro and con is that a lot of words have similar definitions in WaniKani - 生活、生存、命 all are defined as “life”. Or 私/僕/俺/我 for “me”. If you add a synonym in WK, it will also show up in the KW prompt. This is actually my favorite part, since it means I have to research/input/review the nuance differences between similar words. I like to put sample English sentences to show the usage.

All that said, if you are only at level 3 and you’re not feeling it, you may just not be clicking with this learning method.

I do sometimes watch for the first time without subs! Usually anime that are more “casual / every day” or aimed at younger audiences in content. For example, I recently watched “青春ライド” (Ao Haru Ride / Blue Spring Ride) and “となりの怪物くん” (My Little Monster) without subtitles. Both are High School slice of life / romance anime so the dialogues are typical casual student conversations for the most part. Also, some kids anime like “Pokemon”, “Digimon”, “Anpanman” etc. can be a lot of fun to watch in Japanese. Sports anime are also good for this (“Days”, “Haikyuu”, “Prince of Tennis”, etc.) if you know the sports terminology.

For other anime, I do watch it first with English subs, and then watch for the second time with no subs or Japanese subs. (“Given”, “Mix”, “Watakoi”, and “Ace of Diamond” are the ones I have re-watched so far)

Lately I have also been watching a lot of anime for the first time with Japanese subtitles, and pausing to look up words I don’t know. (Language Learning with Netflix is awesome for this, but if the show is not on Netflix looking up words manually doesn’t take much longer). This is necessary for more fantasy-themed or adult-level shows which have a lot more vocabulary I don’t know. I watched “赤髪の白雪姫 (Snow White with the Red Hair)”, “ランウェイで笑って (Smile Down the Runway)”, and “Bofuri (痛いのは嫌なので防御力に極振りしたいと思います)” this way.

There are still some shows that are too difficult for me to follow (most detective-type stories, most sci-fi), and those I just watch with English subs and maybe pick up the occasional new word.

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