Kanji don't exist in a bubble - The argument for doing your vocab reviews

G’day All,

After reading a lot of comments and discussions around racing to level 60; and in particular, using a script to reorder reviews to facilitate this process; I thought I would make the following comments.

Kanji do not exist in a bubble. What do I mean by this? Japanese is not kanji; rather, kanji are some of the tools used to convey the written Japanese language. Learning kanji in a bubble is cool, you can tell your friends that you know what that kanji means and maybe both kunyomi and onyomi readings; however, can you read it when these kanji are in articles? Can you read the sentences and understand them at a moderate pace? Can you use this singular kanji understanding to express something in spoken Japanese?

I think one of Wanikani’s greatest attributes is the vocab training. The key to unlocking Japanese is to understand the vocabulary. Ignoring vocab reviews in order to race to level 60 is, in my view, a wasted opportunity. The vocab reviews are designed for two purposes:

  1. To teach you new vocab
  2. To teach you the kanji - YES! To teach you the kanji!!
    For me personally, by doing the vocab reviews at the same, I understand the kanji far better, I remember the readings more often and most of all, I get to review the particular kanji more often.
    The vocab isn’t there to bulk up the program, or to distract you from remember the individual kanji… the vocab is there to help you learn and understand.

I recently made some other comments about learning and understanding versus speed; particularly how I did the great RESET. See link

Smash your vocab reviews! If your goal is to learn Japanese then these are vital. Do them in concert with the radicals and kanji and I guarantee you will improve.



I think vocab reviews are designed for one and one only purpose. Prolong your subscription. You could “race through” all the kanji WK teaches you in less than 6 months, especially omitting all the pointless radical lessons that come from kanji you already know. Vocab reviews are in my opinion a HUGE waste of time. If you think about it you are using your brain power to translate individual words instead of using it to read and learn these same words in contexts you enjoy. Not only that, but you are using more energy than you’d need because there’s no context to help you when doing vocab reviews. So unless it’s a vocab in which a certain kanji takes a unique reading, there’s no point to do vocab reviews. As a matter of fact, I completely abandoned vocab reviews. Now I just make kanji cards, eventually adding a vocab or 2 in order to review all the readings the kanji can take. This cut my time spent on reviewing material by at least 2 thirds. All the time saved I can spend on reading native materials, which not only you’ll (obviously) find more fun, but I also feel like it’s 10 times more effective than reviews.

PS I don’t want to sound rude with my completely opposite opinion, I’m just kinda annoyed that WK makes people spend so much time reviewing vocabs when in my opinion it’s completely pointless.

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Reorder scripts don’t get level 60 faster by skipping vocab. They get it faster by allowing you to do the previous level’s 60 remaining vocab lessons after the new Kanji, instead of vocab → kanji → wait for several days with 0 lessons available.

If users are skipping vocab, that’s a separate decision they’re making.


I can see why you think it pointless. However, for many people, they are in different position and learning methods. It might not work for you but it could work for others, just saying.


Indeed, but that could be said about any learning method. What I’m saying is that if had to decide between learning a language through exposure and learning a language through mechanical reviewing, I’d try the former method first. If after months of exposure I notice I still get most of the vocabs wrong over and over, I’d try mechanical reviewing. It’s unfortunate that WK goes for the latter instead, as if it was the only way.

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The reason why I partly agree with you because I can see if one have a lot of time and foundation to consume native material, or prior Japanese knowledge before studying WK. They will be exposed to a lot of vocab above their level. At some point they will feel like vocab lesson on WaniKani is a waste of time.

I’m in a similar situation but I’m still taking all of the vocab lesson on WK anyway as a way to recheck my vocab understanding and it would not take a lot of my time because I tend to answer them correctly.

However, for most people. They don’t have that much time and prior knowledge in Japanese. If WK just teach them Kanji and skip vocab, I doubt they would learn anything meaningful.


I’m too lazy to dig up the right threads on 河豚 or 里心 to link here so I’ll go with the most recent big one I can remember. Most of the vocab on WK is selected as way of adding additional meanings or readings to the associated kanji lessons (or reinforcing the existing ones). This is why we inevitably have people arguing about “useless vocab” and funny pictures of people highlighting them in books later. They really aren’t something to be skipped.

There are learning methods that try to cram kanji alone in a shorter period of time, but I would argue that people that are interested in those probably shouldn’t be using WaniKani. It just doesn’t make sense to me to pay for a service that is opposite of someone’s learning goals when other systems (often free) do what’s needed.

Personally, WK vocab is not amazing. It’s fine for what it is, but definitely not a substitute for digging into the core 2k/6k/10k, mining vocab on your own, taking advantage of wordlists (eg. book clubs, koohi cafe, JLPT), or digging into native dictionary when possible. I still think it’s worth to learn the WK vocab as presented, but I take it with a grain of salt and a general understanding that I will improve upon whatever I learn here as I continue immersive activities.


I don’t think I explained my self very well, my fault. I don’t think one should only learn kanji, skipping learning vocabs altogether. I still do vocab lessons, and when I encounter a vocab in the wild that I don’t know and of which the meaning is not immediately visible to me, I learn it through the standard WK steps (4h 8h 1d 2d). That is, provided I already know the kanji; if that’s not the case, I learn the kanji first, and then the vocab.

Reviewing vocabs during the first months was probably helpful in making me understand how kanji can relate when they form a vocab. But after that, I don’t really see any point in that. You already know how the kanji can relate, you have the context to help you, and you have a lot of newfound time from not doing so many reviews as you did before that you can put into consuming native material. I understand how abandoning vocab reviews like that could feel like huge risk, since if learning through exposure doesn’t work for you in the end, you’ll have forgotten a lot of stuff in the meantime, that you wouldn’t have forgotten if you kept doing your reviews. But I would suggest anyone after level 20 or so to take the leap.

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Yeah that’s why I can see this would be the case for you and some people. Moreover, we can all agree that example sentences on WaniKani are just a little bit better than useless lol.


I can see what you mean, it’s the “WK doesn’t teach vocabs, it teaches kanji and making you learn vocabs is just a mean to learn kanji” argument that you’ll see under most of those “useless vocab threads”. And I agree with this argument. What I don’t agree with, is that learning and reviewing vocab like that is even necessary at all. As you said, you need a way to learn the alternate readings and meanings. You can just as easily fit those into the kanji reviews, saving you the time and effort to decipherer not only the “main” kanji that appears in vocabs, but also the other kanjis (and the vocab meaning as well). What’s more, you can put the time and effort you don’t spend like this into reading native material, which has countless other advantages over mechanical reviews. But of course you need a basic foundation before you can read native material, and in that I do agree that WK method works best. But after you learned N5 or N4 kanji I think you can skip the vocab reviews.

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The thing is; It’s better to learn how to use those Kanji when it still fresh. That’s why I think vocab lesson on WK is still valueable for most WK users. If they just learn Kanji and skip vocab and then see those vocabs in the wild later. They might already forgot what they’ve learned.

And for some (if not most) vocab, they won’t be able to read them correctly, because WK just teach them On’yomi or Kun’yomi on their kanji lesson.


I agree that you need to learn how to use the kanji you just learned, which is the reason I think doing vocab lessons is still important, as long it’s not something obvious like the verb version of a kanji, or simple combinations of kanji. But is it really necessary to review these same vocabs for weeks and weeks after you learned them with the WK steps? I don’t think it is. From the kanji point of view you’ll have learned how to use it and the alternate meanings, that you can incorporate in the kanji review as synonyms or make cards using a different SRS program or whatever. From the vocab point of view, I feel like your brain will do the job even after weeks you learned it. As I mentioned, context and individual kanji reviews will be there to help you remember what the vocab means, despite the fact you wouldn’t have probably remembered the meaning of the vocab if you had to review it like if it was a WK review.

(Sorry if I’m appearing a bit persistent here, it’s just that I’m interested in different points of view on this matter)

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What’s the most popular script that allows me to do this? I don’t mind having a big backlog of vocab to work through, and I would like to go through radicals/kanji quickly.

I’m also interested in this please

I can see where you’re coming from but this is the part where we disagree.

I don’t think you can learn Kanji without learning vocab because the part that you should remember is the vocab and not the kanji.

This becomes readily apparent on these forums because we discuss kanji on it’s own and have to type it out. And if the discussion is on 滅 for example, I’ll type 滅亡 and delete 亡 because that’s how I remember it. I don’t remember any of the mnemonics at this point but I do remember 滅ぼす if I had to recall a kun’yomi reading.

What I don’t do is look at that kanji and think メツ is the on’yomi and ほろ is the kun’yomi.


I also wish to chime in that I also only find WK vocab to be of middling importance.

I’m taking Japanese classes right now, spending 2-5 hours everyday on Japanese study. I’m working ahead through Genki, and already have Anki decks of vocab I need to learn in the context of the grammar and sentences I am learning. It’s great that 心配 has shown up in my WK vocab list, as I’ve learned it elsewhere and can now recognize it as Heart-Distribute and remember it more easily, but learning transitive and intransitive forms of “to throw” in isolation is not a good use of my time right now.

Also, especially in the early levels, there are a number of items that should be taught in sequential lists, not in individual flashcard form. I spent months struggling with awkward readings for “things” counters, days of the months, and days of the weeks. I finally grew a brain and memorized them in order like a kindergartner would, and it took me just a couple days to have them down pat. Did the previous exposure through WK help? Yes. Did 50-100 repetitions of the same numbers on flashcards help me memorize them? No. The format and context of learning these things is important.

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That’s not what I was trying to say, we completely agree on this. As a matter of fact, the more I read native material the more I grow convinced that a kanji is almost like a “placeholder” that takes a certain meaning only in the word it is in. On it’s own it means everything and nothing. I’m not saying that knowing all the kanjis and all the possible meanings they can take is enough, far from that. What I was trying to say is that the way WK makes you learn vocabulary, through mechanical repetition, is incredibly time inefficient.

Having a solid knowledge of kanji meanings and their readings though, coupled with learning vocabs with the WK intervals for a week, and then NOT review it, is more than enough to be able to understand the vocabs when you encounter them in the wild (as you said, the vocab is the part that you should remember), because context will be there to help you, and you already learned that vocab for a week straight before.

Probably it’s not apparent for people who take it slow but you spend A LOT of time reviewing vocabs. What I’m saying is that that time could go into reading native materials, with way better results, not only for vocab retention, but for all the other aspects of the language.

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Ah, ok, I think I have a better understanding of your position now.

So do you think stopping at Guru would be enough for vocab?

I’m not opposed to the idea. I honestly had very little trouble with vocab during master/enlightened/burn reviews.

That said I’m still not sure if it’s better to stop the reviews early.

I can’t argue with the results you get from reading native material, but I don’t think it works out unless WK provides companion material geared towards how much knowledge it is able to assume you have based on your level.

But then, my experience is probably atypical. I only did WK plus some grammar here and there until I finished. Plus, I don’t do any SRS when I’m reading. I look things up as I go and vocab just isn’t that difficult to look up. Sentence structure, on the other hand, is what slows down reading the most for me.

So I’m glad I front loaded a lot of it with WK and I think it’s a viable method. It may not be optimal but it’s much easier to consistently follow.

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Absolutely, 100%. Not enough to remember it a month later in a WK-like review, but enough to remember it when you find it in the wild. And even if you don’t remember it like that, you can just relearn the vocab with the apprentice steps.

There were also cases for me when reviewing a vocab didn’t help one bit with learning it. Take for example vocabs composed of kanjis with the “idea/meaning/though” theme, or “hope/desire/wish” theme and all their combinations. Their meanings were really ambiguous for me, because you can guess the general meaning of the word from the kanjis but you cant really pin point what the word actually means. When you find these same words in a context though, you can tell exactly what they mean. Same goes for all the vocabs that don’t have an exact English translation.

As I mentioned the problem with stopping the reviews early is that you are taking a risk. And I doubt there are many people on WK who reached level 60 skipping vocab reviews, so there won’t be many people either who will agree with stopping vocab reviews after a certain level.

I agree with your observation about appropriate material to read, that can prove to be very tricky. I think it’s safe to say that if you know N5 and some N4 kanji, a lot of good material becomes available.

In the end I can’t say I regret reviewing everything as WK said for the first months, because it taught me how kanjis can relate with each other, but I can’t stress enough how time consuming and inefficient it becomes after a certain level.

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I disagree. You could use that argument for Wanikani as a whole - What is the purpose of Wanikani teaching you anything? - money. But it’s the other way around → what is the purpose of your spending money on Wanikani? - leaning japanese.

I agree with this one actually. Frustrates me to see a radical that was a Kanji a few levels ago.

This is even worse if you only focus on Kanji. If you isolate the Kanji and never learn a single word you won’t be able to read a single thing in contexts you enjoy. Whereas building a vocabulary of ~6.000 helps you a lot in reading stuff.
EDIT: I wanted to add an example, where even Wanikani staff show how unrelated Kanji meaning vs. Vocab meaning can be: 高瀬 - shallows. The meaming mnemonic reads something like “I have no idea how this one makes sense, but…”

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