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

That was a joke, probably didn’t go through very well without the proper emoji

I understand it was poorly worded in my first post, I explained better what I meant in one of my previous posts

I agree that kanji and vocab meanings can often be very unrelated - but that’s where context and previous exposure come in. In fact, with most of these weird words, when I encountered them in wild for the first time, even after weeks of reviews rewiring my brain to ignore the kanji meanings, I still had to look them up because my brain, out of the “safe box” of WK reviews, tried to make sense of the kanji. But that could be just me.

In the end I think it’s really hard here to assess whether doing vocab reviews is good or bad practice, since one can learn something only once, so no one here can say “I tried both and this one is better”. The fact that the results of both methods come only after months of learning further complicates the matter. I’m not trying to convince anyone that you should abandon vocab reviews immediately, I just wanted to point out the possibility that what WK does may not be the only way, and in that it can be very inefficient.

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I can’t really see Wanikani as inefficient, because unless you run into leeches you’ll probably only ever see each item around 10 times, not 50 or 100, and spread out over the course of many months. After the first week, an item won’t come back to bother you for a long time, so it’s really not taking much of your time.


I usually remember the on’yomi for kanji by recalling the jukugo words that contain them. I don’t think the various pronunciations would stick after so many months if I wasn’t presented vocabulary to tether them to.


I definitely agree with OP. I would even say learning vocab is more important than learning kanji alone in a vacuum.

I noticed that with time I stop remembering the individual glosses for kanji and kind of understand the overall intent or emotion behind a character and mostly retain the reading, which too will heavily depend on word context.

Just learning kanji alone isn’t very helpful I would say.

Whether the vocab taught on WaniKani is in general useful or not is another matter. One could probably circumvent the entire system by creating a tailored Anki deck with words explicitly chosen to cover the most common readings of each kanji and being common words used daily. Sorted by proficiency level, not kanji complexity. But I guess one would need to go through WaniKani first to make an informed decision on that? :stuck_out_tongue:


I wouldn’t take the time span into account when considering whether something is efficient or not, but I think that at the end of the WK levels you’ll have spent a lot of time on vocabs, more than your average daily time spent on reviews would lead you to believe. We could try doing the math here but I’m really bad at math so I’ll just present some facts: if you ignore lessons consisting of:

  • する forms
  • obvious kanji combinations like 増加 = 増 (increase) + 加 (add) = increase, addition, growth
  • vocab easily inferred from context like 平均 = 平 (flat) + 均 (equal) = average, mean
  • vocab consisting of a single kanji

That results (for me) in learning about a quarter of the vocabs taught each level, which translates in a lot less reviews since apprentice items need to be reviewed 5 times in a week, 100 new vocabs a week. Couple that with the absence of vocab reviews from earlier levels. That’s a lot of time saved.

To throw in some numbers: before discarding vocab review I had about 500-600 items a day including grammar and other stuff. Now I have 200 items, 50 of which are kanji from earlier levels, 100 are apprentice items that I learned in WK or from native material. That’s a lot of time and energy saved.

heh, I mean when you consider the fact that you don’t need to learn the kanji in isolation, you’re learning vocab in isolation, and the vocab you learn is far from being in an order optimized for what will come in handy for immersion…I think you gotta be wearing a pretty thick blindfold to not see wanikani as inefficient as a whole to learning how to read.

It trades off efficiency for comfort and accessibility, and thats ok. Theres no reason to pretend like it doesnt.


@visionmixerjr @TheBestAround
I use WaniKani Lesson Filter.

For me personally, a huge part of the value of WK for me is that it sort of taught me how to learn Japanese. Or at least, it gave me some tools that were enough to help me get started reading Japanese in the wild, and my other learning followed from there.

I started WK with very little knowledge of Japanese outside of how to read hiragana and katakana. I knew nothing about on and kun readings, rendaku, radicals, semantic-phonetic composition, stroke order, pitch accent, different forms of adjectives, transitive/intransitive verbs, する verbs, or even what verbs looked like in general.

WaniKani was my introduction to every single one of those things. A lot of them took me a lot of exposure before I started to get the basic idea of them! Of course, I’m using a heavily modified version of WK with a lot of scripts that add extra information to reviews, but I’m still learning that extra information following WK’s structure.

By the time I started learning grammar and trying to read more than just occasional words in tweets, I had some idea of what I was looking at when I encountered a new vocab word. Even if I didn’t know the kanji, I could sometimes make a guess at the reading based on the composition of the kanji, and if I couldn’t, I could at least look at the kanji and remember the shape of it because I could remember the radicals. This is useful if you’re trying to recognize a name that contains kanji you don’t know, haha.

I was able to go right from WK to pre-learning vocab in Anki in preparation for reading a specific book. I’ve learned a lot of words at this point that contain kanji I’ve yet to learn in WK, and although I can read those words if they have furigana, it’s hard for me to read them on twitter or in magazines or on TV without furigana.

I do need to spend extra time studying the kanji specifically if I want to remember how to spell the words I’m learning. In the future, I’m going to be responsible for structuring my own study there (I’ve already started working on memorizing some kanji I’ve encountered that aren’t in WK), but that takes work to set up, so I’m happy to let WK do a lot of the work for me.

I guess it probably depends on your goals how “efficient” WK is or isn’t. My main interest is learning the language so that I can watch wrestling and read tweets and interviews, but my medium of choice is one that can be enjoyed without words, so there’s not really any reason why I have to become fluent as soon as possible, as long as I’m making steady progress. I also want to be able to read manga in a bunch of different genres, play video games, and watch unsubtitled anime. I don’t mind learning unusual or obscure vocab, because I’m interested in learning the language very broadly. WK also taught me a genuine love of kanji, so I love learning kanji just for the sake of learning them.

I just started learning Japanese a little over a year ago, and I’ve only been working on it diligently for the past seven months, but I’m already at a point where I can effortlessly read some tweets, which is far more progress than I expected to have made. Would my studying have been more efficient if I hadn’t used WK? I doubt it. I wouldn’t have known even where to start learning kanji if I hadn’t tried WK. I’d probably be completely tied to Yomichan (if I’d even discovered it without these forums), and would be absolutely helpless trying to read from a print magazine or from the TV screen with no furigana. I’d also be very annoyed and frustrated with kanji, probably, because I had to spend a lot of time with them before I started to love them.

I guess to make a long post short, I am definitely in favor of doing your vocab lessons, and at least for me personally, I’ve had better luck learning vocab through WK than I have either through a textbook, or through mining words with unknown kanji from manga with Yomichan/Anki. I don’t mind learning “useless” words or uncommon kanji because I genuinely really enjoy learning kanji and any new words, at this point, and even if I don’t see them in native media, they’re often valuable to me for what they teach me about the components of other kanji, or stroke order, or rendaku patterns and such in the case of vocab.


I actually joined because of the vocabs and I don’t like Anki deck. I tend not to remember standalone kanji and vocabs help me to remember it faster and longer. I wish I don’t have to learn radicals though. For the useless vocabs, I just cheat.

i think it depends a lot on how much one is studying. if one is doing active study for several hours every day, one will definitely get a lot of exposure to vocab using the kanji one’s just learned. in that case, one might well be more efficient by getting more exposure rather than spending time on WK vocab.

however, i dare say that most people here aren’t spending several hours a day on learning japanese. as a consequence, one doesn’t get much (if any) exposure to freshly learned kanji, and they don’t get reinforced much. and this is where WK vocab comes in: it provides exposure to and reinforcement of newly learned kanji in a useful timeframe.


FWIW, if you talk to a native Japanese speaker, they will find the idea of learning kanji in isolation very strange and puzzling. Native speakers learn to speak first, then how to read kana, then only gradually how to read kanji. By the time they encounter kanji “in the wild” they already have quite a bit of experience with the vocabulary that uses it.


I think of kanji as building blocks for the written language, and a useful way of understanding the underlying meaning of words. I find the vocab on WK to be very useful for my overall Japanese learning journey. I just wish four things:

1) that there were more vocab words that people use often in spoken Japanese and that I find often in the wild when reading Japanese or studying using Genki, Lingodeer, or Duolingo.

2) that vocab words included the common article in use, such a を、に、or で

3) that the example sentences were sentences I would actually use or come across, and weren’t so ridiculous or complex.

4) that the sample sentences had audio, so I could practice saying the word in context.

Instead, I find myself having to look up a lot of the vocab words introduced in Wanikani on other apps to find useful sentence examples with the articles the words use, as well as the audio to practice pronunciation in context.

I guess if you have a system of learning vocab outside of Wanikani, then it would be helpful for some to be able to skip the vocab sections all together in this app.

As for the cost of WaniKani, for the amount of value I get from this app, it is a ridiculous bargain. The developers deserve to be compensated well for the work they put into developing and maintaining it. I bought the lifetime subscription after the first few weeks because I could see the value of it. This way, even after completing the levels, I can continue to reference the kanji through this app, which I believe will be very helpful.


Does this happen a lot? I understand the purpose of spaced repetition but I ideally I want to have something available to me daily, then using this reorder script is kind of a must for me.

And indeed, what is the script I should use for this?

Instead of kanji I meant to say radicals. You have some amount of residual vocabulary to complete before new radicals every time you level up, because the kanji that just reached guru to allow the level up also unlocked new vocabulary which WaniKani considers to be material from the previous level. The severity can vary by level and how quickly you’re completing them. As for which script I recommend:

Only the first few levels.

Does anyone question this?
For some kanji it’s better to learn the words formed with them than Wanikani’s mnemonics. Not to mention that it is a way to reinforce what you’ve previously studied.

There’s a userscript for that if you’re interested.

I think on top of that it would be very much recommended to learn vocab outside of WaniKani as well, because while WaniKani focuses on the most common readings, it doesn’t cover all of them and some do appear in common vocab. So it’s probably better to think of WaniKani as a launchpad to get started for real :smiley: .


These aren’t articles, they are particles indicating the function that the word serves in a sentence. As such, asking you to associate a specific particle with any given word would be grammatically incorrect and quite likely to lead to problems later.


Just wait a bit. Once you get going you’ll have as many lessons and reviews as you can handle.