Kanji should accept a wider array of answers

I recently reached level 60, which means I have now seen every single kanji lesson WaniKani has to offer! I promised myself I would wait until making this post to make sure I wasn’t lumping in lessons I had yet to do, but now that I’ve reached the end, I feel it’s time to talk about really my only gripe with WK as a whole–the fact that the meanings for Kanji feel a bit arbitrary at times.
It’ll take a bit to explain, so first, some background. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there aren’t “officially correct” English meanings for kanji, right? Kanji were created and used independently from English, so while they have official Japanese readings, the English meanings we have for them are kind of reverse-engineered by looking at the non-ateji words they are present in, and made by gleaning what general concept they seem to represent overall. So if I was in charge of making them and had to use one word for each, I would generally use nouns to represent the meanings, since in general I would say “this kanji represents the concept of ‘running,’” not “this kanji represents the concept of ‘run.’” However, given that kanji don’t have solid meanings anyway, if you wrote either one, I would accept it, because writing either one shows that you have an understanding of the kinds of things that the kanji represents, which is the important part for WaniKani’s purposes.
This is not so with WaniKani. In WaniKani, the general trend I saw seems to be that either the verb or adjective form (whichever one is more appropriate for its respective kanji) should be used, except…sometimes. If you guess a different conjugation of that word and it is close enough to the WaniKani definition, it’ll be accepted via an assumption that your spelling was off, but if it’s not close enough, it’s wrong (this also happens with some vocab that are listed as nouns and adjectives but only accept the noun form or adjective form). For instance, 残 is listed as meaning “remainder,” which I personally would have chosen, except that the answer “remain” was marked as wrong given I had trained myself to answer with the verb form of every kanji and I remembered that the only vocab that has just that kanji in it were its verb forms.
This especially becomes problematic in the later stages of the SRS where I’ve found that instead of connecting kanji to their composite radicals, I personally connect them to the vocab I’ve seen them in to make my own definition. This results in situations where I see a kanji, am perfectly capable of thinking of what it represents, but am stuck wondering if that was the definition that WaniKani wants. It kind of makes me feel like I’m playing “what number am I think of?” sometimes.
The solution? Put different forms of each kanji as acceptable answers, given that a kanji could very well represent all of them, and English definitions of Japanese kanji are a bit arbitrary anyways. Unfortunately given the breadth of the issue, I personally gave up on making a list and think it’d be better to just go through each kanji one by one and update them.
If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!


My suggestion would be to use the synonym feature – I just don’t think it’s within the bounds of practicality to capture every potential English alternative for a particular kanji’s definition.

That said, if you check the recent content updates, they do seem to be trying their best to increase the amount of allowed synonyms: Thursday December 7 2023 Content Updates

A few examples:

古来 (5) - Added “from ancient times” as the primary meaning, added “age-old” as the alternative meaning, moved “ancient” to the allow list, added “from old times,” “time-honored,” “ancient times,” “since ancient times,” and “time-honoured” to the allow list, added “traditional” and “old” to the warning list, and updated the meaning explanation.

抜く (25) - Added “to pull something out” as the alternative meaning, moved “to pull out” to the allow list, added “to draw out,” “to unplug,” “to pull out,” “to extract something,” “to pluck something,” “to draw something out,” “to unplug something,” “to pull out something,” “to draw out something” to the allow list, added “to remove,” “to take,” “to take out,” “to pull,” “to let,” “to let out,” “to push,” “to draw,” “let the air out,” “letting the air out,” “to drain,” “to drain the water,” “to overtake,” “to push through,” “to exclude,” “to surpass,” “to pull through,” and “to air out” to the warning list, and updated the meaning explanation.


Oh I went ham with the synonyms! Even to the point where I was proactively including them in the lessons. I still think it would be doable though if it was just including the corresponding verb or noun form for them; many kanji probably don’t need any changes at all. Not a system-breaking problem for sure, though. I got to 60 well enough despite it.

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