Learning kanji with the same readings?

Hi all! I was wondering does anyone have any good tips to share on unscrambling your brain when it comes to learning kanji with same readings. Has anyone developed any good system for not getting confused while learning these kanjis? Other than to just go with the flow and suffer? :melting_face:

Best regards,
“Hmm… I wonder why it feels like every other kanji is “こう” all of a sudden. Oh wait
[行][高][交][向][後][公][広][工] [光] [考]…”


Unless you’re on a quiz show where you’re challenged to write as many こう kanji as you can in 60 seconds or something (which, to be fair, is a thing that does exist), I’m not sure it’s really necessary to tackle things from the “reading > list of kanji” perspective.

Can you help me understand a bit more what kind of problems you run into with this?


It’s a こうincidence.


For whatever reason, I get confused with a lot of the same readings. It makes it harder for me to remember the right ones when a lot of them are similar or exactly the same. I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this, but I started wondering it might be helpful for me to see (some of) the kanjis with same readings in a list/mindmap/some kind of visual presentation, for example.

I’m a bit confused reading your post.

What exactly are you getting confused? Like when you recall the onyomi of 工, what are you mistaking it for? And why is that a result of 光, for example.


Maybe it’s because I’m a native Chinese speaker, but whether I’m handling Japanese or Chinese, for words I know that use kanji, I usually don’t ask myself ‘which こう?’ or the equivalent of that for the context I’m in. It’s true that both Japanese and Chinese have a ton of characters whose readings overlap – and that’s true even if you account for tones in Chinese – but things still work out somehow. If you asked me why, I’d say it’s because of meaning and context. What I mean by that is that I’ve learnt that certain kanji only appear in certain contexts or when I need to express a particular idea. It’s only when I have two possible kanji that sound similar and express similar ideas that I have trouble.

In other words, I think it might be more helpful for you (though this will be up to you to try out and confirm) to think about what each kanji means and what words it’s used in, and then think about readings. The other thing to consider is that readings can change quite a bit (e.g. 行=こう、行う=おこなう=organise/carry out、行く=いく=go), so while you’ll need to find a way to remember them all, it’s ultimately the meaning of a kanji – and the words it’s used in – that are more fundamental to how it’s used. (If you can’t see what I mean with the example above, the idea is to look for a common idea, some sort of ‘gist’ of the kanji: whether you ‘go’ somewhere or ‘carry out’ something, there’s fundamentally an idea of movement, of something moving forward in time – and maybe space – often towards a goal. That’s 行.)

To put it another way, I’d suggest you use individual readings as a guide for naming kanji in your head (and to do your WK reviews), but learn kanji in terms of meaning and context (e.g. vocabulary words, sentences, favourite lines from anime/movies/dramas) and try associating readings to that. The ideal is for you to associate kanji, meanings and readings with each other, but it might take some practice before that becomes natural for you.

(If this analogy helps you, think about words that sound the same in English but mean different things and are spelt differently, like ‘to bear’ and ‘to bare’. How do you tell them apart in everyday usage? Context and meaning, right? Spelling only helps on paper, and even then it’s usually not necessary because their meanings are so different. For kanji that sound the same, well, same difference.)


I try to make it work for me by linking together the mnemonics that have the same reading.
For example, most of my mnemonics for けつ words involve bottoms. Why? Bottoms are inherently funny and memorable: “This man lacks a bottom”, “this is the purest bottom in the land”. It makes the story easy to remember and the linked reading comes naturally.

こう is harder because there’s so many words, but for the ‘buy’ words I have had good success of a base image of a lifeguard with a subscription to playboy magazine. “Cor blimey!” he says as he opens the centerfold. I can then base a bunch of stories around him and his reading habits.

Ironically, this can actually help you in the future, with semantic phonetic composition. You’ll be able to pretty confidently guess the readings for kanji you’ve never seen before because they contain certain radicals that almost always bring a certain reading along with them. For こう, these kanji all have that same reading:


For each you can see a consistent radical among them. For the record this isn’t always the case and it certainly doesn’t cover all the readings, but it’s a good basis and can be useful in helping to remember key readings fast. This also isn’t just for こう, you’ll see it for everything from しょう to けい to りょう, and often with more complex radicals being shared.

Also, I know 公 isn’t the exact radical being used in the first line, but the connection is there


Not OP, but using the self-study script you get questions, where it plays the Japanese pronunciation and expects you to give the English meaning. And whenever it asks what “Jinkou” means in English, I have no way of telling whether it is “population” or “man-made”, so I get it wrong half of the time.

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That seems to be a specific shortcoming of that script. In practice, the two words would be hard to confuse in a typical sentence.


I personally don’t get these mixed up, but that’s because I make up my own mnemonics, read the combination word examples, and read the context example sentences. Most of the time just doing this is enough. Sometimes if I notice I am still confused and/or I keep getting the answer wrong when it comes up in later reviews I go to the immersion kit website. On that website you just type in the word you are learning and you get examples of that word in anime/Jdramas.

I also practice reading Japanese tweets and manga so I get exposure to context in general. I get the most excited if I spot a new word I learned out in the wild.

My only question is: Why does the “6” kanji and the “stand” kanji look exactly the same?

There are several significant differences. Do you just mean how it feels to look at them?

I think you mean that you answer the reading correctly for these, but get the meanings confused?

If so, that’s completely normal (and you’ve got these items half memorized already). There are many, many characters with the same readings.

It’s mostly just a matter of a sufficient number of repetitions, but it can also help to make up additional mnemonics. You may find it very useful to use the “extra study” feature for recent mistakes (or use the self-study script for the same purpose).

I view the formal reviews as “retention tests”. It’s not good to “cheat” with out-of-band review of an item you’ve not seen for weeks or months, as that makes what’s intended to be a long-term retention test into a short-term retention test.

There is no harm at all in extra reviews of an item you’ve recently missed during a “retention test”, however. I like to go through successive iterations of extra-study/self-study, back-to-back, until I’m 100% certain that I can answer those items correctly 100% of the time (then I know they are at least in my short-term memory). This can be a little more efficient with the self-study user script, as you can use the “re-quiz” button for each new iteration to only quiz yourself on the ones you missed on the prior iteration.

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I think that my font might be messing it up.

A way to remember 六 vs 立 is that 立 has a base to STAND on.

(another difference is that the six kanji’s bottom lines go outward (六) while the stand kanji’s bottom lines go inwards (立), but I’m not sure of a mnemonic for that difference)


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