Learning strategies for WK's arbitrary system of drilling readings?

Hello all. Let me first say that I’m trying to stay positive about this process, so please take the following as venting a bit of frustration and a humble request for information rather than a simple rant.

Am I the only one who has a hard time with the way that WK teaches readings? Whereas the system is working quite well for me with respect to radicals and kanji meanings, it is causing me a great deal of trouble when it comes to readings. My problem is that the app doesn’t teach how to recognize the different readings (for example: “人 can be read as じん、にん、or ひと. Here’s how to recognize the difference. Here are reviews to help you remember the difference.” Instead, the reviews first condition the learner to respond with one reading for kanji, then switches arbitrarily in vocab with no connection of ideas. When the “you didn’t learn this” part happens, I almost always get the new reading wrong, because I have been taught to automatically respond with the first reading.

Due to the spaced repetition system, the first reading is then basically dropped from the reviews, and I get re-conditioned to automatically respond with the second reading. By the time the first reading comes up again, I have usually forgotten it because there are no connections made–the information is completely fragmented. Obviously it works for some people, but I’m having an extremely difficult time with this form of pedagogy.

So two questions: first, I realize that I’m still quite new in the system, and may not have seen everything yet. Is there a point where the reviews start helping learn the differences, or are they arbitrary all the way through? Second, if the latter, has anyone developed any learning strategies to help, or is it just rote memorization?

Again, sorry if I’m being caustic, but I’m incredibly frustrated right now. It seems like whichever reading I remember for a kanji, the app wants the opposite one…or a 3rd or 4th one that I don’t remember.

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While there are some ‘hints’ to which reading of 人 you use in a word (there’s a bunch of posts about it, like https://community.wanikani.com/t/にん-vs-じん/11728/8 ), I think ultimately for many words you’re just going to have to learn it’s read using one specific reading (or, in some cases, exception) and not one of the others.
For pink background items in the reviews if you get the ‘wrong’ reading (e.g. it wants the onyomi, but you entered kunyomi) it’ll just shake and tell you it wants the other one, since they’re both correct readings for the kanji. But with purple vocabulary reviews you need to enter the right one since a word is read only one way (some have more than one reading, but not common).

Just don’t worry about getting stuff wrong. If you’re trying to Guru stuff and level up, go ahead and cheat, but getting something wrong means that you don’t have that specific example memorized yet. To answer your question, it gets easier as you go on because you start to get a feel for how kunyomi, onyomi and rendaku work just from all the examples. It helps if you create a hierarchy in your mind, like "ひと” is more dominant and used alone while “じん/じん” is more likely to be paired with others, like in "日本人”.

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人 in particular is a confusing kanji, in regards to its various readings and when to use them. You get used to it pretty quickly with more kanji exposure, and learn to guess when to use the ‘on’ reading and when to use the ‘kun’ reading, though.

It may even be helpful to read an article on on’yomi and kun’yomi (tofugu even wrote a small one). However, wanikani won’t explicitly teach you this, even though you will eventually pick it up just by seeing it happen repeatedly.

As Chuntao said, when it’s 人 alone, you read it as ひと, but when you see it used with other things, like 外国人、アメリカ人、it’s more likely to be じん(or にん).

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I was SOOOO annoyed by this at the start too. It’s not that you don’t neccesarily know the reading but you can’t really tell when its asking for which.

In short, it’s only a problem at the beginning. As kanji gets more complicated and you learn more it becomes really second nature!

TLDR: Hang in there, its a problem now but you wont notice it by level ~10


人 continues to appear throughout the time you’ll use WK. There’s a word in level 60 that includes it. You’re not done with it after you level up.

So it’s not quite arbitrary on WK’s part. If you aren’t familiar with the terms, please look up what onyomi and kunyomi readings are along with “ateji” words. Basically, what you learn during kanji lessons are the “preferred reading” which is more or less the most common reading for a given kanji. This is really helpful when looking up words you don’t know. Keep in mind that you can type kanji individually during a dictionary lookup (eg 年下 can be looked up with ねん + か + conversion key despite the correct reading being としした). In contrast, one of our goals with vocabulary is to learn actual Japanese words that will use a specific reading of a kanji so we can’t really get away with just learning a “preferred reading”. In practice the benefits of the system’s design won’t really stand out until you get further along in your studies.

There are actually some general rules that help determine which readings are used*, but there are a lot of exceptions so I prefer to think of learning readings during kanji lessons as narrowing the possibilities. If you don’t know a word you can guess the preferred reading and there’s a good chance it’s correct. Some kanji, like 人, are nuisances that tend to be easier to learn through rote memorization. However, the vast majority of kanji are much easier to learn. Typically you’ll see a preferred onyomi reading for the kanji + pure compounds along with a single kunyomi reading for other cases. It’s actually somewhat rare that you’ll need (or even see) more than 3 common readings in a given kanji.

*During vocab you probably something like “A lone kanji with okurigana usually uses the kunyomi reading…” These kinds of generalizations do work out the majority of the time.

Just my own perspective: The ‘rules’ for pronunciation are for helping you guess the reading when you encounter a new word in the wild. If you find yourself relying on them in reviews, then you haven’t really learned the word yet, so you may be better off getting it wrong so the SRS can show it to you more often. Don’t think of reviews as a test… think of them as practice (since that’s actually what they’re for). But if getting reviews wrong still bothers you, spend more time up front on memorization. It saves a lot of time, because your accuracy will go up.

Also, vocab words are the only ones whose reading really matters, for several reasons:

  • They are what you will encounter every day. Kanji aren’t normally pronounced by themselves in everyday life (unless it also happens to be a word by itself, in which case you’re still just pronouncing the word, not the kanji)
  • WK doesn’t actually mark you wrong on kanji as long as you enter one of the valid readings for that kanji. All of a kanji’s readings are technically still valid, even if it’s not the specific reading WK is asking for, and that’s why it does the shaking thing instead of marking it wrong.

A lot of vocab are pretty straight forward and most kanji don’t have so many variations as you’ll see once you keep going.

However, in the beginning, there are a handful of kanji that are very common but also have a lot of readings that are all used such as : 人、大、日、月…

You’ll get it, but these definitely take more time to get used to than others.

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Seeing as I’m a closer level to you I thought I’d respond too… Quite simply, it gets easier. If it’s purple it wants the actual word. If it’s pink it’ll want one of the other readings. It’s totally frustrating I agree, but certainly makes sure you know the readings properly :slight_smile:

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It took me a while before I figured out that the vocabs are the thing that really matters. Especially frustrating is when you got a single kanji vocab, with different reading and/or meaning. I remember thinking, “hold on, somethings is not right. If I encounter a kanji in the wild, on a street sign or in a newspaper or something, how do I know if the background is supposed to be pink or blue?”

Yep, exactly. I wrote the following a while back to help new users understand:

Thank you all for the responses. It’s helpful to know that this is a known issue, and that it gets better over time.

Sort of tangential, but - I once read an article that gave a good rule of thumb for the on’yomi. In general (and there are many exceptions, but this rule helped me), じん is used for inherent properties such as nationality, while にん is used for other things like occupation.


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