Learning vocabulary without kanji knowledge?

Having gone through Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji, which I feel has benefitted me massively in terms of learning new vocabulary, I wonder time and time again how people manage to overcome the mountain that is vocabulary in Japanese - without kanji knowledge; particularly in the context of JLPT, which I feel a pretty big part of the community has set as a goal for themselves (although it is a fairly flawed way of measuring proficiency in the language as a whole). I’m especially puzzled by N2, as the number of kanji included is fairly low when considering that the vocabulary probably includes 2000+, given that they would be written in kanji (as opposed to N1 with around 2000 which probably covers like 90% of the vocabulary included).

I recognize that this kind of thing is very subjective, but I can’t overstate how big of a help kanji are when learning vocabulary for me personally - in fact, when I took JLPT back in December I was quite irritated by the lack of kanji; words that are almost without exception written in kanji, not in kanji on the test - it definitely messes with you, when you’ve learned the kanji for the word, and are also used to reading it in the kanji form in native material as well. Even with all its other flaws, I actually found this to be my biggest gripe with JLPT - why do tests opt for hiragana only, instead of including both kanji and furigana?

I realize that in the grand scheme of things, not many people choose to do RTK, and even with WaniKani being pretty popular in the community, WaniKani levels aligning very poorly with JLPT means that you have to study a lot of vocabulary while not having yet learned the kanji included in that vocabulary on Wanikani: so I was wondering - just out of curiosity - how people who people have found it, and how many people there are studying this way in the first place.

Used to be a big headache for me, but in the end I’ve settled down on looking up unknown kanji in WaniKani when learning vocab. You learn to read the word properly and get a headstart on a future level.

Unless you’re only studying to pass the jlpt this point is meaningless.

WK is a tool to help you start reading Japanese. If you’re just trying to pass a test, but a test prep book for kanji for N(X) level.


I actually prefer the approach of „learning kanji through vocabulary“ over WaniKani‘s „learn kanji and then vocabulary“.
In my opinion and experience, if you study enough vocab (presented in kanji), for example a giant Anki deck, you’ll get a grasp of what individual kanji mean really fast, and leaning kanji upfront in isolation is not needed. Basically you’re doing the encoding the other way round: „This kanji is used in this word and this word, so it probably means something like …“
While WaniKani‘s method is: „This kanji means this, and from there you can figure out the meaning of this two-kanji-word.“

It works the same for kanji readings, you will learn them through „immersion in vocab“, so to speak.


You’re right, and I never explicitly said that I disagreed with you - this is not a criticism of WK; I’m just asking out of curiosity. The fact of the matter that there are people who are put in a position where they have to learn vocabulary to fill in the gaps left by WK (because there are a lot) - I was just wondering what people in that position choose to do, and how they’re finding that process (think this question is especially interesting in the context of those who are used to studying with WK format: learn kanji–>learn vocab with learned kanji.

It would obviously be ideal to not study strictly for a test and instead focus on language acquisition as a whole, but JLPT provides an milestone for many - something to study for, and something that gives them motivation to keep going. There are also those who are studying just for the certification, to get something to they can put their resume.

I did briefly try this approach, going off the deep end with the Tango decks at the very start of my learning journey - at the time, I did have some problems with motivation, so I have to take responsibility on my own part as well - but I found that it didn’t really work out for me. Again, to reiterate, it’s entirely possible that it could have, but due to some other factors that affected my studying habits at that time I never really found out.

I moved to WaniKani briefly after - having struggled with the Tango decks - at first, things were going great, but over time I found myself having problems telling similar looking kanji apart, and could often kind of “guess” the word with how recently studied items show up a lot more often - I guess I cheated the system in that sense.

I did eventually move to RTK and began to slowly fade out WK as I got closer to the end of the book and made an Anki deck and started sentence mining - which I’ve so far found to be the single most effective method personally.

Really goes to show how subjective learning can be, and how important it is to try out different study methods; I say this to a lot of people, but knowing what kind of learner you are is really crucial (or taking the time to figure it out if you don’t already know).


My guess is because you don’t use kanji for speaking or listening, so it actually predicts better wether you’d be able to understand the spoken language. And it also means that you really understand the grammar and context, because japanese have so many homonyms kanji makes it easier to differentiate between them. So in some manners kanji is difficult but in some manner it’s actually makes things easier.

People that really like anki mode (and anki) are more inclined to have photographic memory.
And in general a lot of passionate adamant comments about learning preferences come from a position that disregard or is unaware of different learning styles and the different kinds/strength of sensory memory people use.
For me typing and writing is much more potent than silently looking - so anki and such (and yes I know there’s typing option) is a waste of time. That’s why I can play guitar and creat music without thinking about music theory, because it’s just an option but you don’t need to know it to make music, you need muscle memory and hearing in this case.
I have a musical ear so listening is a really good method for me, and it really helped when they added the audio to the kanji way back when.

(Not taking the jlpt any time soon or ever)
A lot of times when I read and there’s a kanji I don’t recognize I search wanikani, and if it’s not there then jisho.
There are so many resources for jlpt vocabs lists in books and youtube and apps.
The difference between wanikani and rtk is that in rtk you make all the mnemonics for yourself (if I recall correctly from when I tried it) and wanakani is a shortcut to this process, so it really helps, for me anyway.
It’s easier to deal with unfamiliar kanji when you understand the concept of kanji.