Methods to stop mixing up Kun and On readings?

Hey guys,

I’ve been through RTK before and I’m now going through WK. I’m a month in and everything is going fine but ive started to hit a bit of a wall at Level 5.

I understand that there are multiple readings to each Kanji depending on Vocab, but I’ve seemed to have missed any patterns for how to catch them. I get that on-reading is usually used when the kanji is a part of a compound (two or more kanji characters are placed side by side), but because the readings are all new to me as they come; I generally forget which is the On and which is the Kun so I end up getting a lot of wrong answers once a second reading is introduced, but way more so when a third/fourth comes along. I’m finding it hard to keep track.

My question is this, does this get easier? Or is it just a matter of brute-forcing this stuff in? Is there some form of a method I could use to make this issue easier?

Thanks in advance.


if there are particular kanji/vocab you are having problems with the community can help with that.

The first reading they teach you with the kanji is what you will use most of the time,(often he “on” reading), they will give you the other reading for the vocabulary its used for(often the “kun” reading for a single kanji item). so unless stated by the vocab, use the first reading they give you (the “on” reading).

As for kanji like 日, 月, and 人 with their 2 “on” readings, I know there is a common trick to it, but I don’t know what that is, but you will get a feel for which one to use over time(slowly getting there myself).

Some readings cannot possibly fall in one category or the other, due to their length, or just the general constraints on that category. Others are extremely likely to be one or the other.

Two mora readings like とう, こん, あく, へい, etc, are very often onyomi.

If they are more than 2 mora, like こころ, うけたまわ, etc… they can’t be onyomi.

One mora readings can be either, and sometimes they can even be the same for the same kanji (though I guess that actually simplifies things in that case). For instance, し is both the on and kun reading for 死. You just have to remember the short ones whatever way you can.

Yeah, your brain will notice patterns. And you’ll learn new words that reinforce it.


Thanks for the reply.

An example of the wall im hitting is with , On: にち, じつ Kun: ひ, か, び All their Kun readings have less than 2 mora and there are multiple On readings. So I come to a word like 先日 and I’m torn which of the 5 readings being thrown at me I should be using. I know I can narrow it down to にち and じつ if I keep conscious of what Is on and kun, but then I’m just playing a guessing game if its せんじつ or せんにち? In this case, ive just memorized that its せんじつ but yeah, I was hoping there would be a system to which On’Yomi it is. Even worse is when its Kun readings because there’s often many of those and I’m throwing darts at wall to which Kun reading I’m hitting and hoping to see green instead of red.

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This kind of thing is actually worse with the “easy” kanji, since the more basic a kanji is the more readings it tends to potentially have. More advanced kanji tend to have fewer readings, or only a couple main readings.

So not everything is as bad as 日 or 生.

Learning words and consuming content tends to smooth things out. Since you’ll hear せんじつ over and over. It won’t be about guessing a reading, it’ll be about remembering the word.


Learn the On readings as katakana. That’s how they’re presented in most other resources, and honestly WK should start doing that because it really helps with disambiguation.


I’m typically not a fan of brute forcing, but ya sometimes it’s hard to avoid that. In the early stage, I just kept telling my brain that せんにち “doesn’t sound right” while せんじつ does…rinse and repeat until I eventually really believe that せんにち really does sound weird. Of course, the more content we consume and the more vocabs we encounter, our instinct will get sharper. Eventually, we’ll start to notice some sort of pattern though it’s not really straightforward and hard to explain.

Immersion helps. For example, the moment I heard まいにち (毎日) in an anime, it gave stronger emphasis in my mind that まいにち indeed “has a nice ring to the ears” while まいじつ “sounds wrong”.

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I guess my bigger issue is knowing which Kun’Yomi or which On’Yomi to use once i’ve figured out column i should be in. There’s often three of Kun readings and sometimes two On and i’m just totally stumped which one to pull out of the hat at random. Then what’s worse is when its rendaku and the wrong Kun and On reading so it just demoralises me. I get a few of them in the row and i just feel like closing the site. Something like 小皿 and im trying “しょうさら” It’s two kanji so it must be On readings?-nope,“こさら”-close but nah. おさら? Nope. surely its “ちいさら”??-lol. こら- correct. I guess? After 5 attempts. And this example is with one of that Kanji that only has 1 reading for Kun and On. It gets way worse when its more. I just can’t see any system to this at all. I know languages arent supposed to always makes sense, but this something else.

What were you referring to by this?

The important thing to remember is that the language is not composed from sticking kanji together and choosing readings.

There are words.

Then you can write those words with kanji, and we call the associated parts of words with the kanji their “readings”, but the words are the primary thing. English has many different roots for words with sound changes and whatnot as well. It’s just that you absorbed those without having to think about it much.


I meant that 皿 only has one reading as a whole. Just さら.

The important thing to remember is that the language is not composed from sticking kanji together and choosing readings.

There are words.[/quote]

I get that, and it clearly works well enough for Japanese kids growing up that aren’t learning them pre-concept acquisition, so it might just be me not gelling with WaniKani’s method because its just brute-forcing them into my head which isnt working well at all. I’m retaining the multiple readings no problem, I’m just getting extremely frustrated when i dont know which of those readings i’m supposed to use. I know immersion will help with that later on but i know so few that the chances im going to hit the exact kanji im struggling with in the window im struggling with them is so incredibly low that its not a viable fix.

Tofugu has a comprehensive article about rendaku Rendaku: Why Hito-Bito isn't Hito-Hito. Though yeah, even after reading that, it’s still hard for me to guess when rendaku will happen.

For vocab with weird readings, I often just try to remember the vocab as a set rather than its standalone kanji. Like Leebo said, sometimes it helps not to overthink it. Make your own mnemonics if you have to. For example, picture in your mind a small plate and associate it with the word “こざら”…e.g. because ‘ko’ can be associated with ‘kodomo’ or child, which is small (use romaji if it helps you to remember it better).

So small plate → こざら
Then when you see 小皿 → You know already 小 is small and 皿 is plate…and you already pictured in your mind that small plate is “こざら”…so just put them together like 1+1=2.

This may not be the best method, but ya find whatever works for you.

This is exactly the issue ive been having, because ive already been through RTK, I forever see 小 as “Small” and 子 as “Child” so if i see “Small Plate” i don’t automatically go to “Child Plate”, I go straight to ちい because of ちいさい. Lol. It’s a battle for sure.

Ah, I see. Just to be clear, 皿 does have an onyomi, べい, it’s just not taught on WaniKani because it’s rare. I can only find one word that uses it (器皿), and it’s not a common word.

I suppose it won’t please you to hear that WaniKani actually omits some readings from the info pages if they’re rare enough that no one is likely to even try answering with them.

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I think one of the best things you can do is study Japanese outside of WaniKani. When I first started using WaniKani I all ready knew a decent amount of Japanese even though I could read very few kanji. Knowing more words will help you figure out which reading is right naturally without having to create an “artificial” system to do so. I think that this more closely replicates natural language acquisition. Children learn to speak well before they learn to read or write. Sure, there will be times where you aren’t sure which reading to use but as you acquire a larger vocabulary and can read more and more kanji it will steadily decrease.

To be honest I still have no idea what readings are kunyomi and which are onyomi. My brain always just goes “Okay so this time it’s looking for the purple background answer”. I’ve been mostly brute forcing it.


It’s possible to go from English or audio, to written form as well, with Self-Study script; which at least works well with more common vocabularies. (And it’s also natural to come up with multiple vocabularies at once.)

Nothing is going to be truly brute force, if you make up a mnemonic, not necessary based on Kanji (not focused on Kanji), listen to the provided audio, or find a context sentence audio (e.g. with Anime Context Sentence script). In such cases, audios, real or imaginary, are going to triumph.

that actually does get easier. languages typically have the most exceptions on their most commonly used elements, as they creep in through use. with kanji it means that some of the most commonly used kanji are the ones with most readings. and of course we tend to learn the common ones first.

but for those difficult ones like 生, i haven’t found any solution beyond repeated practice.

Mm, as a non-WK person this seems to me like the right thing to do. Learning individual kanji readings isn’t necessary; what you want to be memorizing is readings of entire words. The only useful thing about knowing readings of specific kanji is that then you can make better guesses about how to read words you don’t know yet – but that’s not a skill you really need til a lot later, and by the time it’s useful you’ll find you have it anyway as a natural result of having learnt various words that use a kanji. (Plus, it’s still only “better guesses”.)


haven’t read the entire thread but. Do you mean you have gone through like full RTK ? or like a lot of it ?
If that’s the case, then doing WK looks useless (especially beyond level5), just as learning readings of kanji.
Get started into immersion (get some boost with Cure Dolly’s structure lessons to make it easier, understanding more stuff sooner : Lesson 1: Japanese made easy! What schools never teach. The core Japanese sentence -organic Japanese - YouTube), and learn vocabulary in immersion. And you’ll put these readings onto the kanji you already learned through RTK, and you’ll naturally get those readings through time and won’t need to force it out.

The only thing you’d need before starting in immersion is basic vocab, but you already have that since you’re level 5 ! You don’t need more than that. I’ve bought WK and decided to quit at level 5 because I thought it wasn’t so great, learning some random words for no reason was weird (and some common ones are in like level 30 as well which is very weird).

If you have :

  • Kanji knowledge thanks to RTK
  • Basic vocab thanks to 5 levels of WK
  • Basic structure knowledge thanks to Cure Dolly’s vids

Then you’re all set to start immersing ! I don’t think you need to spend your time in WK anymore… If you’re confused about immersion, you can find info online and in forums, or good pieces of advice in Cure Dolly’s videos once again.

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