New radicals: not too useful for me

i did japanese schooling while my mom was in a medical program traveling around asia.
i found interest in the language so i decided to study it (im buying wanikani soon).

while i was at japanese school, my mom had gotten me a japanese tutor who taught me the original radicals, (inch instead of genius, cloth instead of tower rack) not very many though.

the FAQ says they changed it to their liking which is kind of a weird reason? i get mnemonics and still but im the type of person who thinks mnemonics really only help if you make them yourself. They say if you learned the radicals differently you can add them to your list of synonyms but heres my proposal…

please please just take an hour, open up the html or whatever yall got going on and add them please !!! just for the sake of my sanity and probably others who learned the literal radicals like i did. if you don’t feel like doing it, hire me ! i have a weekend morning to spare !!

i might consider making a script for it if some people agree with me…

i think the memorization of radicals long term is useless for the average intermediate anyways… not my point tho


Yeah, I would love to know the “original” radicals out of curiosity (and tbh to “unlearn” frankly weird stuff like “geoduck”).
I guess it comes down to personal preference though because, as you allude to, radicals are only stepping stones to learning kanji and aren’t ends in and of themselves.

To be fair, the “real” one for that is おおがい. Big shellfish. A geoduck is a specific and funny big shellfish. :man_shrugging:


Oh, is that what it is. Well now I know! :laughing:


I agree with you. I’d rather learn radical names related directly to a concept even if that means multiple radicals with the same meaning. It’s so frustrating to come across a radical I haven’t seen in a while and not being able to remember it just because the radical name has nothing to do with the meaning. It’s really counter-intuitive…

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right! the point is to make mnemonics for people to remember the meaning, not necessarily change the meaning so it fits your mnemonic (I’m looking at you, triceratops…)

Having tried to learn the “original radicals” before discovering Wanikani, I’m gonna come out and say it: some of those are at least as weird to remember as the Wanikani versions people complain so much about. It’s a lot easier to type “leader” than “person (side radical)” or whatever.

And they definitely stuck in the mind better for me.

The majority are the same, even if they use a different English word to some other list you read (e.g. “allocate” versus “allot”).

Please, doing what you suggest would in some places make it a lot harder, especially for beginners who just need something that’s easy to commit to memory so they can get on with learning the kanji.

Just be glad they aren’t asking you to memorise completely random-looking pinyin readings for the radicals.


I like the proposal. Personally, I like learning things like word etymology and stuff like that, so even if it was just as a ‘Context’ or ‘Background/Historical Info’ section that listed the traditional/original radical name/meaning, that would be cool, IMO.

Actually, there are already some plugins that add extra information to various pages, so I bet making a plugin specifically to add that info to radical pages wouldn’t be that hard to make (especially if one were to use those other plugins for clues/tips/scaffolding for how to do it). Might even be able to add an “Add this meaning as a user-synonym” button or something like that, too!

Might be a fun side-project if you’ve got a weekend morning or two to play around with. :smiley:


That sounds like a great idea !

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I would not necessarily recommend completely switching up the radicals wanikani has had since what, almost a decade now? That would not be good…

Instead im suggesting they have the general, original japanese radical synonym in there to begin with (although i realize synonyms for that same word could potentially be a problem if someone learned with another list…).

i should have clarified that the reason im soon to buy wanikani is because im entirely too lazy to make an SRS myself just for kanji (anki is where i learn vocab words). I have elementary experience in programming and all that java stuff, but im pretty sure i can say with moderate confidence that adding ~200 words in english wouldn’t be mentally taxing, just take some time out of one’s day (time one could argue could be spent adding other joyo kanji, but i digress).

adding synonyms for the original radicals without telling, and having beginners learn the wanikani versions (like i intended), would probably not have too much of an effect for newer learners (i hypothesize, since wanikani uses radicals in their mnemonics later on, newer learners would probably rather use their version instead of the classical).

so, if its generally easy, (and slightly helpful for the very small group of people who learned the original radicals when they were little) , i say, why not add it?

Random, probably useless thoughts about my personal experience with kanji as someone who started Chinese as a child

As someone who grew up bilingual (English and Chinese) with English as my main language – so yes, I know my experience wasn’t the same as most people’s here, but I feel it can still tell us something about a possible approach to all this – I’ll acknowledge that the name for that in Chinese does include the concept of ‘side radical’ in it, but if you asked me to explain it in English, I would just say ‘person radical’. It’s such a mental habit that you’ll notice that even if I see something like 水 as part of a kanji on the forums, I don’t call it a ‘water radical’ even though technically, in English, it should be. I just think of it as the ‘water character/kanji’. Perhaps I’m underestimating the difficulty of grouping related concepts and symbols for most people, but to me, it’s always been something like ‘this bunch of things all mean “fire”, and they look like this or like that in this or that position in an kanji’. I see a meaningful component and think ‘this means that’. Period. And that’s how I was taught kanji from the very beginning. The way I think about radicals as being different forms of a single (usually simple) kanji has remained the same, and I’ve gone from struggling with characters to knowing a few thousand of them very well. (Of course, with components with no clear meaning, it’s not as clear, and I might instead think, ‘I think I’ve seen this before in…’ or ‘hm, this looks like…’.)

As for ease of memorisation… I know that everyone has different experiences, but

  1. knowing etymological radicals usually makes remembering meanings easier in my opinion, because there’s a greater proportion of kanji meanings that can be deduced from meaningful radicals; that often makes for shorter mnemonics that don’t rely on illogical leaps, which are much simpler for me, personally – and for that matter, it’s not rare for people to post queries on the forums about how they’re confused that what WK taught them doesn’t seem to line up with kanji meanings/usage
  2. I think a lot of etymological radical meanings are significantly simpler and more common (as words) than anything used by WK, so again, I think they’re easier in that sense – a common word is much more likely to come to mind than a rarer one

However, perhaps it is harder for people to learn things when there’s an overlap in the keywords used for memorisation (though, again, doesn’t WK separate radicals from other things to begin with?), so what I find simpler is not necessarily easier for everyone. (Still, there’s a whole stack of kanji compounds on WK with exactly the same meaning keywords even though the kanji used are quite different, so doesn’t that problem still exist? Radicals tend not to have overlapping meanings, so this isn’t as much of an issue with radicals.) Also, of course, many classifying radicals have no clear meaning (or they have specific meanings, but they’re really obscure), so those aren’t particularly great to learn.

Just my two cents, but I tend to find that direct links between pieces of information I’m trying to learn make them significantly easier to remember, and also allow me to spend less time on creating mnemonics. The more there is intrinsically ‘embedded’ within what I’m trying to remember, the less work I have to do. Etymological radicals tend to work that way; made-up ones don’t. Perhaps it’s just a matter of how each learner thinks about kanji, but I’d like to point out that I was taught this as a child with very little Chinese vocabulary and kanji knowledge who communicated in English most of the time, so I’m not entirely sure why one approach would be harder than another in terms of initial study. My experience learning and explaining kanji makes me feel that knowing etymological meaning tends to be more effective for remembering kanji in the long term, if only for radicals with clear, consistent meanings. (The obscure ones can be memorised any which way, in my opinion.)

Of course, if one approach works better for you than the other, stick with it by all means, but I sometimes wonder if etymological radicals seem harder to (so many?) people mainly due to a lack of explanation, or due to overcomplicated explanation (e.g. if I were making a review system that included etymological radicals, 亻would simply be marked – on the card – as a radical, and the keyword would be ‘person’, unless the learner prefers to include ‘radical’ in the keyword). The technical names I know in Chinese clearly exist primarily to describe general shape and position, and are in fact very efficient, and it seems Japanese technical names are similar; it’s translation that makes them seem unnecessarily clunky, because in either language, their names point clearly back to source kanji and meaning.

It’s obviously harder to teach kana readings using source kanji readings (because both the information to be learnt and the basis for memorisation are new information), but wouldn’t learning keywords of some sort be roughly the same regardless of the keyword, so long as both keywords are fairly familiar? (This is obviously just my way of looking at things, so feel free to share your experience.)

This though, I have to agree with – I never learnt the Chinese pinyin readings for radicals, and I can’t be bothered to. If I have to learn anything formal for a radical, it’ll be the Chinese or Japanese technical name, not the one-syllable short name. The technical names are descriptive; the one-syllable names are nearly useless.

I know I’m just being a stickler here, and it’s probably my Chinese speaker pride talking, but most kanji were imported from China (‘made in Japan’ kanji aside), and most of the ‘original’ radicals are from the Kangxi Dictionary. If ‘origins’ are the question, they’re not ‘Japanese’, unless we’re talking about some of the terminology, which is indeed specific to Japanese (and Chinese and Japanese do indeed use different kanji for some of the names of types of radicals).

Anyway, I do think that it would be great for people curious about (or familiar with) traditional radicals to be able to use them in WK if they want to, but the fact is that WK mnemonics are built around WK radical names. In that sense, there isn’t much of a point for WK to add these names by default. If you’re willing to create a script that adds them, that would be wonderful, but I think the people who use it would primarily be people curious about etymology or who are interested in making their own mnemonics using those radical names. Otherwise, it might not be all that popular.

EDIT: To make up for my rambling, I’ll share something that’s hopefully more useful:
For anyone who does want to look into traditional radical names, maybe this is a good place to start. Clicking on the ‘Importance’ heading to sort things that way provides examples of some of the most common traditional radicals, most of which have clear meanings. I don’t think all of them are helpful to memorise (e.g. I’ve never thought of the top of 介 as a form of 人), but they do come up a lot.


I agree, this is an excellent idea! I’d like to have the info, too, just not to replace the “funny” - but easier to remember - names.

This is actually not a bad idea, I just wanted to stick up for the existing ones because I’d personally found them very helpful (well, most of them - Mona Lisa is quite hard to remember 'cause for me it looks nothing like the real thing¹ :slight_smile:).

¹ To be fair, I’ve only seen it from like 10 or 15 metres away, and you don’t get long to look at it these days, there’s a massive queue!


Slightly off-topic, but if one wanted to sit a Kanken exam, would you need to know the traditional names of radicals?

not sure if you knew this… but you can always use this feature for yourself only of course

One example:


Yes and no. You don’t need to produce them from memory. You just have to be able to select them from multiple choice, and most are fairly self-explanatory for someone who has been studying kanji and Japanese up to that point. Often the names of radicals just explain what position and shape something has literally (or you have something like まだれ, which is 广, the たれ, overhanging radical, that is used in 麻, which has the reading ま). A few you would need to have looked up before.

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Tofugu covers why they did it the way they did here. It comes down to the fact that the “real” radicals are not memorable enough and there’s not enough of them. I think if you tried to do what you’re saying, you’d quickly realize there’s really not that much point. For the most part WK is already using the original meanings or something related when it makes sense.

  1. Most Japanese people don’t know the official names of these radicals either, and if that doesn’t illustrate the unimportance of knowing the “official” radical names, I don’t know what will.
  2. Official names tend to be very general and difficult to imagine in your mind’s eye. It’s important for mnemonics to be specific and easy to imagine in your mind’s eye .
  3. What would you say if I asked you, “What’s the meaning of the letter ‘s’ in ‘stupid?'” Radicals and kanji are a lot like that. Knowing the official meaning of a radical isn’t important (and when it is, we keep the official meaning).
  4. We’ve made up a lot of completely new radicals too, and, since they don’t exist in an “official” capacity, of course we’re going to give them names.

At that point it might not be a terrible idea to skip WK and just go with Anki alone then. You will learn the meanings and readings of kanji through vocabulary and since the human brain is a pattern recognition device, it will figure out radicals and little “stories” to explain kanji meanings from radicals on its own. And, these will be fully tailored to your expectations.

Disclaimer: YMMV

very funny @__@

wasn’t meant as a joke or anything was being sincere… I have used the synonym feature for a few kanji and vocab… shared it because it’s not always obvious to everyone that it’s an option…

you’re level is early enough that if you aren’t happy with WK drop it now before getting in too deep with time and money … and switch to anki or something … whatever works for you


haha, just pulling your leg :smile: i know about the synonym feature. I even know of scripts that have saved my butt because i type too fast. I indeed am quite new to WK so i thank you for the sincere tip…

…i think ill be using wanikani and anki both though, because my current deck teaches me vocab words (with furigana), and WK doesnt use furigana, which i like.

although im quite conflicted…i never really liked the mnemonic aspect of the pronunciation… i feel as if the best mnemonics are ones you make yourself… are there user synonyms for those as well?