Onyomi and Kunyomi frustrations

I never started :stuck_out_tongue: I’m a Chinese speaker, so kanji are familiar to me. I started Chinese as a toddler and regularly used it in school and for watching TV dramas. I’m basically a native speaker, but I’m not as fluent as someone from, say, China. I was raised bilingual with English as my main language.

I might have found and forgot about it back then, but I did not reset so to speak. I only started recently.

Oh! I wondered how hard it would be for someone who is relatively fluent in Chinese to learn Japnaese.

There are a few other threads on that question that I’ve commented on. I can’t remember their titles exactly, but one of them is ‘Anyone else making the jump from Chinese?’. Another is something like ‘Chinese while continuing Japanese’. Try using the forum search function. They’re fairly recent, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find. I think even ‘chinese jonapedia’ should bring something up. I just don’t feel like looking for them myself right now because I’m on my phone.

In short though, it’s a lot easier for someone who already speaks Chinese, because the meaning of most kanji are the same or very similar. Exactly how easy it is depends on certain details though: do you know some Classical Chinese? That will allow you to work out some of the more archaic uses of kanji in Japanese that no longer exist in Chinese. Are you able to see ‘pronunciation conversion patterns’ between Mandarin and Japanese? That will determine how easily you guess and retain on’yomi. Finally, do you see similarities in structure between Japanese and Chinese? That will determine how comfortable you are with は, relative clauses that come before nouns and modifiers in general (especially the 〜的 な-adjectives), and Japanese compound verbs and sentence-ending particles, among others. The more connections you’re able to draw, the bigger your advantage as a Chinese speaker. If you can’t see all these things, you’ll still have much less to learn than someone starting kanji from zero, but you’ll have to pick many facts about Japanese up as separate, distinct pieces of information, without any help from analogies with Chinese.

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don’t worry, another few levels and it’ll just click. don’t waste time on getting upset at it!


Would just like to update, for those who are at all interested, I’ve been powering through consistently and have been getting better with practice :slight_smile: I aced my first review today since like 3-4 days ago which felt really good. I’m in the zone now! Thanks all for words of encouragement and just letting me vent :smiley:


Good to hear that you’re getting through it. Just remember that the community is here for you; we’re all learning together, and whether we have advice, resources, or a friendly ear to listen, we’ve got your back.


its color coded. for example if its pink they want the kanji alone. i had that issue. when the background is purple they want the VOCABULARY. so for example the kanji for stone is seki (pink background) when its purple, i ask myself “ok what is the vocabulary word for THIS” then it’ll be ishi.

same thing with 上 the kanji reading is じょう when its purple i ask myself what is the VOCAB FOR 上 SO IT IS UE for example…

I got that, it was just which pronunciation was which that kept getting me.

thats why like there’s readings or whatever they use to help you remember stuff.

This is a fantastic answer, and I felt I needed to give it more than a click of the Like button, so here we are.

Also, I like what you said about Chinese giving you insight into some of the more archaic uses of kanji in Japanese. Whenever I find myself baffled by the use of a given kanji in a seemingly odd context, I bug my friend who is learning Chinese (and whose wife is Chinese), and they always give me more of a historical reference for the kanji themselves. In those situations I find these references way better for drilling the meaning into my head than the Wanikani meaning mnemonics (nothing against the WK writers for this, though… there’s only so much you can reasonably put into a mnemonic).

A good example was recently when I was confused by 会社 (company) vs 社会 (society). In WK 社 is defined as ‘company’, so 会社 made some sense (a meeting/coming together of a company), but 社会 made no sense to me at all (‘a company meeting’??). When they explained that the original meaning of 社 is actually closer to ‘society’ or ‘group of people’ (and that the first kanji in a jukugo tends to have a bigger role in the meaning), everything made way more sense — 会社, a meeting society is a ‘company’; and 社会, a group of people coming together is a ‘society’.

(Sorry, this has become a big tangent to the OP’s post now…) :sweat_smile:


Regarding the “society” thing - even in English, that word has a double meaning, and it’s even stronger in many other European languages. It can refer both to a company (as in German “Aktiengesellschaft” or the French “Societé a responsibilité limitée” (sp?)) and to, well, society. So tbh I’m more surprised that those two words are also similar in Japanese, which is kind of an odd coincidence.

So to me personally, the most confusing thing here is keeping straight which one of the pair is which.


For what it’s worth, that’s where knowing that the first kanji in a jukugo has the stronger weight (at least in Chinese, but I presume this transferred to Japanese as well) is helpful for me.

In 会社, the emphasis is on ‘meeting’ — half my work day in my company is meetings, so that covers that.

In 社会, the emphasis is on ‘society’ so… society! (If you don’t strictly go by WK’s ‘company’ definition, that is.)


Does it ? For what I know, in Chinese and in Japanese, kanji compound are read left to right, that is a kanji (or group of kanji) on the left are usually qualifying what’s on the right. So it can be argued that the most important kanji is often the last one, well at least it tells us what the word is about.

Like for example 海水浴. 浴 is the last one, so we are talking about a bathing. What kind of bathing ? In Water. What kind of water ? Water from the ocean. (so the word mean ocean bathing or seawater bathing) Which kanji has the stronger weight ? I’m not sure… Same in English, what is the most important part of “seawater bathing” ? Is there really one ?

Unfortunately, none of it probably matter in the very specific case of 会社/社会, because the etymology seems very messy.
From what I understand, the modern meaning of both words were created in japan, as a single translation of the word “society” (from dutch and english). Seems that for quite a long time 「会社」「社会」「仲間」「連中」were used in a similar way, to talk about a small community (like club or small company) and it’s only at the beginning of Meiji era that the meaning of 会社 and 社会 clearly diverged.


That’s what I’ve been told by a native Chinese speaker — that the first kanji has the emphasis. I’m sure, as with every language, there are exceptions. But since paying attention to this I’ve found it to be pretty useful and seemingly true :slightly_smiling_face:

In your example, bathing is the general topic, but the specificity comes from from 海水, so to my mind the idea that the emphasis is strongest at the start of the kanji combo seems accurate.

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No, but it’s bathing. Bathing is what you’re talking about. “Seawater” describes the bathing, but the point is, it’s bathing. The sentence would still make sense if you only had the “bathing”, but would be nonsensical if you only had the “seawater”.


The last kanji carries the general meaning, and the ones before carry the specifics. (I wasn’t raised in a country where Chinese is the main language of communication, but I started Chinese as a toddler and I did ten years of formal Chinese education, so I think I qualify as a native speaker as well.) What comes before modifies what comes after. We wouldn’t be able to use 的 (the Chinese equivalent of の) otherwise.


@Jonapedia, as a native speaker, do you have any intuition about why 会社 ended up meaning company and 社会 meaning society ? (Today’s tangent :sweat_smile:)

As explained in the links I gave a bit earlier, it seems it was a very messy process and it took like a century for the meanings to stabilize during end of Edo and beginning of Meiji, but still maybe…

I was thinking perhaps:
会社 = a 社 where people gather/meet, and maybe 社 evoke a bit the building meaning (shrine, temple) so it ended up being the more concrete “company” word.
社会 = a 社 gathering ? I’m not sure, maybe a large/public gathering and by extension the entire society ?

Completely out of my depth here, hope I’m not spouting nonsense :rofl:


Hm… not really. I read an article in Japanese that said the two used to be equivalent, and that it’s really just usage that shaped how each eventually came to be used. A Chinese definition I saw said 社 used to refer to an earth god, and subsequently to shrines used to worship it (I think 神社 in Japanese is related), and the Japanese article I mentioned said it used to refer to the ‘village’ god. Basically though, all that seems to imply that 社 has a stronger social (or more accurately societal) connotation than 会. I’d say that in modern Mandarin, 社 usually indicates a more complex organisation than 会, which tends to emphasise the meeting or coming together: banquets and celebrations use 会 (think of 宴会 in Japanese, which also exists in Mandarin). 社, on the other hand, is almost always an organisation of some kind. 会 can be either an organisation or a meeting.

Anyhow, so, here are two possible explanations, both of which are somewhat improbable:

  • Perhaps, as I said, 社 carries a stronger nuance of ‘society’ or ‘organisation’, and so it makes more sense to speak of ‘society’ as an ‘organised coming-together of people’ than as a ‘meeting organisation’ (which I think is a pretty good description of a company).
  • Perhaps, if shrines were seen as a central aspect of traditional society (I mean, in Ancient China, you were supposed to pray to the earth god before moving your bed or digging holes in the ground), then you could see 社会 as a ‘meeting of shrines’? Or a ‘meeting of organisations’. I mean, society has many levels of hierarchy, whereas I tend to feel like 〜社 designates a single hierarchy or organisation. 会 itself doesn’t imply hierarchy, even if one can often guess how much hierarchy there is based on the specific phrase in which it’s used.

If I had to pick one explanation to stick to, I’d go with the first. Ultimately though, since 社会 is a phrase that was apparently made in Japan, I’d take any well-researched/authoritative Japanese explanation over mine. The trends in 社 and 会 usage do point towards 社会 feeling more natural for ‘society’ than 会社, but it’s really more because 会社 feels more like a single organisation than because 社会 clearly fits.


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