Recognizing vocab through kanji readings only

I am currently studying grammar for my first JLPT (N4) and my Japanese proficiency is all over the place. As a result of grinding Wanikani for 2+ years and nothing else, my kanji/vocab is easily N3 level but that’s only when I read it as kanji.

When I see vocab terms shows up as hiragana only or audio, I have trouble recognizing what it is until I look it up and facepalm for not recognizing the word. The hiragana problem will probably resolve itself when I move on from N4 resources that try to “baby” me with hiragana instead of kanji, but the listening bit is a problem

Is this a result of wanikani reviews being only in one format (漢字 → reading/description), resulting in skewed learning unless we study outside this system?

I also realized I had turned off the autoplay sounds a long time ago for various reasons, but probably lost out on years of passive audio repetition as a result. Do you use the autoplay?

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If WK didn’t have autoplay I would not be using it. And you’re correct, WK teaches kanji, you’ll need to supplement it. I won’t pretend to know what your ideal solution might be, but personally, if I were in your position, I’d spend more time working on listening and speaking. Maybe try one of the shadowing books.

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That’s the norm.

Kanji help in recognition because of the meanings attached to them.

For recall, you need repetition/immersion/using the word.


Once you start reading more you’ll internalize it more. Language doesn’t have any secret to it, its generally just a game of how much exposure do you have with the word/grammar/kanji/etc.

I did a similar thing to you where I just grinded WK for a year then took grammar and everything seriously after the fact. It takes a month or so of reading before you stop doing it for all kanji. You’ll eventually be able to read the hiragana and put together quickly what word you’re looking at but that takes time and exposure.

Good luck out there.


No it’s a result of only using WaniKani. Ideally you would also be practicing simple/common conversations (トイレはどこですか)and slowly getting more complicated and advanced. The thing is, in actual speech, the context of a sentence makes certain words very obvious when they might not be in isolation. There’s enough redundancy in spoken language that you can completely miss a word and still figure out what it must have been. It’s more the expectation of what the word should be, than reading what it is, or at least that makes it a lot easier.


What kind of grammar resources are you using? WaniKani on its own is only going to help with kanji and maybe a bit with vocab, which end up being just pieces of the puzzle of Japanese.

Seeing and hearing words in context will help a lot. You’ll get a feel for how similarly translated words vary in usage and also how they fit into sentences. You can change up how you study to increase how much you see/hear kanji and words in context. When I still used WaniKani, I used a great script from @ChristopherFritz that displays vocab on kanji cards. You only see kanji in isolation on kanji tests and not irl. In before anyone says signs or texting, that’s not isolation, you’re meant to read them as word. I highly recommend immersion. If native materials are too difficult, then I recommend graded readers.

Here are many free graded readers Free books – にほんごたどく
Natively doesn’t have its own graded readers, but many are linked and can be found by searching


Have you tried the reverse of WK, starting with English meaning (for Kanji) and word (vocabulary) and having to produce the Japanese? You will then need to be inputting in hiragana/katakana which, at least for me, helps to some extent with the issue you mentioned. Kana part mostly but also the listening part a bit. It forces me to “think in kana” in order to input my answer and while doing so I also pronounce it, which helps a bit with the listening part.

Also, playing the audio during reviews is a good idea. What could be cool was if WK had the option to also review from the audio only, instead of written vocab.


I’ve been using the “Try! JLPT N4” grammar textbook on recommendation from a friend. It’s a decent book with a structure for me to follow, but I find myself frequently looking up more information/examples online or on Bunpro/Tofugu.

I am considering trying Bunpro as my primary grammar resource, but maybe after finishing Try! as I cram for the test in 2 months haha.

That userscript looks potentially game-changing in how our brains process kanji through SRS. I’m almost afraid to try it because of how impactful it could be for better or worse. But like you said, we are doing this to learn Japanese, not to read kanji in isolation. So it might be worth a shot.


This is an odd one, as Kanji combinations outside WaniKani can exist; as well as Kanji do have meaning in isolation (e.g. in names).

Single Kanji are rare, and I think it’s OK if you can’t read them. (Also, how to read might not be the expected On’yomi nor Kun’yomi without Okurigana.)

Nonetheless, I don’t think that’s a thing to worry much at N4 level.

Backside of EN => JP is much about the vocabulary selection. Probably knowing EN => JP or ??? => JP should rather be a frequency list, or key-vocabulary list.

Nonetheless, EN => JP of WaniKani vocabularies may help with Kanji readings.

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Parroting what’s already been mentioned, repeated exposure and context both help with this.

The manga series よつばと! could be helpful for this because (after the first volume) the titular character speaks only in hiragana.

Although there’s no digital release, you can read several chapters online on the Comic Walker website.

If you’ve never tried reading native material before, you probably won’t make it very far at first.

Joining the Absolute Beginner Book Club can drastically boost reading. You may want to push a little further along in grammar, but it sounds like you’re at a point where you should be reading native material every day (even if just a little) to give yourself that exposure to vocabulary (and grammar) in context.

You might be surprised how often native material will put random words in kana-only.


Okay I lied when I said I get no other exposure. My daily dose of Japanese is following JP media and content creators on SNS, but that probably isn’t the best source for proper vocab/grammar, although it is one of the reasons I want to get better for :wink:

Those are great points though, a lot of my more fluent friends got there by brute forcing their way through light novels and other reading material. I’ll give those book clubs a try once I’m done cramming through my JLPT grammar!


Names are names though, not kanji. Whatever the intended meaning is something the name-giver knows, it’s not necessarily a given that they’ll have some super clear meaning anyway.

Combinations are going to be words though.


That’s completely normal. I had this problem for a while as well. The most straightforward solution is watching/listening to stuff with a transcript in front of you so you can start associating sounds with characters better.

Well, ideally one shouldn’t grind WaniKani alone and only after N months/years (or after completion) switch to other resources, precisely because the learning experience is going to be rather unsatisfying for a longer while. Also, it’s highly likely to start forgetting kanji learned via WaniKani, because they no longer appear with sufficient frequency in other resources.

I think I did use autoplay. It’s quite useful, but obviously not when you’re doing lessons on a crowded train :stuck_out_tongue: .

And often times those combinations can be a mix of several words if you see them on signs, etc. right? :slight_smile:


Headphones… :wink:

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