Remembering readings for kanji vocabulary

Hey all!

For the past few days something has been bothering me quite a bit. When learning and reviewing kanji-based vocabulary, I notice that instead of remembering the actual reading of a word, I use the kanjis to determine the reading (combined with a mental check to confirm if the reading is correct).

I feel like this is hindering me, especially in listening exercises. I will hear words that I should know, but they won’t always register because the actual the reading was never really memorised.

Is this something anyone else has experienced before? Is it simply more time that is required to start noticing learned vocabulary during listening, or is my current method of “memorising” incorrect?



So you mean, for example, when you see the word 先生, instead of automatically recognizing it as せんせい, you first recognize that 先 is pronounced せん and 生 is pronounced せい and then put them together? That sounds… perfectly normal to me. I’d just suggest doing more listening practice.


It happens to me all the time. Yes it hinders memorizing the readings. I use Kaniwani to mitigate this problem but this is not perfect.


Same thing has happened to me, though I’m not sure if it was as severe. I spend way more time practicing reading than listening. As I’ve practice listening more I’ve gotten better about it, but I still have some of those “d’oh” moments when listening to something and then comparing the subtitles.

Are you listening to the audio as you review? I find repeating the audio (as in saying it myself as well as listening to it) incessantly as I’m reviewing vocab helps a lot.


This will happen unless you mix up the ‘direction’ of you learning, and the method of recall.

So with Wanikani you learn how to recall meaning and reading with a visual cue, from Japanese to English. However this is not the only way you must be able to recall information to be well rounded in the fundamentals of a language.

You must also be able to recall the meaning (and ideally the visual cue ie how to write it) from an auditory cue - as in someone saying the word.

It is also necessary to be able to operate English - Japanese (Kaniwani is mentioned above).

each of the processes involves different pathways in the brain, which can to some extent work independently - this is why I can read at a pretty high level, but only recognize a fraction of the vocab that I know when encountered in spoken Japanese.

AT the moment you are memorizing what the meaning and reading of a word is, but ONLY (reliably at least) when you have a visual cue.

That is my take anyhow !


@darkness_rising Yes, that’s correct.

I guess I could say that it feels wrong to learn the reading for single vocabulary word as a set of sub-readings. Going from 決̶定̶ 発表 to はっぴょう is easy as I can simply recall the readings for each kanji separately (+ applying some magic rendaku). The other way back is quite difficult though, as I’ve never really learned the reading はっぴょう. I just read the kanjis and figure it out during my review.

@prouleau KaniWani sounds like it would definitely help fix this problem. I will give it a try!

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That’s a good suggestion. I will try to put the audio on autoplay so that the actual sound of the word gets burned into my brain :grimacing:

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Like I said Kaniwani is not perfect. One issue is there are a lot of words with the same meaning. Guessing which one Kaniwani wants at a given time is impossible. To work around this problem we have to define synonyms. But then I find myself always using the same synonym and ignoring the others. That limits the learning a bit. Using Kaniwani is still better than nothing though.

I think we also need to practice listening Japanese to help develop our recognition of the readings.

Umm lol do you mean 発表?

Also, I like Kamesame! It’s very similar to Kaniwani, you may want to check that out as well.

Edit: also, the option to autoplay sound is in the settings :slight_smile:

I was just questioning my sanity, what you wrote was けってい、not 発表。

Btw if I read 発表 my brain goes eh departure… Express… Eh that was “announcement” maybe?

So yeah, same boat here :joy:

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Yeah, that’s a mistake. I meant 発表. Don’t know what I was thinking :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

Will take a look at it!

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Just realized another reason why I don’t do this too often. Before starting wanikani I had years of vocabulary study under my belt without any kanji study, so a lot of words I know before learning the kanji. The phenomenon you describe seems to mostly happen with new words for me, so maybe that has something to do with it too?

I thought of this because 発表 I learned for Tobira before learning its kanji on wanikani, and so I was pronouncing it a lot already from the memrise deck I was learning from. So that’s not an example of a word this would happen to me with.

Juggling several methods of SRS is a real pain, but I find it easier if my secondary (ie not WK) vocab-only SRS is focused around a specific text ie a textbook or novel/manga or something that I am really doing for reading practice. Doing core10k with Wanikani would make my eyeballs fall out.

I think still the main thing that saved me from having this happen too often is doing SRS with audio for a long time.

If I recall correctly Kamesame gives you the English meaning and you need to find the kanji. Kaniwani gives you the English meaning and you need to find the Japanese reading. For learning readings you need Kaniwani.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Whenever I learn the Kanji for a word I’ve learned before, my brain processes it differently.

Obviously 発表 is a word, I haven’t internalized yet.

天使 for example is a word I’ve known for a long time, I won’t go and think of heaven and use for that.

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This would be such a cool study for developing study plans. Makes me wish I had a linguistics degree. One of these days!

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It always is and I’ve actually found that it’s not that useful anyway.

For example, when you’re sitting at an airport and you hear the voice over the loudspeaker, you want to think 発表. You don’t want to think, oh, that’s an announcement and in Japanese “announcement” is 発表.

But I think that only comes from long term study.

After a year and a half of WK, many times I’ll see a word, be able to read it, and know what it means, but it’ll take me a few seconds to figure out what that the English word for it is.

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I can definitely relate to this. When seeing 天使, I immediately know it’s pronounced てんし without having to combine the individual kanji readings. I also find it much easier to recognise during listening.

Makes me wonder if it’s more effective to learn vocabulary without kanjis first. It’s definitely easier to learn the kanji-based vocabulary if you have already memorised the reading and meaning.

Maybe, but Kana vocabulary is hard to learn too. Without the meaning provided by the Kanji, Kana vocab always feels like random memorization of syllables.

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I agree, learning vocabulary without kanji is hard and feels completely random. But I can’t help but feel that this method will actually give better results in the long run as you really need to put in effort to memorise them (Instead of determining the reading based off the kanjis). It forces your brain to make a direct connection between the meaning and reading.

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