Remembering things you can't remember

I’m sure we’ve all (or most) been in this situation: You’ve spent a few weeks looking at the same kanji almost every day on WaniKani, both as kanji and vocabulary items, and you answer the reviews right every time. Then that kanji goes away to sleep in the SRS system until a few weeks later, it wakes up and comes back as a candidate for Enlightenment. You look at it. It seems vaguely familiar, but you just can’t quite place it. You recognize the radicals, but the mnemonic story isn’t coming back to you.

What do you do?

I’m just looking for tips and tricks you may have come up with to overcome these obstacles. Here’s what I’ve tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes not:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Hit “force reorder” on the reorder script which essentially shuffles the deck to give me more time.
  • Say the hiragana syllabary to myself to see if any of the sounds associated with the kanji will trigger a memory.

Today I got 負 and suddenly couldn’t remember what it meant or how it was read (possibly because I recently got the similar-looking 急). Saying my hiragana out loud, I twinged on ま and suddenly remembered 負ける. I still got the reading wrong (because I remembered the ぶ in 勝負 and not the un-rendaku-ed ふ) but still I remembered the meaning and was close (arguably correct) with the reading. And then I went back and wrote myself a better mnemonic for the future.

Any other suggestions for jogging your memories when you find yourself stuck?


Get it wrong and try again later. Every time you forget an item then relearn it the memory becomes stronger. That’s what makes SRS a much more efficient way to memorize an item than just writing it down fifty times. I don’t necessarily see the bad thing about forgetting something.


True, there’s no real harm in getting something wrong because you’ll always get another chance, but on the other hand, as Koichi has written, “The more you struggle to recall something, the more easy it is to recall next time.” So I try to give it a good effort.


You can go overboard and spend more time trying to remember something than would be reasonable if you were encountering it in the wild. My ideal would be to have a time limit for each item that I would be okay with if I was just reading it in a book or article.


I get you, and I think you’re right. It’s certainly not worth going overboard, and I don’t spend my day going for walks trying to remember kanji. But I’m worried if I don’t agonize just a little, that my brain will decide it’s not important information to retain. I’m sure I’ve read elsewhere, not just in the collected ramblings of Koichi, that working hard to recall a memory that you know you’ve stored is beneficial to the learning process, especially if you’re successful.

I will bow down to my senpai though. If you’ve gotten to level 56 in under a year, you must be doing something right.

I feel like “get it wrong and SRS will handle it” generally works, but not as well for bad leeches. It really depends on how well the SRS intervals work for you personally.

I’ve actually taken to, if I miss a Burn review on a leech, using the ignore script to get it burned, and then immediately resurrecting it and restarting from Apprentice. I find that the Enlightened → Guru penalty pushes it back only far enough to guarantee I’m never going to get it to burned successfully, because the number of times I’ll see it again is not enough, and the intervals too far apart. Like I’ll often get it the very next time it comes up, but then the next interval is too far away and it remains a leech.

I’d frankly rather start over and see it a bunch more times and have more chances for it to stick. Now I’m actually wondering if there’s a script that’ll let me reset an item to “new” at any time, not just after it’s burned. Time to head over to the userscripts thread.


Interesting. I have yet to burn an item. I think it takes about six months from starting. I wonder how many I’ll forget when that wave of items waiting to be burned appears. I do think my retention is better since I started writing my own mnemonics for every kanji.

Yeah this happens frequent I just get it wrong… The only things i really dont care about remembering so much is the radicals - eg on a review i answered street when it was the nail radical.

What I am curious about every tried to think of a word that you should know, but for the life of you, you can not remember. And then suddenly you see the kanji pop up in a review sesson and you remember it.

In this case do you get it incorrect on purpose - because you knew you couldn’t remember it outside of the review lessons and scared of not truely remembering the word? or do you put in the correct meaning/ reading?

I find this situation to be quite a dilemma.

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I believe in that case, you should absolutely answer it correctly if you can. You will have a mini rush of endorphins as you did something right, and just like training a doggie, you brain will want to get more treats (those endorphins) by remembering it next time. At least that’s my theory.

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Snap! And I had been thinking it was my older-than-the-avg.-WK-user’s brain that was the problem. :laughing:

Discussions about recall, memory, and acquisition came up a fair bit in my psycholinguistics and language acquistion classes at uni, and the effort to remember something is supposed to create more neural connections, so I would encourage you to continue.

When I started having the memory issues you described, I recalled the thread “My thoughts, tips, and ramblings after reaching level 60 — long post” and in particular that the OP had specifically worked on developing a robust and highly effective mnemonics system from the get-go (i.e. better than WK). I’ve ordered the book mentioned and hope to provide feedback in the next couple of weeks.

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I mean it might be your brain… I’m older than average myself. Could be a symptom of incipient dementia. :roll_eyes:

And by the way I love that post you linked to. I read it when I first started here and have referred back a couple times. I love the I-can-do-anything attitude. It inspired me.

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I like this idea a lot… I’ve been using resurrect very frequently because I’ve forgotten an immense amount of material early on… the problem is that this only works for previously burned items - not for leeches. I’ve let leeches get utterly out of control and I’d like to reset a few - even reset them to pending lessons.

It’s a good policy overall to struggle to recall something. Having said that, there is no reason to not set yourself up as best you can when you’re initially learning the item. Write the item out, spend a bit more time on lessons. And then, if you fail, SRS will handle it.

I’d also recommend using an SRS system for writing specifically, for items you’ve burned, as a way to ensure you’re going beyond just recognition. After all, recall is important too.

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I keep up with Kaniwani as well for my recall needs. I find I have to make completely different mnemonics on that site, like for example for ‘completion’ (or 完成ーかんせい) I’ll make a dialogue like “When’s the Completion date? Can’t say…”

But I don’t need too many mnemonics on kaniwani, just a few per level. And I need to hit Ignore a bunch because there are so many synonyms, like five kind of “action”, etc.

Whenever i identify a kanji vocab o radical in this situation, maybe it’s what they call here a leech. i do the following:

if its a radical, i try to invent a new story mnemonic to help me visualize it better
if its a kanji, i look it up elsewhere, i read the story, the evolution of the kanji, i write it down while repeating its components
If its a vocab, i look up the word i see the word in action i try to use it in own sentences, i even tell them to a friend, (i 've no friends studying japanese at the time being but any friend can help you practice)

I try to explain the radical, kanji, or word to someone that doesn’t know about it, at least for me the memory of talking to someone lasts longer.

You could post about the element here, make a new thread, go to our group (go narwhals!) or any other thread and explain as you did here how come you lost the meaning or reading of it, others may help adding their insight on how they learn that element.

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