Same meanings, different readings

I’m having trouble remembering different vocabulary with the same meanings. There are a couple of vocab words that have the same meaning with different kanji: for example, “to compete” is both 争う and 競う. While I know each has its own nuance, I still frequently put one reading for the other, remembering the wrong “to compete” mnemonic. I know both mnemonics, but since they have the same meaning, I’ll write the wrong reading for the vocab. (I blame my dyslexia)
An opposite/different example is when the mnemonics are the same but the meanings are different, like 見物 vs 見事! Both of these words have a “see thing” mnemonic. With these, I get the readings right but I’ll switch the meanings :sweat_smile:

Other than rote memorization for things like this, or relearning the vocab with different English (e.g. relearn it as “to quarrel” instead of “to compete”) are there any tips/tricks for remembering which one goes with which in cases like this? Thanks! :crabigator:

If there is already a thread about this please point me to it, I couldn’t find one

Edit: another example that doesn’t have as simple a solution of quarrel/compete:
Preparation x2: 用意 vs 支度
This one also has the added frustration of “wait it can’t be preparation, the other vocab was preparation!”


For the latter, it helps to remember that 物 generally refers to physical things and 事 often refers to non-physical things. When you’re sightseeing (見物), you’re looking at something physical. Given that, I’ll leave the explanation (or mnemonic) for why 見事 means “splendid” as an exercise for you (mostly because I don’t want to spend an hour writing out an awful explanation for that one :sweat_smile:).


Doing kanji → meaning → reading is not the best idea, for reasons such as this, and also because recall is slow, you don’t want to do it twice, especially if you want to read.

It will sound difficult, but try not to remember the meaning, when you are asked to put in the reading. That will make your brain associate the sound to the kanji itself, greatly speeding up your recall. The end goal would be to not be aware of the actual english meaning in the future, instead thinking in japanese. You’ve probably had some vocab like this. Where you know exactly what it means, just can’t remember the word for it.


The thing that eventually solves everything is going out and consuming native content and getting used to how the words are used by natives.

WaniKani is just there to give you the initial step. Encountering stuff in the real world is the stage that really hammers things home.


Physical vs non-physical is definitely helpful, thanks!

That would be ideal… any tips on how to force my brain to completely rewire itself, then? :sweat_smile: :grimacing:

Well, you can do it over time. One method is to stare at the vocab, while repeatedly starting the audio for it.

Another method, those questions on the first page of a lesson.
“Does the combination of the kanji meanings somewhat relate to the vocabulary meaning?”
“Based on the kanji composition, can you guess the reading of the vocabulary?”

This latter is important. It’s asking you to look at the shape and guess. You will see the meaning, but that doesn’t matter, this will make you look at the kanji in the vocab itself and pull the readings from your memories. You might get it wrong, because rendaku, and different readings, and so on, but that just means that you can then cement those inaccuracies in your head too.


I’ll start doing that then! Thanks for the good advice, and wish me luck on the rewiring :upside_down_face: :+1: I’ll try it with this next pile of reviews~

This is fantastic advice! I’ve been using a similar approach when doing Anki reviews lately and it works much better than trying to recall the English translation of the word.

It’s worth adding that this can be used while learning the word as well. By repeating the word and imagining it in different fitting contexts one can build an emotional association with the word rather than memorizing its word-by-word meaning.

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You can certainly try to associate the reading directly to the kanji, but I’d say the true ideal (in my opinion, at the very least) is to be able to unify the three things you’re learning into a single unit: thinking of any one of the three elements (meaning, reading or kanji) should trigger memories of the other two. Of course, because there are meaning overlaps, especially when you’re translating from Japanese to English, this may not always be possible, but if you use the most unique of the three elements (typically the kanji) as an anchor, you should be able to compartmentalise everything.

Aside from what was suggested above, I’d suggest actually trying to say the reading yourself when learning something new. Listen to the recording, read the kana, and repeat what you’ve heard while looking at the kana and the kanji form of the word. Listening to the recording will help, sure, but if you’re not investing yourself in the learning process, you’re losing a lot of potential triggers for your memories. It’s like listening to someone sing versus trying to learn a song yourself: you might remember the tune if you hear a song, along with the most impressive moments in the song, but if you learn to sing it, you’ll remember what it felt like trying to reach certain notes or attempting to create a certain effect with your voice. These things will stay with you, because you had to make far more effort to do it yourself.

In addition, I’d like to recommend this post:

You don’t have to throw out the meaning. What you need to do is to make sure it isn’t the only thing linked to the reading. Link everything up: meaning to kanji, reading to kanji, and even meaning to reading. How? Well, uh… shameless plug, but here are some examples:

Those are some mnemonics I wrote myself. Only some of them are mnemonics I’ve actually used personally, because I’m a Chinese speaker and didn’t need to learn kanji from scratch, but I can give you some examples from that thread that I used for kanji that I had never/only rarely seen, like these two:

(Read the full post if you want to know what I was referring to when I talked about the ‘う in うなる’. In essence, it’s an onomatopoeia for a pained moaning sound.)

Look for elements of the kanji that remind you of the meaning and the reading, and if possible, associate the things you need to remember with very vivid images or other things you already remember (like something that happened on a family trip).

Now here’s an example of this applied to one of the pairs you raised:

The two readings are あらそう and きそう, so if you want to differentiate them, you have to focus on what comes before そう in both cases, because there’s no difference otherwise. Here’s my suggestion:

Between 争 and 競, which looks more like ら in terms of the amount of white space and the overall shape? I think it’s obviously 争, right? It contains fewer strokes, and both have a central vertical stroke and a vaguely horizontal little something that seems to top everything off (𠂊 for 争, and 丶 for ら). Meanwhile, the main difference in nuance between these two verbs is that 争う also has a stronger nuance of conflict. What happens when people are in conflict? They quarrel and are angry, right? See those As? Which reading contains an A? Only あらそう does.

As for きそう, well, the K sound is a sharp, forceful sound. You can feel the air cutting your mouth as you pronounce it. Which kanji has sharper strokes? Look at this bit of 競:
If that isn’t a sharp bend and sharp end to the stroke, I don’t know what is. Also, wouldn’t you say that the two hooked strokes in this kanji (the one I just circled and its analogue in the right half of the kanji) make it look like this kanji is two people kicking each other as they jostle for supremacy? Kick. . そう.

Bonus remark: the on’yomi of 競 is きょう. That starts with a き kana as well. The kun’yomi preserves that kana.

Something I neglected to mention: as I think about all these things, I’m constantly visualising what I’m talking about – kanji components kicking each other, ら superimposed over 争, people fighting and quarrelling… If visualisation doesn’t give you trouble, I suggest you do so too, because these images – and more importantly, the feelings they generate, because you should make them an emotional experience too – will also stay with you.

In short, with endless association between elements and with things you already know, you either remember nothing, or you remember them all at once.


This is absolutely fantastic, thank you so much for taking the time to type this all out!


As an update, this has already helped me enormously!! I’ve been able to Guru both 争うand 競う~
Thanks again :heavy_heart_exclamation:

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