Should I learn kanji before anything else?

Hi all, hajimemashite!

I’m new to this site and fairly new to learning Japanese in general though I’ve picked up words over the years. I don’t attend any classes and am entirely self-taught by using sites like this and JapanesePod101 as well as a couple of games that teach hiragana and the names of objects and colours, numbers etc. I found tofugu and wanikani because I had wanted to know if I should learn the kanji for the words I was learning as I was learning them and came across a tofugu article.

But I also found another site in which someone had asked the same question, and one person commented that there is a group of self taught Japanese students that advocate learning kanji before learning grammar or vocabulary as many Japanese words are kanji compounds that are easier to learn and remember when you understand which kanji are used and why. They also said that they know someone who started learning Japanese at the same time as them but this someone only learnt kanji without learning any words. They both apparently studied as hard as each other, but the one who only learnt kanji first became better at Japanese than the commenter in half the time; ‘jaw-dropping, ridiculously good’ in fact. The commenter went on to say that if he could go back in time he would have done the same thing as his friend.

So my question is: do you agree? Should I just focus on wanikani and learning kanji before anything else? Or should I still be learning hiragana/katakana and the words for all things like colours, days, months, animals etc etc at the same time?

Anyway sorry for the long post and thanks for having me! Yoroshiku onegaishimásu!


The official stance of the creator of the site (which isn’t surprising I suppose) is that you should start with kanji and then start studying grammar at like level 10.

But personally, I think kanji is much easier to study when you already have a foundation in the language.


First, learning hiragana and katakana is a prerequisite to learning kanji. So you should do that first no matter what.

In general I would recommend learning things together, but emphasizing one more than the others at any one time is okay. If you learn all the kanji, but don’t know any grammar, you won’t be able to reinforce the kanji and are more likely to forget them. It’s important to be able to practice by reading, and you can only do that if you work on kanji, vocab, and grammar together (even if the learning is somewhat unbalanced).

Personally, I was learning Japanese for a year before joining WaniKani to really focus on kanji, and I think it’s worked well for me.


I kinda have a basic foundation I guess… I mean I know how to pronounce words and I know about sentence structure and can introduce myself that kinda thing. And I know about 10 hiragana and can count to 100 (lol).

What would you consider a foundation to be?

I think it basically works either way. Kanji makes Japanese easier, and Japanese makes Kanji easier, so pick your poison.
Maybe that’s not helpful? I don’t know. On a personal level, I know that wanikani is pretty easy, on account of I already have a decent foundation in Japanese, and a lot of the kanji and compounds you have to learn would be a lot more annoying if I didn’t already know a good amount of Japanese. Also, one of the very, very common complaints of people learning kanji here are the synonyms. This is a lot easier if you already know some Japanese and are aware that peace, peace, peace, and peace are actually all different ahead of time :wink:


Study grammar alongside it. Don’t do what I did. I did very little to no grammar while doing Wanikani, and as a result, I have a very poor reading ability. I’m fixing that now, but I’m basically playing catch up.


What I’m referring to is where when you learn how to read the words here, you already knew them. You just learned what the kanji were. Obviously you wouldn’t wait until you know all the words, but enough that it’s that feeling of things you already knew getting solidified rather than starting from complete scratch. It’s really difficult to memorize new kanji readings and shapes if everything about that kanji or word is new to you.


Not him but to even type in the answers here you’ll need to know all the Hiragana (46 different characters plus the stressed versions plus compounds) You can learn it in the guide in one day here

Katakana is also incredibly important, you can also learn it in one day here


Learn all the kana first no matter what you do.

And I’m not the one you asked, but I think at least a grasp of N5 would be extremely helpful. Know things like the passive and causative - it’ll help with the vocabulary. Also, maybe just know like 1000 words before you start.


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May I ask why learning hiragana and katakana is a prerequisite? I’ve literally only learnt the kanji radicals so far and maybe that’s easy anyway but I didn’t have any problems with them. Isn’t learning the kanji just remembering the character and then knowing what the meaning and Japanese word is? Why is knowing the other two systems important?

Well, when you get to the reading portion the information is given in kana.


You can’t read any Japanese without knowing the kana. Also, in Wanikani, all of the readings you learn for the kanji will be presented to you in Hiragana.

Also it genuinely only takes a couple days and some flashcards to get a decent grasp of all the kana.


I’ve only done the radicals so far but I only answered in English, does it eventually require you to answer in Japanese kana then?

Yes, when you get to the kanji and vocab. The radicals are just building blocks that are used to make mnemonics.


On the kana topic: wanikani will only tell you the readings of kanji in kana, so if you don’t know all of it, you won’t be able to learn when you progress past the radicals.

Radicals are building blocks of kanji, not words in and of themselves, so they don’t have a reading. Kana is a non-optional basic for doing WK. ^^

About your overall question: There is never a one-size-fits-all answer. Even if it happened like that, there are many other factors in play as to why a method would or would not be effective from one person to the next.

I personally think it’s fine to start with just WaniKani for a few levels, especially if you’re new to Japanese as a whole. It’ll be a lot ot learn, a lot to take in, and if you’re not used to it yet, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

I think the overall advice the creators give about adding grammar around level 10, and reading as much as conceivably possible in the 20s is a pretty solid one.

Gives you plenty of time to find your groove with WK and the barrage of reviews it can give you if you go full speed, and it makes sure you develop everything in tandem. That’s what I’m personally trying to do (started that around late level 10s and 20) and I’m making good progress on my reading ability.

Good luck on your Japanese journey, however it may work best for you!


So many replies so quickly lol!

Okay I wasn’t aware that eventually everything gets presented in kana. I guess I’ll just keep doing what I was doing then and studying the grammar, vocab and kana to fill in the gaps between reviews. Thanks for everyone’s help and advice ^^

Thanks for the response, maybe I’ll just do wanikani for a few levels while studying the kana at the same time and go from there.

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Definitely do the Tofugu Hiragana learning guide SHG28 linked. It only takes a few days at most.
Katakana is important as well but you can get by without learning it immediately.

Personally, I really started grammar after level 10. That’s just an arbitrary number but I think somewhere in the FAQs it was stated that by then you would know most of the kanji in the textbooks. This helps prevent overload of kanji while trying to focus on grammar.

Find what works for you though. There is no one-size-fits-all learning method. Good luck! :four_leaf_clover:


This is how I feel as well. If you’re serious about studying, you can get to an N5 level in roughly a month, maybe faster depending on how hard you study. This stuff makes much MUCH more sense once you have that foundation.

As one more thing to explain why you need to learn the kana, if you see a kanji word or compound you don’t know and decide to look it up, this is how it will look (this is
自転車 is the word written in kanji, and above it is how to pronounce it, written in kana. A lot of people argue the “Well I can just use romaji to study” thing, which you will find is generally met with negative feedback as it reinforces bad pronunciation habits among other things.


Thanks for the advice. I’ve seen ‘N5’ mentioned a couple of times but what is that? I’m self-taught so I don’t know about school teaching systems or levels if it’s something relating to that.