Should Vocabulary lessons teach reading before meaning?

I know I am no one to to question the ways of the Crabigator, but hear me for a minute.

I reached Level 60 a year ago and burned almost all of my items, but I was paying monthly so it made no sense to pay a month of no reviews just to wait and burn another item, so I stopped using Wanikani and tried practicing reading some stuff online.

I found that my brain had trouble reading because it tried to understand the meaning before actually reading the kanji, especially with those pesky Jukugo. And I think is partly because WK show you the meaning mnemonic first, and then the reading. ( Other reasons why that happened to me are probably related to me trying to get through WK as fast as I could and not getting enough “real practice” reading kanji).

So, recently I got a Lifetime account and reset to Level 10. And what I’ve been doing is for Vocabulary Lessons I study the reading first and the the meaning. And on Reviews when a vocabulary review appears I instincively try to read it regardless if it’s asking for reading or meaning. Somehow hardwiring my brain to read the Japanese first.

I believe it’s helping me to recall the words better, specially the similar ones (looking at you 栄光 and 光栄 if I’m not mistaken glory and honor respectively).

What do you guys think? Have you found yourselves struggling to read fluemtly? Do you think it would help that the first thing that you think of when you see vocabulary is the reading and letting your brain attach meaning to it afterwards?


Umm, I don’t know. I hear where you’re coming from. We DO learn what words sound like first in our primary language, and then learn to attach symbols to those sounds.

But when I, who am new to Japanese, try to read native material, I still “translate” rather than read. So meaning is by far the most important. It’s a bad habit that I need to eventually break, but it’s still pretty rewarding to get the meaning of some Japanese news articles, even if the readings are all jumbled. More rewarding than if I could “read” it, but didn’t know what it meant. (Like if I were reading Dutch or something).

Maybe an option to toggle between the two would be best? Meanings first for newbies, readings first for those who are more well along?


It’s a good point, especially, like you said, to remember the similar meaning ones better


I don’t feel this way. Or rather it depends. Oftentimes I can read vocab in the wild without understanding the meaning. But honestly I don’t remember half of the mnemonics…

I confirm that’s correct (both from my memory and checked again on WK).

I don’t know. I don’t know which comes first in my mind. Reading first or meaning first.

Overall, no. I can only read some articles on NHK EASY so far and some other Basic Japanese books. Still lvl 25. My struggle often I can read but I don’t know the meaning, if that sentence contains new vocabularies to me.

I don’t know. I don’t know which comes first in my mind. Reading first or meaning first. They’re just there.

English is not my native language, but when I read English that I know all their meaning, I just read it without translating it. I just understand English in English. Even in my heart I use English when I speak/read English (though maybe there are grammatical errors in English I produce actively). Same with Japanese. The trouble is there are many more empty holes to fill in because I lack of many Japanese vocabularies and grammar knowledge. When I know all words, I just read in Japanese, and just understand, without translating them. Things will be different when I don’t know some/many words from a sentence I read, I usually try looking up the context before opening up my dictionary/thesaurus, and of course, see the translation in other language(s) I know.


I’d say it’s valid to show meaning first because as a first learner, learning what’s more familiar for you first is easier. It’s easier for a beginner to know that 猫 is “cat” than knowing it’s “ねこ”. Eventually as you become fully familiar with the word, you’ll only think of it as “ねこ” and not as “cat” anymore. I mean, a バカ is a バカ, not an idiot, right? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

To be honest, I’m realizing that once you’re pretty familiar with most kanji, only going EN => JP and JP => meaning matters (recall and recognition). The “JP => reading” reviews are always the easier and I feel like I get 1 out of 100 wrong.


I’ve always used the reorder script to study the reading first. I typically remember the readings more often than the meanings. I think having both options is a good idea, because I see it as a matter of preference.


I have no opinion on this really lol but something I found interesting in my reviews was that I did better in reading than meanings. So I remembered the words quicker when reading was asked first.
For example the other day I had this 警察
I stared at the screen for a while thinking what the heck could this mean, “warning guess” tf( mnemonics don’t really stick for me so I tend to not use them a lot) . But the moment I sounded it out I was like aha! けいさつ police!!

This is hilarious to me, because I’m just the opposite – I find the readings easier to figure out than the meanings.

In compounds though, if I have one aspect that I recognise, it’s about 50-50; half the time I understand the meaning and have to ask my tutors what the reading is, and half the time I can supply the reading but have no idea what the compound means.

I used to think like you about introducing readings first in the lessons, had a script for that, but then realised that the order of the mnemonics was wrong and it made things harder.


I am also the opposite. I have a slightly better accuracy with meaning as opposed to reading, particularly with kanji and not vocab. For jukugo’s of course the reading is easier but in almost every other case I find meaning easier for some reason. Maybe because my brain just strings together the similarities between words which contain a certain kanji before remembering its reading? Don’t really know, but for the readings being before meaning thing the real problem is that reading mnemonics are based off of the meaning. So you can’t reverse them, since radicals only have meaning and not reading, so if you want to mantain the system of mnemonics and radicals it’s impossible. After all, you can’t teach radicals based on reading… well I guess you could, but it would result in much more work.

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For me, it’s mixed. When doing reviews, sometimes, I would remember the reading but not the meaning, and vice versa for some vocab. And when I read native materials, sometimes, whenever I encounter a word, I would know the meaning but not the reading, hence, I can still understand the sentence. My only problem with attaching only the meaning to the vocab (with Kanji) is that, for some materials, that word may be written in hiragana and I wouldn’t understand it (unless I see the Kanji). I would try to make it out through context, but I would still look it up.

I’ve always just hit the “reading” tab first, read it, and then gone back to the meaning… *shrugs*

You can do it manually…

I agree that the other order (reading then meaning) makes more sense… it’s why I do what I do. Until that’s changed (or is there/was there a script for that?) you can do the same.


This is an excellent point. Hopefully Tofugu will offer the option, I think it would make a lot of sense.

I also like to look at the reading tab first. I usually see the meaning (underneath the kanji) first, then I try to read it, look at the reading tab to confirm, then, if the meaning is ambiguous, I go to the meaning tab to look at the synonyms and if it’s still not clear, I look at the example sentences.

That’s a lot of switching, so for me, the ideal order would be: Readings -> Meanings (with examples).


As you may already know, using language is a skill. Reading is no different. So starting off can be a little rough.

To be really honest, I don’t think the lesson order has anything to do with recalling the reading or meaning in English. Like many others who responded, I had little trouble remembering the reading and more issues recalling the meaning. Maybe because I got good at finding the cues in the kanji to guess/remember the readings.

My question for you is what did you do outside of WK to reinforce your learning? You mentioned in the your post that you started reading after reaching level 60 and burning a significant number of items.

Was this your first time making an effort to read? If so, it will be difficult to do without trouble because not only do you have to recall readings and meanings of words, but also the grammar that goes along with it. With practice, you’ll get better at reading.

Perhaps by focusing on getting through WK quickly, you may not have had to read as often as you wanted to. For some users, WK/SRS takes up all their time and leaves little time use the language.

I’m sure this time around you’re doing things differently to avoid the same result. In which case, please include a generous amount of time to use the language via reading, writing, speaking, and/or listening (if you haven’t done so already). This will make your studies on WK more effective.


I don’t think I have any sort of pattern on which I read first. Some words I can read just fine, but can’t remember the meaning of, some are the opposite, and even then they go back and forth sometimes.

At least for me, I don’t think learning them in either order has an effect on my overall understanding of the word. Even then, I’d argue that understanding the meaning of a word/sentence/passage is more important than being able to pronounce it 9 times out of 10.

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I meant this only for Vocabulary lessons, not kanji or radicals. Especially since in vocabulary’s “Meaning” is actually a translation.

I was taking japanese lessons, reading on the Easy japanese news and trying to play some video games in Japanese. But still I don’t think I had enough exposure to the language.

This is part of my issue, meanings and readings shouldn’t be two separate entities that you remember separately, they should come together. And I have experienced that learning the reading first, making a conscious effort to see the Vocabulary and say the reading and then think of the meaning helps me integrate them together than the other way around. Maybe is Mora akin as the way you’d organically learn new vocabulary, first you hear the word then someone tells you or explains the definition.

Is good to remember that Wanikani does not actually teach Meanings as much as Translations. So trying to have a hardwired connection between seeing the Written vocabulary and recalling the reading can be helpful in breaking the bad habit of translating everything.