Should you forget mnemonics once you can recognize a kanji

When you’ve learned a kanji decently well, is it better to try to recognize the kanji just by itself when you see it, or should you break it down into its radicals when you see it? Basically, is it better for you to just forget the radical mnemonics when you know what a kanji means?


I don’t think you need to consciously try to forget it, eventually you’ll just instinctively understand it when you see it.


The mnemonics are not important, but you should keep the radicals in mind even if you have not problems with the reviews.

There are often very similar looking kanji that may confus you when you just remember the kanji roughly by shape.


Also helps when trying to recall later for your own writing


a good mnemonic is unforgetable.

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I’m not asking if you should consciously try to forget it, I’m asking if you should take the time to look at the radicals if you already think you know what the kanji means.

I use WaniKani to learn mnemonics using kanji. So… no.


It depends on the kanji. If I know there is a similar-looking kanji to an old one, I do have to stop myself and take the time to compare the two. If they continue to give me problems, I create a mnemonic to link the visual component that is different to the right answer, and try to force myself to look for that difference intentionally during reviews.

Typically, however, I let my brain do its automatic categorization thing and move on with my life. I don’t intentionally catalogue each radical in a kanji when I encounter it every time unless/until I have a problem.


I’m not 100% sure I’m not still misunderstanding, but when I’m reading for instance, I think it’s a good thing if my brain doesn’t require me to look at each part of each kanji in order to understand, just as I don’t need to look at each letter of each word when reading in English.

I do study kanji on their own using anki though (just like I did with WK), just to make sure I actually do know them without context as well.


So, I’ll recognize a kanji just by the appearance of it, but then when I break it down into its radicals, I’ll completely forget what it means, unless I have a really strong mnemonic for it in my head. I don’t know what to do about it.

What I should have mentioned in my original post is what I just told Dorotheian, that I’ll immediately recognize a kanji’s meaning and pronunciation from just immediately seeing it, but if I try to break it into individual radicals, I’ll get completely lost and forget what the kanji means.

So you go to the doctor with a bruise and say, '“It hurts when I touch it!”
The doctor says, “Well then, don’t touch it.” Problem solved. :stuck_out_tongue:

Same goes here. Don’t break it down to the radicals until you need to, and if you do need to, write that mnemonic.

Let’s take 思. I could break it down to “field” and “heart,” but that has little to do with the meaning. To me, on first impression, that kanji altogether looks like a ghost boy. I can jump off from “ghost boy” to “thought / feeling” much more easily than I can jump from “heart” and “field” to the same idea. It would be counterproductive to overly focus on the radicals, then. So if the kanji I’m looking at makes a face (答, in こたえる), or has a radical that can be interpreted as a person in a particular situation / position (題 looks like someone carrying a package—the “subject”), I take that overall picture and try to link it back to the reading or the meaning.

I tend to remember the readings first rather than the meanings, so despite getting lost in the radicals, if I can remember the reading somehow, I’ll remember which kanji I am dealing with and can choose the correct meaning. (It’s that superhero dude on the the dirty cliff face (埼)! He keeps sighing. Sigh, さい. He would be wearing dramatically wearing a CAPE*.) This is also where recognizing the phonetic clue components of kanji helps a lot. (Apparently the phonetic clue radical is often on the right side of the kanji.)

  • I know this isn’t the meaning of “cape” WK is going for, but once I remember the word I can also remember the word is supposed to refer to the place not the object.

mnemonics build a bridge to reading and meaning. it doesn’t matter if the bridge persists after you cross it.

some of the stories are funny, some meh, some rather bad, but they have to do the job only until you got it. it’s okay to forget them. it’s another set of info for every kanji, and your brain will find out they’re no longer needed.


Thank you everyone for your responses. This has been helpful.


The goal is definitely getting to a point where you can read the kanji fluently, but that doesn’t mean you have to consciously purge the mnemonic from your memory. They can still be useful when it comes to writing kanji too.

But yeah–the goal is to be able to see each kanji and read it as quickly and with as few mental hurdles as you would the word “apple.” So you don’t need to consciously try to forget mnemonics, but you also don’t need to consciously hang onto them. When I see kanji I’m familiar with, I just read them as if they were any other letter–I’m not consciously walking through a story in my head each time.


Yeah that’s what I was essentially asking. If I’m fuzzy, I’ll examine the mnemonics, and if I recognize it immediately, I won’t worry about it.

When you learn a foreign language, you often do it with the help of your native language. In the beginning, you still think in your native language, simultaneously translating it in your head to Japanese, for example. As time goes by, you will depend on this mechanism less and less. When you’re fluent, you think in Japanese and speak in Japanese.

Mnemonics are similar. They help you in the beginning, but at some point you’ll recognise a kanji (including meaning and reading for that context) almost immediately, without thinking about the mnemonics any more.


I’m struggling to remember the mnemonics. They confuse me more than the kanji does. I don’t bother reading them now as I find it easier to remember the kanji as a whole.

No one can know your mind but you, but at level 2, I think this is really going to come back to bite you later. The kanji don’t stay so simple and easy to remember as-is forever. When you need to distinguish between 敵 適 滴 摘 you’re going to run into problems. Or as Leebo once listed here,
照 - illuminate
昭 - shining
招 - beckon
紹 - invite
召 - call
沼 - bog


Thanks, point noted.

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