Struggling to memorise Japanese vocabulary


So aside from being on WK, I take Japanese at university which I started last year as a complete beginner.

I recently started my second year, but this entire time I’ve been really struggling with memorising vocabulary. We’re following the Minna no Nihongo textbook and we’re currently at lesson 22. In a few weeks we have a grammar and vocabulary exam worth 10% of the mark for the year, and I’m really stressing out!

I use the app Quizlet for vocabulary and I like it because you can learn vocabulary in various ways - flashcards, writing, games etc., but I feel like nothing really sinks in and I forget it all unless I’m working at it constantly. I’ve had depression for the last 10 years and I seriously think this has had a negative effect on my short term memory which is why I find it so hard to learn anything

If anyone has any tips on how to start to overcome this, I would really appreciate it! I passed Japanese last year with an ok percentage because I fell really behind with sickness but I only passed my final exams because I was having hourly online lessons everyday for a week or so before my exams, so I want to stay caught-up this year, but not being able to retain vocabulary is really setting me back


Everyone is different but my suggestion is for you to try reading texts instead of trying to memorize words in isolation. When I have a chance, I try to read the articles on using Jisho ( and Google translate as help.


I’m not familiar with Quizlet, but maybe it isn’t the best tool to use :sweat_smile:

Also, reading native content. Nothing better than that to remember words that you learned in the long-term. Anything that attracts you? Any mangas, book clubs, news, etc.


Personally, if I see vocabulary in class and I don’t put it in a SRS, I will most certainly forget it. So basically, everytime I encounter new vocabulary, I add it to Houhou. :slightly_smiling_face: It also helps a lot to know the kanji.

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I’m with you. My vocab is garbage. Trying to use Anki, but its so boring, I struggle to keep up with it. And many words will just never stick. I’ve got a few dozen right now at least that I’m guaranteed to get wrong numerous times every time.


I find it helps to think of vocab learning in two phases 1) learning(I.e. wanikani lessons) and 2) retention (like reviews)

For step one, I usually rely on mnemonics to get the vocab in my head, combined with quizzing myself by actually writing the word on paper (typing doesn’t work as well for me - writing via pen and paper engages more areas of the brain). (I use the vocab fanfold method to quiz myself on vocab lists - it’s very low tech but is effective for memorizing lists. If you’ve never heard of it, try googling it.)

For part 2 (retention), I would recommend SRS combined with interacting with the vocab via as many different ways as possible -writing it, reading it, speaking it, both on its own and in example sentences, especially ones you write yourself (which also reenforces grammar!!) You might also want to check out Anki, which is a SRS based learning software that allows you to create your own decks & use decks other people have created.

Of course reading/listening to a lot of native content is the best way to understand an language, but it’s not the most efficient way to learn a specific vocab list.

I use Quizlet too - as you say, it allows you to learn in many different ways. I have only recently discovered that you can have it read back your flashcards like a slide show. (That’s what the play button on thr upper right hand corner is for.) Initially, I have it read the Japanese side first, followed by English translation. When I feel more confident, I try to take the English to Japanese route.
Also putting whole sentences or at least phrases on the flashcards helps me remember better.
But most important in your case, depression does affect memory (apparently the hippocampus which is instrumental in getting things from short-term to long-term storage just doesn’t function as well), so it may be a good idea to talk to your professor and see if you can get extra time. I hope you are getting treatment that is working for you - best wishes!

I think there is a third phase of recall as well. How many times have you gotten the word right in a WK review, but when trying to form a sentence with it, draw a complete blank?

I would say the best way to address this is as much in context learning as possible. It’s easy to miss this entirely due to lack of time, but maybe give words that sound more useful some extra attention. There’s a lot of content on WK that I can’t imagine ever using, but it might be useful to recall if someone else uses it, so those words can remain a little more obscured.

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I try to read other texts when I have the time, but to be honest even when I do I find that the words I have to look up don’t stick, and if I come across it again, I recognise it but have to look it up again and again and so forth :weary: I swear I already use Jisho 384084 times a day!

I really like it! It’s similar to Anki in how you can make your own sets and use other people’s, but I prefer Quizlet because it’s got a more modern to feel to it (and now you can add colours!) I tried using Anki quite a while back but didn’t like it

I actually have an official guidebook for my favourite anime! It’s all in Japanese (obviously) but I haven’t gotten around to starting reading yet on top of everything else!

I’ve not heard of HouHou! I’ll have to look it up!

This is exactly why I went to Quizlet! You should check it out – you can add colours to your flashcards and learn in different ways. I hated Anki when I used it for the 5 minutes that I did.

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I hear you. I don’t know if you take medication, but I know when I started on it, it helped the depression, but it rewired my brain in some ways. Memory was certainly affected. I had to learn how to learn all over. So figuring out how to learn while depressed is something I’m painfully familiar with.

That aside, are you having trouble with comprehension or production? WK is a little of both, but mostly the former. For me, quizzing active is both harder but also more rewarding in retention, since if I can generate, I can recall. So I tend to work on active for things that won’t stick since at worst I might get some passive benefit out of it.

The biggest thing I can suggest is to use sensory input to your advantage. This doesn’t have to be reading (though that’s good too). This is making sure that you’re not just training yourself on -> . You want audio, images, example sentences. The more (representative) sensory input you get, the better you will retain the information. Others have mentioned writing things out. This does work. The tactility of pen and paper hits parts of your brain that endless Anki cards won’t ever touch.

Another trick you can try. Try doing audio flashcards, or just listening to audio pairs while walking or some other light exercise. Experiments suggest that parts of the brain associated with learning turn on when we’re physically active (one example but google for more). So play some language tapes while taking a walk. Worst that will happen is you’ll get some fresh air and exercise, right?

Whaaaaaat! I’ll have to try that! Does it flip automatically?

Thank you! I’m not receiving and haven’t in a few years, but I’m doing okay. Moving out of home for university was an immensely good thing for me and I have the most wonderful partner I could ever ask for in my life, so even on the bad days, I can manage! I am meant to be under the care of the wellbeing services at my university because I disclosed my depression when I joined, so I might ask about the extra time because that never crossed my mind!

What I wish I had was something that automatically keeps track of words that I keep looking up repeatedly, just to have some statistics to guide what words I should really pay attention to memorizing. Word frequency in dictionaries is probably a reasonable rough approximation, but isn’t always representative of what words are most important in particular knowledge domains, such as Pokemon.

I think kind of does that, if you import the text you’re reading into their library first. It does only have J-E definitions, though, and I’m personally trying to use J-J where I can.

I recommend trying to drill it into your brain by writing it over and over again. It may sound tedious, but it is worth it.

Everyone’s gonna tell you it, but I will too: If you’re trying to memorize vocabulary that you aren’t actively using, Anki is THE way to go. I recommend getting started putting words into an SRS as soon as possible. Also, I’m certain someone has made a Minna no nihongo deck that features all vocab used in the book. These decks are great because they incorporate the words of the textbook in the order they appear in the textbook. I use one for Genki that I’ve been going through at the same pace as I complete the lessons. It’s boring but necessary in order to memorize, and thankfully it isn’t difficult at all, just something you gotta do every day.

I think Memrise also has sets for the common textbooks so it may be worth a look to see if that helps you.

In my opinion I think you may need to just get creative with your thinking. We all learn in different ways and have different strengths. Consistency is what matters most in learning to help reinforce things.

So, even if your memory is somewhere you struggle, if you expose yourself enough and creatively test urself enough it will stick. Learning a language is no easy task, so the best way to learn is to make it fun.

First, thing you need to do is evaluate what is the best way you learn. What really helps you? Flash cards, writing, pictures, video etc. then apply vocab to the methods you enjoy. For example, for me I like the creative sentences that WaniKani uses for learning kanji. I did something similar when studying outside of WaniKani.

Vocab for me I made creative sentences with how the word was pronounced to help me remember. My memory isn’t the greatest either so I found myself having to pop quiz myself a lot.

Some people enjoy repetitive writing of a vocab to remember it but for me it’s boring. So, explore different methods and if quizlet is the best then just keep practicing until it sticks. Things take time especially with memory, so don’t get down on yourself if you find it difficult to remember things quickly.

Hope this helps.

I recommend using anki or kitsun to put those words into an SRS and learn them similarly to how you learn things in WaniKani. I was never able to consistently remember words for longer than a week or two before I used SRS, so that may be a big part of your issue. If you find that you can remember WK content better than university content, it’s probably due to SRS. However, if you still struggle with WK content equally as much as your university content, you may want to look into other methods of memorizing. What also helps me is to create my own sentences using words I struggle with. Having the words in context can really help make them memorable. If you find the WK mnemonics help you, maybe try making some mnemonics for the words as well.


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