Struggling to remember readings

Hi all, first post here.

I’ve been interested in learning Japanese for a while now (otherwise I wouldn’t be here haha), and while I’ve pretty much got hiragana and katakana down. I’m really struggling with the various readings of kanji (on’yomi/kun’yomi) and even kanji vs single kanji vocab.

I’m doing okay with the meaning behind words, but memorising their readings is stalling me pretty hard; I find myself entering the first reading that comes to mind then swapping out for the other if that fails. The first few times I ran into " 大人しい" I ended up putting にん for 人 instead of とな, which I should have recognised from 大人.

Right now Wanikani is also the only resource I’m using, which is kind of putting me off as well, as I’m not really learning how to speak or express myself. What other resources are out there and what do you recommend?


I find reading the mnemonics really help. If they’re not sticking, try writing them down in your own words, or drawing a simple picture (stick men will do). The nins/jins really held me up for a while, but then I added my own twist. Every time I come across one, I either imagine a person wearing jin(s) (jeans), or nin(jas) performing tasks. It seems overwhelming at first how to tell which readings are which, but after a while, you start to recognize patterns, and it starts to get a lot easier.


If there is katakana or hiragana in the word, go with the kunyomi. If not, your best bet is the onyomi. Don’t worry when you don’t get the reading right when there are multiple readings. The beauty of the SRS is the you will eventually learn even if you do lots of mistakes. I suggest the Human Japanes app for a crash course in grammar and then the Genki books for building a solid grammar foundation.


Just to be clear, the reading of both 大人 and 大人しい is not お+とな. It’s a type of reading called a “jukujikun”, which is a reading that exists only for the full combination, and not for the individual kanji that make it up.

今日 as きょう is another example.


I’ll give the Human Japanese app another shot. I downloaded it a while back, but I put it off for some reason. Thanks.

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Welcome to the community!

There is no method that works for everyone, but in general you really shouldn’t really use WK as your primary resource, since it is not designed to teach you Japanese. It is only designed to teach you kanji. In the next few levels, you will notice that sometimes the vocabulary that you are taught is obviously not the most useful, beginner level words, but rather words that can help you remember the kanji that constitute them.

So, it would be great to have other resources that teach you the most useful vocabulary and grammar, and make you practice reading and listening. Luckily, there are a lot of really great resources, so many that it can be even difficult to choose. Still, picking any of them will already be much better than just doing WK, which is supposed to be a supplement (specifically for kanji recognition) and not the primary resource.

Check out The Ultimate Additional Japanese Resources List!, you can certainly find something useful there. Try to choose a couple of resources that will help you build up your vocabulary (starting with the most basic and useful words) and grammar, as well as something for reading and listening practice. Textbooks are good in the sense that they give an all-in-one solution (vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening), so maybe it is a good idea to find one you would gradually progress through. There also are a lot of places (blogs, youtube channels) that give great explanations to things locally. So, if a grammar point is hard to understand, try to google it - you may come up with an explanation that would make things much easier.

With WK as a supplemental and not primary resource, reading kanji will actually become easier for you, since you will be able to learn to read some words as Japanese do. When you already know what the word meaning “quiet” is supposed to sound like in Japanese, it becomes much easier to simply recognise it written (and not memorize what every individual symbol sounds like in this context).

And as for kanji, It is totally ok not to remember things immediately, since SRS is designed to help you gradually learn things by making mistakes and trying again. Making your own mnemonics can help - personally, it is much easier for me to come up with my own association than to remember a random story about Jourm :slightly_smiling_face:.


For anyone wondering what word this is, it’s 熟字訓, with 熟字 (じゅくじ) meaning ‘kanji compound’ in this context – not ‘compound word’ – and 訓 referring to a ‘kun reading’.

As far as 大人しい is concerned… the usual kun’yomi for 大 is おお. Long vowel. Not a lone お like in 大人しい.

Could I ask how you’re memorising meanings? Perhaps you can attempt to transpose the method you’re using for learning meanings to learn readings. I’m a Chinese speaker, so I usually already know what kanji mean, but when I learn readings, I never learn them in isolation, and always attempt to link them to the meaning and the kanji I see all at once. Learning readings and meaning separately, in my opinion, causes unnecessary difficulties, even if it’s true that most kanji don’t have just one reading, and some words can be represented with multiple kanji.

In the case of 大人しい, I rely on my knowledge of 大人: ‘being obedient/well behaved is acting like an adult’. How can you learn that 大人 is read as おとな? I’m not too sure. The reading kinda just clicked for me. Some other ideas:

  • If you’re looking at the romaji version, you can tell yourself that おとな and ‘adult’ both contain five letters.
  • If you’re able to avoid confusion because you’re already certain of how to read 大, then you can use おお as a reminder of how the word starts (with お). That will also help you to remember the first kanji used.
  • You can also remember that ‘adult’ starts with a vowel-consonant-vowel sequence, just like おとな, and that D is the voiced version of T, which is the first consonant used in おとな.

My personal favourite strategy is to see the word being used in context, especially in a context that is impactful for me. For example, in the case of 大人しい, its adverbial form, 大人しく, is used in Episode 11 of The Rising of the Shield Hero. Look out for words you know in media you like, or learn words from those media, and you’ll probably have an easier time remembering them because you’ll have a very vivid memory associated with each of them. (In my case, I’ve rewatched that particular series so many times that, when I opened the episode to make sure I had the right episode number – turns out I was off by one at first – I could remember what the character was about to say. I last watched it about six months ago.)

If you like anime, and you want transcriptions to help you learn since listening comprehension is usually hard at first, I suggest you google ‘[anime name in Japanese] [episode number]話 感想 あにこ’. As long as the anime in question aired after 2013, that search should bring up a reaction page from Anicobin, which usually contains a transcription and screenshots that capture at least 70-80% of the dialogue word for word. For some series, every single word is captured, except at points where characters talk over each other. You can use those transcriptions to see what words you know have been used in context, and also to copy and paste those words into dictionaries for study.

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Hi Suit, I feel your pain on the nin/jin/hito front… I read 人 wrong in a review only the other day as it popped up after a long time and caught me by surprise! But I’d echo other comments that it’s the repetition that eventually fixes it in your head (I think my brain just gets tired of fighting and stops second guessing it all).
Talking as a fellow beginner… It’s not a common suggestion around here on the resources front, but I am very much enjoying this 90s series called Irasshai!
The teacher is funny (albeit in a cheesy way) and seeing the students struggling a bit makes you feel that your own struggle is legitimate and very natural. There are worksheets on the television company’s website that go with the episodes. To me it feels less clinical than working on your own with a textbook or watching many videos on youtube. You feel like you’re improving along with the students in the studio. Anyway do take it or leave it! Likewise not very commonly recommended round here for whatever reason is NativShark which I am also enjoying (but that’s not free).

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I’m pretty sure I just clicked with the built in mnemonics. 大人 is big and person, or adult, and seeing as I have an office job I just imagined someone having to change the printer toner. While other ones such as whatever the Noon kanji is that’s read as ご has you imagine godzilla attacking at noon. Which for the last 3 review sessions I’ve completely forgotten. I think I’m having a much easier time associating the meanings to the shape of the kanji as well, as opposed to the readings.

I’ll check this out too, thanks!


This isn’t exactly surprising, because most kanji originated as pictures representing something pretty close to their original meanings. Some meanings have changed, of course, so the links are no longer as obvious, but many have remained.

I’m glad the built-in mnemonics are working for you, but I figured I’d supply a few other ideas in case they weren’t helping. But in this particular case, I guess it was just a memory lapse, since you knew おとな, but didn’t make the 大人→大人しい link.

For this one, I’d probably do something strange like this:

Ultimately though, anything that works for you is better than whatever I can propose, because it’s your memory, and I’m sure you have your own go-to triggers and easy-to-remember ideas, like stuff related to your job. I’m just throwing some ideas out there in case you ever need to make an alternative mnemonic. Don’t mind me.

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I love Japanese and Japanese from Zero. JFZ has books and a website that has
videos that go along with the lessons, along with games, quizzes, etc. Rocket has conversations, grammar, writing lessons, culture, and lots of reinforcement activities. Both are paid sites, but I think well worth it.

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If the Wanikani mnemonics don’t help, you can always try making up your own, or borrowing some from other users (maybe check out the Community Mnemonics userscript) or another site (I find to have very helpful, though often crude, mnemonics).

I also agree with @voxxys that your best bet long-term is to further expose yourself to more Japanese. To start with, maybe check out some of these free online books for beginners which have pronunciation written over kanji as furigana and also have an audio track of someone reading the book.

Also, going forward, I find the “Phonetic-Semantic Composition Script” helps me recognize patterns in pronunciation. Things like: most of the Kanji with 方 as part of them are pronounced ほう or ぼう.


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