Subtle differences between vocab words?

Hi everyone. This is my first post!! Nice to meet you all :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: Please forgive me if this question has been asked before.

How do I go about learning subtle differences in usage of vocab words 年上、目上、年寄り、老人、年配、or 実、事実、真実 or 大事、大切、大役?I once used 便所 to ask where the bathroom was in Japan, and was met with laughter and surprise (as I am a young woman and it is an antiquated term). I often feel like I can’t use vocab I learn on WaniKani without conducting outside research on it’s appropriate usage first, especially when there are several options. WaniKani doesn’t even explain usage of common words like 僕 and 私(the former being restricted to usage by men). I sometimes feel like if I wasn’t lucky enough to have prior knowledge, I could really embarrass myself or offend someone.

So, my questions are:

Why doesn’t WaniKani attach more meaningful definitions and useful/realistic context sentences when introducing vocabulary words?

What are good resources for quickly looking up the appropriate usage of a term? I face a similar problem in Jisho, where definitions are often limited to a list of synonyms.

Thank you!


Unironically: google.

I have never actually stuck to any one resource for these kinds of things. Just google XとYの違いは and youll get results, but just beware they’ll be in japanese. For example, 公平と公正の違いは pulls up a yahoo answers result, but you can also find stuff on other forums and hinative.

Unfortunately I dont know of a good source in english. If you really cant understand it after trying, you can just ask on here and I or someone else with a high enough level will help you out.

Im not sure what you mean by more realistic sentences since the sentences are all written by natives. And for your first point: you will run into this problem with every non J-J dictionary more or less. There is always gonna be some meaning or nuance lost simply by assigning it to an already existing english word and that doesn’t even get into the whole idea of who should be using that word in what situation. To do all that is a lot of work and something that wanikani, a site meant to learn kanji, probably wont be undertaking.

Take 悔しい, for example. Many many learners “know” it, but just knowing that it means “frustrating” or “annoying” isn’t really knowing it. There is a lot more that you can only get by looking at a J-J dictionary. When I looked it up just now, there was only one place that had a more descriptive english definition and that was a reply on italki. But at the same time, imagine if you had to reply with a sentence for each of your wk reviews. Its a needless headache for the sake of vocab on a site whos primary goal isnt vocab.


To put it simply, WaniKani is a kanji learning site - vocabulary is given only to help reinforce the kanji readings in your mind.


Thank you for your answer!! Yes, I guess I forget WaniKani is primarily for teaching kanji, as I owe so much of my vocab knowledge to the site.

I feel like a lot of the sentences describe absurd or unrealistic situations. Maybe it is to keep users engaged or introduce interesting grammatical structures? The aim definitely doesn’t seem to be practical application of vocab

I havent read any since I got lv 60 last summer, so maybe im forgetting, but could you link some examples? I remember the mnemonics being wacky, but not so much the example sentences. The ones I have been checking at random seem fairly normal but ive only gone through like 5.

For example: 「彼女、大仏さんと付き合っているのよ。」「とても信じられないわね。だって、彼女の父親と言ってもいいくらい年上でしょ?」

Thank you, such a useful thread!!! Exactly what I was looking for :rainbow:

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Hahaha, that is indeed pretty wacky, but what word do you think it fails to make clear?

Ah, right, sorry! The vocab word in question is: 大仏. The example doesn’t contribute to my understanding of the word because I feel you could insert any inanimate object in its place. As far as learning practical application of the vocabulary, it doesn’t do much for me :0

Hmmm, in this case theres actually not much to understand about daibutsu. Its literally just a large buddha statue like this

I can see how that would get confusing for some other words, but 大仏 doesn’t really have any similar words or nuances. If its a large buddha statue, its a daibutsu as a far as im aware. The japanese definition is simply 巨大な仏像

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Yes, in this case there are no nuances. just an example of a wacky sentence :negative_squared_cross_mark:

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I would add search specific words here in the forum, you’d probably find specific discussions and links.
This place is a goldmine and usually my starting point when I need an explanation.

For Spoken Japanese it’s important to find resources that teach exactly that, since it is quite different from written Japanese. And even then more than one resource - spoken language changes fast from generation to generation, and while structurally the grammar is still correct, the choice of some words in a resource from say 18 years ago might not be relevant now.
Genki has a second edition for that reason.
It’s still important to know the archaic terms though, since you’d probably encounter them while reading.

You might want to check out
She gives good examples of what’s appropriate to use.

Oh, and also

I really recommend getting familiar with this list of words.

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Yeah once you get good enough at Japanese you should 100% start relying more on Japanese-Japanese definitions of words. It gives a more elaborate definition most of the time, as well as providing better information on synonyms etc. Plus it just provides even more practice/reinforcement for your Japanese. I’ve just recently started breaking into doing it and it is already making a huge difference in getting clarification on words that have similar synonyms listed on sites like jisho.

If you live/work in Japan, you can always ask Japanese friends/coworkers for clarification. If you don’t, you can create threads on language learning apps like HelloTalk to get input from native speakers. I do that occasionally when I need help on something and it’s not a convenient time for me to talk to any of the Japanese people I know IRL.

As far as embarrassing situations go, you just gotta learn to accept that it will happen occasionally. Sooner or later it happens to everyone that wants to actually use their language skills to talk to native speakers. One time I was talking with coworkers about breastfeeding (I wish I remembered how that came up, lol) and I didn’t know the word for ‘breast milk’ so I just kinda blurted out おっぱいの水 and everyone laughed and one of my female coworkers was like それは汚いよ! jokingly, and we all had a giggle about it and moved on. Don’t let it get to you or discourage you, just learn from your mistakes and keep going.

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Thank you for the advice~ that’s a great argument for relying on Japanese-Japanese definitions, but god it’s scary. Sometimes when I see so much Japanese text at once I get so overwhelmed. But I’m going to get over it and start doing this right away!

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