The second major hurdle of a newcomer?

Hi all.

I just wanted to start by thanking you all for the wonderful feedback and advice on my first post. I had no clue (and 0 expectation) that I would get so many people to support me and clear up some confusion I had.

It seems however, I am back with more to complain/seek advice about…

I’m talking about words and kanji with multiple meanings, and also multiple different words with the same meaning yet other meanings that are unique to that individual word or kanji…

To start, I find myself really confused now when I read certain things that have multiple meanings. Even if similar, it can be hard for me to tell what is the “right” meaning to choose.
Let’s start with a simple example: 左右 which seems to mean “left and right”.
This can also apparently mean “both ways” (makes sense…), but it can also mean “influence” or “control” (WTF???).
So in my head now when I see the kanji 左右 I default to thinking “both ways” or “left and right” but I honestly forgot that it could also mean “influence” or “control”. Not all of the WaniKani lessons will directly teach you all of the meanings (which makes sense… I understand why) but like I am having to try and remember multiple meanings which is extremely difficult…
Another one that really got me today was 心 “heart”. It can also mean “mind”, or “feeling”… I can maybe kind of understand “mind” but “feeling”??? Now when I see this kanji instead of thinking that it is related to a heart, I have to try and remember that it could also mean “mind” or “feeling”… It feels so overwhelming! Maybe I’m just whining… What do you folks think about this?
Is this one of those things that, with time, will become far less of a problem as I could perhaps pick out words between this kanji and be able to make an educated guess given context of the sentence?
For example let’s say I understood every word but “心” in the sentence : おもわず心の中でさけんでしまった。
“I couldn’t help shouting in my mind.”
Shouting my heart… doesn’t make much sense. Shouting my feeling sorta makes sense ignoring grammar, and shouting my mind sounds a lot like shouting my feeling(s). I could probably guess that it would NOT be heart, but mind or feeling.
(Side note: The meaning of 中 in this sentence is an example for my next topic on this post.)

Now the next problem I face is words and kanji (I think it mostly pertains to words though) that share a meaning, but also have different unique meanings as well… Like the words 内 and 中. Both of these (in a vocabulary context) mean “inside”.
However as I am sure you’re quite well aware, 中 can also mean “center” or “middle” while 内 only has 1 other meaning which is unique to it which would be “within”.
Why was the primary learning emphasis (in WaniKani) of 中 “inside” and not “center”? My guess is maybe because the most common meaning of it is indeed “inside”? But then why even have 中 and 内?!? It’s so confusing… Well not THAT confusing but kind of confusing and also kind of “extra” if you will.
Oh, and don’t get even me started on 女の人, 少女, 女の子, and 女子…
So many words, so many similar yet also different meanings.

Sorry for the big rant. I suppose I’m asking once again if this is another hurdle that is normal, and with my continued practice and studying here on WaniKani, could eventually become something I look back on and laugh at.
For now these problems seem to plague me but I will keep persevering!

I will end things off on an unrelated but positive note. I made a JP twitter account (I’m not an existing twitter user so this is new to me) to follow random JP artists for anime that I enjoy and I have actually been able to not only guess (and do so correctly even!) some of the words in their posts, but even the context of their posts (short ones usually). Even if I can’t remember how to pronounce the word all the time, it’s cool to actually see my studying efforts in action!!


They describe subtly different concepts. Here’s a good explanation.

meaning - Difference between 内側 and 中 - Japanese Language Stack Exchange?


A lot of what you are talking about isn’t unique to Japanese, though.

For example: Girl, woman, lady, ingenue, female, lass, dame, broad, damsel, maiden…


It might help to stop trying to translate things so literally. When we say “you broke my heart” we don’t usually think about rushing someone to the hospital. We use “heart” very metaphorically. But we know from context which meaning of heart we are using, usually.

A lot of kanji don’t make sense. It has always bugged me that “kind” is made up of the kanji for “parent” and “cut”. My guess is it’s actually just phonetic, and one of the ‘problems’ encountered when Japan yoinked China’s writing system and tried to make it fit their existing language.

But yes, context is going to be very helpful to you!


If I understood correctly, it could equate to 内側 you are inside something, and have space surrounding you.
you are inside something, but have little to no space at all.

You are right… But in an effort to defend my statement, I believe all of these words can mean “girl” but some also can mean “Woman” while others do not…
I definitely see where you are coming from though, and sometimes I do forget that it’s very similar in English. With that said, you wouldn’t always call a woman a “young lady” or a “dame” lol…

You wouldn’t “always” use any of those Japanese words either… Except maybe 女性 is the closest to always being universally possible to describe someone because it’s more like “female” in that sense.

I made a (now-closed due to time) thread covering differences between the ones that can be used to describe girls.


I love your analysis of these words! Please don’t lose this quality of yours. I’m kind of the opposite. Like a neanderthal, I just memorize.
Ah this symbol means cow but can also mean blah blah blah and I don’t think too hard about it.
In other words I’m kind of jelous.


That seems unlikely, because the same word exists in Chinese: Word dictionary - 親切 - MDBG Chinese Dictionary

(In simplified hanzi, one component in the first character is dropped so you need to look at the traditional variant at the right side.)

Admittedly I can’t rule out that the term originated in Japan and was “backported” to Chinese - there are at least a handful of words that took that path, as far as i know and i do not have an etymological Chinese dictionary on hand - but it’s more likely that the word originated in China and was imported from China alongside the kanji.

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I never really actually thought about this but your comment made me wonder. Not sure how scientific is that though but here is what I found: 「親切」はどうして“親を切る”と書くの? – ニッポン放送 NEWS ONLINE
Seems like back in the days it did make sense. Here also some additional meanings 切 | 漢字一字 | 漢字ペディア
But of course it’s just a trivia for fun and nowadays words like these better to remember just phonetically.

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Well now I know. It still doesn’t make sense if one tries to stick to the literal meanings of the kanji. That’s just asking for trouble in a lot of cases.

Which is true for basically any language that has any way of smashing two morphemes together and once you realize that, it seems a lot less daunting because it is something you already deal with all the time in your native language.


That is understandable. It is kind of hard to rid yourself of that “habit” though. In some cases it can really help you guess the meaning of a bigger word.

When you say “I dig that” it can both mean that you’re using a shovel or enjoying something (or both). Pretty sure you can imagine several reasons why “dig” is used in the latter. In both cases, you’re getting into something.
Imagine a japanese person typing “dig” in a dictionary and see these two meanings. Same as you now.
Don’t get too attached to literal translations because they often fail to capture a concept. Dictionaries do their best to present you with an equivalent word so you can understand, but they don’t tell you about the coherence japanese people see between the possible meanings.
Also, for some words, kanjis were picked for their sound and not for their meaning, and you just gotta roll with the punches in this case.

My example may be wrong but the point still stands


I don’t know, they barely explain anything do they ? They just say 切 in 親切 means “心から”、“ひたすら強く” without explaining why.

The etymological explanation of gogen-allguide make more sense to me. They say 切 means close or reachable as a metaphor, because to cut something you need to reach and apply directly a blade against.

This is (hopefully) more of a general response to your post.

I don’t think any of the problems you’re running into are really unique to Japanese. Most languages have words mean multiple things, even if those meanings seem completely unrelated; and most languages have words that describe similar things but add nuance. People have posted examples previously.

I faced this hurdle when I started with Japanese and WaniKani as well. I wouldn’t say I’ve reached a point where I can laugh at this hurdle yet, but it’s gotten a lot easier. I think the biggest thing that helped me was starting to read. I frequently encounter words that I learned on WK that happen to have another meaning that I either forgot or wasn’t introduced in WK.

I imagine the same thing will happen when you start reading longer passages in Japanese as well. The best part about this is that with enough exposure, you start to develop intuition for which words and meanings are being used in specific situations. Sometimes you’ll come across words you know the meaning of and realize that meaning doesn’t fit what’s happening in context at all - and it’s not because you’re wrong (usually), it’s because that word means something different in that context.

It’s up to you whether you want to try very hard to remember all the meanings WK introduces, or whether you’re satisfied with the one or two that you do remember, and depend on other sources (like reading, listening, and speaking) to reinforce other important meanings. I do the latter and personally enjoy it more.

I know this can be frustrating in the beginning, but over time will get a lot easier. Good luck!


Google Translate tells me that it refers to a proverb about “cutting your own stomach” meaning “to go out of your way to be nice to somebody”. (German has a similar proverb about ripping off a leg.) But I don’t really trust etymological “research” from random news sites, to be honest.


Well this all suggests a great mnemonic for 親切, which I have been getting wrong lately. “My parents are close enough to cut me, but they don’t, because they are so kind.”


My absolute favourite Japanese word is 炭水化物 (たんすいかぶつ)carbon-water-change-thing, aka carbohydrate. Sometimes the kanji are very literal. Sometimes they aren’t.


Usually I just focus on memorizing one or two meanings for a kanji. Trying to memorize them all at once takes too much time as you’ll constantly forget some of them. If they’re combined with other kanji then sometimes it’s extremely difficult to tie the meaning the of the individual kanji back to the vocab. I think of it like memorizing acronyms - why bother. If it’s useful I’ll need to learn it eventually and when I do it’ll be in context.

As you get more comfortable with certain kanji or words you stop looking at them as a series of radicals and more like letters in English. You don’t focus on the individual parts as much but look at their placement in the sentence and then things make more sense. Honestly just keep getting things wrong until you don’t anymore. It can be frustrating but all you need is time and wanikani takes up more than enough of it without memorizing every single meaning for each kanji. Save the context training for 読み練習.