The Universal Mnemonic: Read 90% of Kanji with a simple trick

It’s a millennium-old trick ! Teachers hate it !


I’ll add that the radical system that’s used (one symbol, one meaning, all kanji combos of radicals) by WK to me is honestly really counter-productive.

The same “radical” for example would have developed from different originals and so carries different meanings, and some kanji are a previous kanji in meaning with an addition to it, rather than a collection of standalone radicals.

This gets really cancerous when you end up with kanji that have (according to WK) 3+ radicals. Trying to create mnemonics based on this when it can be achieved in a simpler better way just seems like committing way too hard to a flawed system.

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You’re honestly calling digging into the etymology for each kanji a simpler way to learn how to read kanji than WaniKani’s mnemonics?


Yeah. The reading is just as long as the paragraphs for the mnemonics, and it makes a good deal more sense.

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Cheaper too. Just crack one of these open and you’ll be all set in no time. No, really, it’s good, I own it.

Good luck to everyone who is going to learn kanji with it.


I’d argue that the purpose of the mnemonics are partially that they build upon each other.

I mean, do the kanji not potentially have 3+ parts? Why is that an ‘according to WK’ statement?


Aight, without having to go far, let’s take two kanji.

Level 11: 働
A leader with a lot of power can move heavy things with hardly any work. By power, I mean a lot of strength because this leader is very strong and moving heavy things is no problem for him. His power allows the leader to move heavy things with little to no work at all.

Level 12: 動
When something is heavy, you need a lot of power to move it. It’s not going to move unless you use a lot of power. That thing is heavy and unless you use all the power you got, it’s not moving.

働 is just 動 + a man (人). Let’s just go with “leader” since that’s what it’s known as in WK.
Instead of building the first kanji off of the second, a leader moving something being work, the approach WK takes is instead to teach the more complicated kanji first, and then the simpler one second, and make the two completely unrelated.

Let the mnemonics build upon each other, fine, but doing it with radicals alone instead of making use of an already learnt kanji doesn’t make much sense to me.

Let’s take a radical this time. 𠫓 is supposed to be an inversion of . But instead it’s called the trash radical on WK. Now instead of associating raising/nurturing () with a child, which actually makes sense, you instead have to associate an actual trashbag and moon, and the latter raising the former.

Also @Leebo, you wanna pretend this type of information is only ever available in Japanese, like you do every other thread, you go ahead and do that. Very helpful of you.


I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean.


I’ve noticed this phenomenon before, but I assumed it was more or less a coincidence. An alternative explanation I had was that multiple related kanji simply share the same reading because they represent a similar thing and the writing of the kanji only differentiates between their nuances.

The latter was based on the fact that many words can be written using multiple different kanji and still mean virtually the same exact thing 「髭、髯、鬚」 or 「硬い、堅い」.

It seems quite logical that when constructing a new kanji, they would utilize the meaning and pronunciation of its parts in situations where it was possible without causing a major conflict that could result in confusion of different words with the same pronunciation but a different meaning (I’m looking at you, つける).

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I don’t really think that the visual complexity of the kanji has much to do with the order in which it is learned, but I’m not an expert in language learning. Both of those kanji have mnemonics that make sense given what the user will have learned in terms of radicals, so I really don’t know what the issue is. It’s obvious that 動 is related so their needn’t be an explicit reference to 働 to make it obvious the two are related. Likewise, you can learn 働 just by knowing the radicals as taught, so no need to know 動 first.

Lets not hash this particular issue out, since there’s already a thread entirely about this topic: Confused over made up meanings for radicals with new formation - #40 by Leebo

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働 is LITERALLY a kokuji of 亻and 動.

It’s not about “visual complexity” and “you can learn them independently anyway”. Yeah, sure, but why teach a component of a more complicated kanji AFTER the actual kanji?

You can also learn kanji just by drilling them without mnemonics, doesn’t mean you should do it when there’s a better alternative. Basically the same argument.

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Did you read this when you were preparing for Kentei or just for fun? Is this a standard text on the topic or just a good and accessible one that you happened to find?

It’s a reference book. I just pull it out when I want to confirm something usually.


I read through The Kanji Code awhile ago on Kindle Unlimited which tackles this idea. A lot of it kind of went over my head because I think I tried to read it too early into my Kanji studies. I think I might try to flip through it again and see if it’s any more helpful now.


Level 20-30 is where I started being able to guess readings with any sort of consistency. That’s probably a good time to revisit that book.


The best way is probably to install the amazing semantic-phonetic composition script and take a look at it when doing lesson.

At level 10, it won’t be immediately useful, but its usefulness grow with time as it help to spot more and more phonetic components.


That’s right! I realized that kanji that have certain radicals (or kanji as a radical) share the reading almost everytime, like if you see the lifeguard radical, the reading will probably be “こう”, if you see the life (生) or blue (青) kanji, the reading will probably be “せい” “しん” or “しょう”

I actually got to use this yesterday! I saw an unknown kanji (導 i think) but saw that it had 道 as part of it so I guessed どう and was correct!


That’s how I surprised Japanese people by reading difficult Kanji. :joy:
In reality, I was just making a wild guess. I didn’t even get the meaning. The semantic parts are pretty vague.

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