The useless example sentences are a disaster

I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, as have a zillion other people, but the example sentences are SO bad that they take a brilliant learning tool and render it at best okay. I mean this as constructive criticism: you have an outstanding project here, and you’ve crippled it for no reason. This may not be a quick fix, but it’s not a difficult one, and it’s something of an emergency.

Few things are more important than putting the words in context, and yet the sentences are almost always a) far too complicated for the level, and b) idiotic. I mean, astonishingly dumb, in a way that is meant to be funny, but simply renders them useless.

I’m returning to this complaint only because I just encountered it elsewhere, in a discussion on another site, where someone said something to the effect of: “I can’t believe Wanikani has this cult following; the example sentences are horrible.” That post alone probably lost you a number of subscribers, and it is, unfortunately, accurate.

The last time I brought this up I was told to use an external script; the one I tried didn’t work, despite aid from the the guy who wrote it; and the point is that I shouldn’t have to do this. This should be part of the site. Perhaps you could simply incorporate this script (assuming it’s good)? And then remove the ridiculous sentences, or put them where they can be safely ignored.

Done sensibly, someone working through Wanikani would be able to figure out the example sentences almost immediately: they would increase in difficulty, level by level, by incorporating only the kanji already met. This would make Wanikani a vastly superior learning tool.

Anyway, I hope this doesn’t sound too nasty. This is not trivial; you’ve seen this complaint again and again; and for some reason it’s never been addressed.

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I always found that the site doesn’t take itself too seriously sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, humor is good, and associating ridiculous stories through radicals can work, but for a good part of learning, you need to give clear, easy-to-understand examples.

The example sentences feel very cringy and don’t actually help you. It makes sense why some may be hard to produce, as wk is a kanji-only website and cannot assume any level of grammar knowledge, but I’d rather we not have them at all if they’re all just going to be stupid jokes that take time and resources away from other parts, not matter how small.

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Unfortunately I think the example sentences are more of an afterthought. To be fair, they did actually change a bunch of them in the past due to complaints, and removed a lot that used overly difficult kanji at early levels. I think they could still use a bit of work though.

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I suspect this was the thinking behind making the sentences ridiculous: it was meant to be a mnemonic tool, analogous to the ridiculous way of associating radicals. But it doesn’t work. Period. The former is an excellent application of mnemonic theory; the earliest treatises on rhetoric in Greek and Latin suggest precisely this – that associations should be as outlandish as possible. But the sentences aren’t about association; they’re about context. They’re about making sense of the word in an everyday environment. So the last thing you want is nonsense. Ideally, every sample sentence would be at least somewhat useful: something you’d have a decent chance of encountering in the real world.

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I don’t necessarily disagree, but I do think even if the example sentences were amazing, what extra nuance they provide would probably fade away by the time the review process does its thing.

I think SRS isn’t good at all at providing usage details, and the result of all the drills is ultimately likely to just be: a vague one or two word memory of what the thing means, and a sense of it being familiar. (along with being able to break down kanji and guess their reading, of course).

That’s not the same as fully grasping the nuance and usage of the word, but it’s a base that makes context a lot more useful from that point on. I’ve often experienced the “oh so that’s how it’s used” feeling of stuff I learned on Wanikani “locking in” when I see it in real context in a book.
Whereas the context sentences always felt like it slid off me like a duck’s back comparatively, since I didn’t have that base of having gone through the reviews and it was completely fresh to me.

So I see Wanikani as a good SRS tool that’s meant to prepare you for the great context tool of native sources. (but a bad context tool itself).

Better sentences would of course be a good thing! But that might be one reason it hasn’t been a priority for them. (or just a different experience to compare/contrast yours with)

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Oh, and not taking things too seriously is in fact one of the best things about Wanikani. The overall tone is excellent: it makes things relatively painless. But the one thing that HAS to be taken seriously is functionality. For the most part they do a good job with this; the design is transparent; the interface works beautifully. With the example sentences they simply made a bad decision: it’s one of the aspects of the site that has to be rigorous, not breezy and fun.

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I 100% agree, though I wonder how you’d make proper sentences.

WK doesn’t require any grammar knowledge, you could hit level 60 without learning a single particle or that Japanese sentences are SOV, so how do you proceed?

Would the ruling be that sentences should only use simple grammar? I don’t think every item can be put in a simple sentence. Would WK explain what’s going on in the sentence (a bit like a textbook showing subject, verb, predicate, etc)? That seems like too much work and not really the point of the site or the SRS system.

I always wondered if the sentences were actually useful. Sure, putting things in context is good, but I feel like at that point you should be the one starting to work on grammar and reading to get the context. A kanji site can’t do everything, y’know.

Oh, I agree, I just think the sentences being nonsense is where the jokes go too far on being damaging, instead of making the process feel less archaic

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This I agree

But this is where you’re losing me. The example sentences didn’t prevent me from burning the 1600+ items I burned, nor from starting to recognize them on manga or anime, which I could not do before. I have never read the examples sentences, to be honest.

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You have a good point, re: grammar. No question that you’d have to know at least some grammar to begin with. But my guess is that almost everyone who starts Wanikani has spent a bit of time already on learning Japanese: they’ve perhaps done a few levels of Duolingo, or started a class. If the first couple of levels of Wanikani used only the simplest grammatical forms, then I’m sure it would be fine.

Okay, “mediocre” may be a touch harsh, but “nowhere NEAR as good as it should be” is accurate. I’ve also burned over a thousand kanji. But I’m just discovering that those burned words are far less familiar than they should be; I’m having a hard time using them in conversation, for instance. And I’m pretty sure this is because I didn’t learn them in a more complete way: by memorizing them in context.

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I feel like this could be an opportunity to actually make use of “Easy vs hard” sentence structure they have. Instead of just making the hard sentence be complex joke nonsense, make so that it offer more complex grammar structures. Give a sentence that anyone could get as long as they do the first 10 pages of genki, but another to try and push people into actually learning grammar.

Maybe put the level of proficiency you’d need to understand the sentence on average? Like a N5 sentence vs a N2 sentence vs a natural japanese sentence (you could even put jokes here, but instead of being american jokes, have it be japanese wordplay or something informal or more complex lol)

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I agree. I find the sentences are basically useless, and I hardly ever read them anymore, which is too bad. It would be great to have good sentences that bring the vocabulary into context. Maybe something the developers can fix in the future?

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Hm. I see your point. As I said, I don’t read the sentences, so I can save time when doing lessons. A better context is a good idea, but I think it would have not to be just better; it would have to be more, as in, lengthier explanations. Which isn’t what I want. I guess I’m comfortable learning context in the wild, because that’s what I’ll have to do with vocab not covered here anyway.

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I agree. I stopped using them early on. I ended up learning how to use a lot of the vocabulary from different sources.

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Well, if Tofugu could ever finish their grammar learning tool EtoEto, it would make for good advertising. “Don’t understand the grammar in this example sentence? Check out EtoEto here!”

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Could you provide an example of a useless example sentence and how you would change it to be better? I’ve found the example sentences to generally be adequate when I need to look at them. I don’t usually look at them for obvious words but they give me a generally idea for the vague words like condition or character.

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Wait what’s this? It’s the first I hear of it, and it would also be great advertising if lifetime WK granted lifetime EtoEto too

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I agree. Using jokes and cringy stuff for the examples is ok and might work for some, but it would be nice to have just a very straight forward grammatically simple example sentence as well. Honestly I don’t even bother to read the sentences any more. Like you said they often use grammar and vocab way above you level. Many even use the vocab in a way that’s not even a synonym/accepted answer. Just today i ran into 分離 which is Segregation or Separation but is used as separate in the example sentence, which isn’t even considered a correct answer.

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I have to say that my thoughts about the sample sentences is quite the opposite.
In most of the cases they are really well done to give you an idea on how native Japanese sounds like and how the words are used in reality. I learn a lot from them but I can understand that beginners could feel frustrated sometimes.

I tried many different methods of learning Japanese and passed the Jlpt 1 after three years of studying. This doesn’t help you in any case in any real life situation in Japan. It is a completely made up test.

Later I tried to expand my vocabulary and tried to find sample sentences on my own. There are some sites but they mainly offer sentences from novels. Sometimes you really need a bigger context to get a feeling on when to use which words. A novel is completely useless for this.

And somehow, even if the wanikani sentences sounds like a joke they provide all of this: The so called TPO. Who is talking to whom in which kind of relationship and in which kind of surrounding.

Please don’t change them, they are brilliant.

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It’s a grammar tool they started working on many years ago, but never finished. Here’s an update from 2017 apparently where they talked about it changing format. And I don’t think there’s been much news since.

Here’s something from last year: https://twitter.com/kryous/status/1304196428860854272?lang=en

Also, for what it’s worth, when I type “etoeto” into google, it suggests autocompleting to “etoeto dead”. So yeah, the situation is that bad.

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