Tips for Bad Short Term Memory

I just wanted to reach out and see how others handle stuggles with memorization.

I’ve always had a hard time specifically with memorization. I’m guessing it’s likely becaues i’ve always had a hard time dedication my full attention to any one thing on demand. especially for longer than a few minutes haha. My short term memory is a total joke, however my long term is more reliable.

What i’m getting at is when i do just 5 new lessons i often find myself spending like 15-20 minutes just reading all the mnemonics and everything for each lesson. I found this extremely helpful when i started. However I am finding now as i’ve gotten deeper into Wanikani and started seeing more similar kanji my ability to make them stick is diminishing. I try to really visualize the mnemonics only to find as soon as i hit the quiz i’m lucky to get 50% correct where before i could easily get 80% as the method is supposed to help you achieve.

I’m guessing i’m spending too much time trying to make them stick and because of it i just get frustrated. But i’m wondering what others are doing when they do new lessons. Do you really sit and focus on the mnemonics and read everything or do you just power through it to later get it down while doing routine reviews later?

I’m really curious to see thoughts from people who excell with memorization and those who struggle like me.

You get it wrong until you get it right.

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Yes - exactly my technique.

At my current level 7, I’m finding that a lot of the vocabulary words are ones that I already know (absent the kanji, that is) - but even for those that I don’t know, I tend to go through the initial lessons fairly quickly, and I do find that with my own poor short-term memory, when I do the initial review I sometimes miss a number of them, even though when I first saw them in the lesson I thought, “yeah, I will remember that”, only to promptly forget it when I encounter it in the initial review.

But over time, the ones that I get wrong diminish, as the process of correcting errors is an important component to learning, even though it can be ‘painful’.

I also “get it wrong until I get it right,” but I do have one tip for when a specific word or reading doesn’t seem to stick no matter what you do. When I encounter an item like that, I’ll do something weird or unexpected while I’m reading the card for it, like stomp my feet or loudly read the description in a silly voice. It looks and feels ridiculous, but it also creates a specific memory that stands out in my mind. Then, the next time I see the card, I maybe feel a little bit embarrassed remembering that silly thing I did, but I also find it much easier to remember the meaning/reading.

You can’t over-use this. It only works if you do it very infrequently. But for me, creating a unique little sensory memory to attach to trouble cards really helps me get over an initial block and allows me to eventually commit the item to long-term memory.

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Handwriting. This stuff is slow enough to give more focus.

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I have a few tips:

  • I make my own mnemonics if I feel that given doesn’t stick.
  • Learning new kanji usually is harder than learning vocabulary so I make quick review after 10-15 minutes using level page. I just look at kanji and trying to remember meaning and reding.
  • I read beginners stories and fairytales in order to get familiar with kanji and Japanese

Also just around level six I felt that kanji doesn’t stick anymore and I had 50% correct answers even after just a few lessons. I did a little break for 2 days without new lesson. I was doing only reviews. It helped me a lot and then kanji started remembering again.

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Don’t ignore the power of sheer repetition. I’ve yet to come across an individual subject that didn’t eventually fall to enough repetitions.

Mnemonics are only useful for short to medium term recall, as you’ve discovered. Sometimes I might need to rely on a mnemonic for something I haven’t seen in a long while, but anything really and truly in long term memory I just know on sight.

In the later levels, I relied on mnemonics less and less. Mostly it was just a matter of repeating stuff until it stuck.

I HIGHLY recommend using the extra study feature (or, better, imo, the self study script) to get in more reps with stuff in early SRS stages (recent lessons).

“Get it wrong until you get it right” is exactly right, but people often underestimate just how many times you might need to get an individual item wrong (I had over a hundred reviews for a handful of subjects). The trick is to get all those “wrongs” done as quickly as possible. This means not letting stuff move to master and enlightened stages until you really and truly, confidently KNOW the subject.

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As someone with a good memory, here are some things I’ve noticed over the years that I do differently.

I trust my brain and don’t “try” so hard. I used to think this was an effect of having a good memory, but I’ve observed in general it’s a skill that is taught to people who have it, and people who don’t have it may not have had appropriate learning support at school, then they blame themselves, and it makes future learning experiences stressful and less successful than their peers. Research also supports that putting your brain in a relaxed state during learning enables it to remember things better.

Related to that, I expect myself to forget things in the first few repetitions. This removes any self blame or negative emotions. I expect to need help, ask questions, etc.

Repeat the information in different contexts: WK is just one context, and I’ve observed many people who are really successful at it talk about reading a lot on the side (another context). Writing the kanji is another context. Making your own sentences with the new kanji/vocab is another context. Searching for images related to that kanji/vocab is another context. When I struggle to remember a word, I reach out for a few more contexts and that usually does the trick.

Learn level appropriate material. This is tricky with kanji/vocab as you can’t always predict that on your own and with WK as if you’re a beginner, you will be getting a lot of vocab you won’t be seeing (yet) while you read simpler materials. Anki manages this by suspending leeches (cards you miss a lot). Maybe there is a leech script or something for WK that you could use? And then tackle the leeches later once your reading is at a higher level that you’re now tackling more complex vocab? It seems like something one of the kind folks here would have developed.

Finally, with mnemonics, I use those from KKLC, but the idea is similar. I find it helpful to think about the mnemonic while writing the kanji on real paper. That’s more engaging for me than just trying to visualise it. If I remember correctly (lol) the author of KKLC suggests making the scene as active as possible, as in, the subject is in the process of doing something. Maybe those tips can help you as well, just experiment.

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Break it down in multiple smaller sessions over the day.

Maybe stop adding lessons for a while. Reducing your review load makes it a bit easier to retain new information.

That said failing half the first time is not a bad thing. I had worse rates for new kanji. Just give it some time to soak up.

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I am pretty new to kanji study and consider myself to have a pretty middle-of-the-pack memory. Here’s a method I adopted that I think helps with kanji and radicals!

After doing a batch of 10-20 kanji lessons, I wait a bit (maybe 10 minutes to 2 hours?). Then I try to write each kanji from memory, along with its meaning and reading. (Ideally without any prompting, but if I draw a blank I’ll look at kanji names to jog my memory).

Then I go and check for mistakes. If I made too many big mistakes, I’ll wait a few hours and then try to redo the ones with mistakes.

Because this ‘free recall’ exercise is harder than kanji recognition, I think it provides a really good ‘check’ to see if I absorbed the lessons - I have to be able to remember (1) the radicals and reading of the kanji (via the mnemonic story), (2) how to write said radicals, and (3) how to lay them out.

More thoughts on why it might work

I guess it’s making me repeat the information I learned in a different context, like @mitrac said! (Maybe this relates to the ideas of ‘desirable difficulty’ or ‘depth of processing’, but I don’t really know the research well enough to say.)

Once I do this once for a kanji, I never do it again! I’m okay forgetting how to write the kanji, I just want to ‘check’ it once.

I was originally inspired by this video about the 'free recall' method. N.b. I don't know how reliable this guy is in general, be wary of "guru" types, YMMV, etc.

How to do free recall (AKA active recall) - Language learning demonstration - YouTube

I hope it helps!

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Oh and two other decisions that I made that I think help but of course can’t really prove:

  • I started using a font randomizer (the one built into Flaming Durtles on mobile, Jitai on web)

  • After reading the debates on this forum about the ‘interleaving’ concept e.g. here, I decided to reorder my reviews so that radicals and kanji always come before vocab. I don’t think mixing them together is good ‘interleaving’ – in real life you’re only reading words, not lone radicals or kanji. I wish the WK team would do a study or something to test whether it actually improves accuracy.

  • (Bonus: I also use the ‘reading before meaning’ setting in my reviews. I’m not so confident about that one but I think it’s setting me up better to read fluently.)

I don’t think very hard on it. I usually know in advance if a word is going to be hard: if I find the elements of the kanji, or the kanjis in a word, not logical, it will be tough.

I don’t really care, though, if I fail, I fail if I succeed, I succeed. Eventually, they will stick.
Keep in mind, that forgetting is ABSOLUTELY how we learn; it’s the natural course of remembering. They were kanji that were so painful to remember, and yet now I instantly recognize them because I failed some of them literally 10+ times.

As for the time it takes, it varies, but typically 5 kanjis , would be 10 minutes, 5 words would be 5 minutes.

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tbh about this one. A thing that WaniKani does well is that 4-hour interval, compared to Anki’s default. Also, Self-Study Script, which this one isn’t native to WaniKani.

Anki can do this easily for new items, by setting review interval with 240 minutes. However, for old forgotten items, reset progress of the item is the only way. Nowadays I decrease this to 60 minutes (1 hour).

Be aware though, repetition is a trade off with learning new items; and in my experience, repetition can fail, maybe not only because of not enough repetitions.

For me, it’s not only SRS or repetition. I may use other memorizing tools, or not, accepting it will never be 100%. Mnemonic is one of them. English prompt to IME typing is one of them. English prompt to handwriting is one of them.

Maybe not even mnemonics, just taking notes.

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I had some brain damage as a result of an auto-immune condition, which resulted in frontal/mesial temporal lobe dysfunction, this resulted in problems with the initial encoding of information.

I understand your issue all too well - it often felt like a lack of focus/attention, because my brain struggled to just get the information into short/working memory to begin with, working memory was a bit whack, in the sense that when I would focus on one thing - e.g. the appearance of a kanji, the other thing I’ve learnt, e.g. the reading or meaning, would slip away. Almost like I could only process one piece of information at a time. This made it very difficult to get things into my long-term memory.

I’ve had some treatments that have improved these issues, but I had to figure out a method that worked for me prior to that.

For me, there’s no one solution. I had tried and “failed”, given up, then returned to learning Japanese many times since I first took Japanese in university about 12 years ago.

Regarding WK specifically, I didn’t find the default operation all that useful based on how my brain worked (or didn’t). As such, I came to rely on userscript functionality when searching for a workable method.

The most important one:

Double check - on a new level, I mark all answers correct regardless of pass/fail - until Guru

  • This keeps the “recent lessons” and “recent mistakes” sections in extra study separate from one another - I don’t want to see the same entries in both - if I want to do some rote learning of either, I want only new items in one, and only failed items from older levels in the other. I tend to avoid trying to rote learn anything in “recent lessons”, though I might take a run through it if I’m having a particularly poor day. Once you’ve hit Guru without any mistakes, they are removed from “recent lessons” so you can start accepting them as incorrect if you fail them from then on.

  • This method allows me to unlock the vocabulary quicker, which is the meat I need to sink my teeth into for my brain to actually memorise things properly, seeing things in context vs. isolation is important to me.

  • Always mark radicals correct - a hindrance that doesn’t help me at all, again delaying the vocabulary, and in the earlier stages, the kanji themselves - the naming of these radicals on the site is often completely different to the proper naming, etc. These may be useful later for frequently failed items/visually similar kanji differentiation. It can of course be very handy for looking kanji up in dictionaries as well, etc, but on WK, I don’t find them particularly useful, probably because I don’t use the mnemonics. I presume the mnemonics to be the reason for the strange naming conventions.

  • I’d recommend trying to read native materials as early on as possible, because seeing kanji you know in context, again, to me at least, is helpful with retention. Use something like NHK easy, get a browser extension like 10ten or Yomichan, and don’t look up all the words you don’t know at all, just look up compound words containing at least one kanji you do know. This helps solidify its usage, and aids retention. Just skim the articles till you know enough kanji in later levels to actually read them properly.

Extra study - after reaching Guru, incorrect answers will be left incorrect so they propagate into the “recent mistakes” section

  • I used to use the post review summary page heavily for this, but I’d open every mistake up in a new tab, I’d look at the readings/meanings, and I’d go through writing these kanji into Shirabe Jisho on my iPad, I find writing to use different parts of my brain and might help store the info better. Additionally, you can see the proper radical names and forms here too.
  • I also tend to go over the recent mistakes section several times a day, as for some of these items, rote learning may work better.
  • Noticing which “visually similar” kanji you mistake other kanji for - one is often dominant in mind for some reason - e.g. learnt it first, is more meaningful, etc. Figure out which radical triggers the recollection, and then try to remember to observe the other radicals around it more closely to see the differences. Some are more subtle than others, but they are indeed very different.

Mnemonics - Don’t use them at all, not helpful to me.

  • Thinking about this right now, I can’t remember a single one, it’s far more helpful for me to see a word in context, though I think I used them when I was in the earlier levels. It’s just one more piece of information I would have to retain - I’m not sure anyone really uses them past a certain point.

The thing about education in general, is that there is no one size fits all approach. WK is a great site, and I’m sure its default operation works fine for the person who originally created it, but that doesn’t mean it will work fine for everyone else. You need to figure out the most efficient way to work around your memory issues - I don’t proclaim that my methodology will work for you of course.

Despite the improvements to my memory after treatments, I still use WK in the aforementioned manner, because that is how it works best for me.

The first time I did WK, I reset at somewhere around 25/26, because I was doing it in isolation, and with the standard workflow - it was time consuming, frustrating, and I basically felt like my memory of earlier levels was being wiped as I moved on to a higher level.

For me, context is everything, the more I see kanji in vocab and compound words, the better my retention - reading is crucial, getting into native material as early as possible this time vs, the idea of “I’ll do it when I know enough kanji” - was very important in my continued success this time.

I also use other resources such as Bunpro and various textbooks, e.g. Genki I/II, Quartet I/II, Tobira, etc. etc. for grammar. You’re not going to be able to read anything particularly accurately without knowing grammar too.

Lastly, be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up over mistakes or difficulties, persistence is the key, and when you find the method that works for you, you WILL succeed as long as you keep trying.

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I spend 30min for 5 kanji. I read the mnemonics or make my own if I don’t like WK’s. Then I create an image in my head they have the image playing in my head as I look at the word. Then I read the word combinations and the context sentence.

If I notice I’m struggling with a word I just search it through the immersion kit website and change the mnemonic too if I feel it’s not working. Most of the time it’s great, but rare occasions I change it if I notice it not working.

I also read graded readers, Crystal Hunters, practice reading Japanese twitter, and Japanese manga. For Japanese tweeter and manga I don’t do lookups and typically just notice what I already know. If I forgot a word/feel unsure about it then I relook it up and reread the word combination and context sentences.

I also use the Extra Study a lot so before doing the reviews I do the recent mistakes and recent lessons. I also try to study my burned items too under the extra study.

Not sure if you study grammar and do any reading, but I feel doing that outside of WaniKani would help you a lot too.