Use of radicals and vocab examples

I’m wondering if also japanese children have to learn radicals. Exept the elementary ones as mountain, river etc, I think the others are kind of useless. I have the impression that you just invented them. For people that don’ live in the States or belong to a older generation, as I do, a lot of them are hard to remember; I even have to go on Google to look up what you’re talking about. The result is that I make relatively more mistakes with the radicals than with kanji and vocabulary.

I appreciate WaniKani a lot (I’m at level 17), but sometimes I find the examples very hard to understand; they are too long and too difficult so that I don’t even try and that’s a pity because when I get the simple ones that I can understand it gives me great satisfaction. Does somebody else have the same problem?

1 Like

They did. WaniKani uses fake “radicals” for mnemonics. Really, kanji aren’t built from radicals since each kanji only has one radical, which is used to identify a kanji in a dictionary.

It’s almost impossible to use the original Kangxi radical names for mnemonics in WK. It’s also very difficult to invent radical names that would be equally understood in the US as well as in the Netherlands, Uganda, Mongolia, Pakistan, Uruguay, and Portugal.

Did you consider trying Remembering the Kanji (there is KanjiDamage too, but I feel like you might have the same problems with it)? I get the impression that the mnemonics he uses are based less on pop culture than WKs. I know there are some people who don’t use WKs mnemonics, maybe they could chip in here. I even saw a thread for explaining some of the radicals/mnemonics. Personally I have no trouble, but then again, I’m relatively young and born in North America.

The main target demographic is also new Japanese learners, which tends to be younger people.

Hmm, I don’t know about that… but maybe. *shrugs* We’ve had polls before on user age. ^^

@ekoenraads I’ve felt similar to you on more than one occasion. The shorter the mnemonic the better for me. I rename radicals (often to the on’yomi reading if it’s the exact same as a kanji that comes up later - even if it doesn’t turn up for another 40 levels! - and try to learn that instead. I only use mnemonics when I can’t easily logic the vocabulary word out.

You’re not alone, however WK was not designed with us in mind. *shrugs*

Polls can only tell you so much. I’d say most of WK’s user base doesn’t use the forums.

That’s probably true. But we have no idea what they’re thinking, then.

So we just need a poll asking if people use the forums. :sweat_smile:


I think the best explanation of why using radicals like this is important comes from Kanjidamage. Warning: this website is… explicit, so allow us to paraphrase for you:

When thinking of radicals and their usefulness, you need to think of them as though they were the individual letters of the English alphabet. What did you learn before you learned how to read English words? You learned the letters of the alphabet.

Now, try to imagine attempting to learn to read a word in English without having the knowledge of the alphabet at your disposal. It’s insane, right? Yet, that is exactly how most people are learning kanji.

Learning kanji stroke-by-stroke is like learning how to read the word “stupid” without knowing any of the individual letters. You would have to memorize the spelling as “that snake shape, plus that cross shape, plus…”

You get the picture. It’s stupid. Multiply that by thousands of different words, and you will understand how inefficient this method is.

from Tofugu article

To be honest, I’m young and North American and still don’t get some of the references, so you’re definitely not alone. (Example: I have no idea who Ken from Street Fighter is. I also don’t know what a tie fighter is.) Some of them seem like very niche references to me, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself a pop culture-driven person, so maybe they’re not as niche as I think. Personally, I just get what I can from context in the explanation and make something up in my head (like you would for Mrs. Chou, who isn’t a reference to a real person as far as I know). They still work as “key words” in the mnemonics for me, even if I don’t know exactly what they are in real life.

You can always make up your own radical names and add them as synonyms. ^^ Their only real purpose in WK is to create mnemonics that help you remember the kanji, so if they aren’t serving that purpose, don’t feel bad about changing them to something more memorable.

1 Like

Not to come off as too harsh, but they’re working on overhauling the radicals and the mnemonics, so wait a bit, assess the massive update they do, and then go ahead and register your complaints.

The mnemonics in general are crucial for beginners to have a foothold when they start to learn a new kanji. If all you’re doing is trying to remember it by brute force, well… maybe you’re talented, but that usually takes longer.

Also, I would hope it’s obvious that they’re not teaching Japanese kids to remember “boob grave” and “hick”. Japanese do learn the Japanese meaning of the concept of 部首 (it’s not for mnemonics), but I don’t feel like answering that question for the 800th time.

1 Like

I’ve always admired your ability to stay so calm while answering the same question for the millionth time :heart:

@Leebo Any interest in adding your explanation of the radicals to this thread so people that want to be helpful can just copy and paste it going forward?

Yeah, probably a good idea.

1 Like

Thank you all for your answer. Of course I understand that the radicals are the stones you need to build the kanji. But sometimes (not always) the way between the meaning of the radical and that of the kanji is a long and crooked one. What’s more, reviewing more kanji and vocabulary it happens that I know the meaning of the last but forget the one of the radical. By the way: as suggested I already make my own mnemonics.
It’s right to compare the radicals with the letters of our alphabet but, and now I’m joking, English is the worst language to compare with because you don’t pronounce it as you write it. You cn see that also in the WK, when they use for example the word “can” (as in a can of beans) for “kan” as for “ken”! Elisabeth

I’m in the same boat when it comes to mnemonics. I’m not a fan unless strictly necessary (I.e. if I can’t remember the kanji any other way) so I use them sparingly.

Honestly, once you get the kanji down, it doesn’t matter at all if all your radicals die alone in Apprentice-land. Just drill them so you can unlock kanji and then ignore them if mnemonics are not your thing. And if they are, rename them. As Leebo said, the overhaul will hopefully help you, but I do understand the frustration. I feel silly learning a kanji by remembering Sauron, it makes me feel like I’m somehow cheating or not doing it right. YMMV.

I agree. I like that they use “Little Kyoto” for きょ and “Kyoto” for きょう, although I often can’t remember which city is used for the mnemonics.

But it’s not always very consistent. For example, sometimes “show” is used for しょ or for しょう.

You’re threading this someone back together as part of a show (しょ). The show is a demonstration to show med students how to thread someone’s skin together after they have an accident. You’re the most experienced, so you’re leading the show. (緒)

Ah, this makes sense. This fancy bell is a part of a fancy bell show (しょう). For some reason you’re standing on the stage where it’s being shown off, too, during this show. (鐘)

I expect that this is one of the things they’ll address in the mnemonics overhaul.

I’ve been waiting somewhere around 4-6 months since I first saw Kristen mention it for the first time…

… One day…

It does sound like they’re getting closer. Anyway, @ekoenraads I think it may be a bit longer than “a bit”. So while some of the people in the forum are tired of the same complaints, it’s still a valid complaint for now. And the WK staff is already dealing with it, after having heard it for the nth time. So hopefully in another couple of months… we’ll have this new release. Before we’re both level 30 would be nice.


we do our best!