Using old Kanji to learn new Kanji

This may have been mentioned elsewhere and so I apologize if there is a similar thread already existing.

I know this is by no means a small suggestion, but I feel like there are missed opportunities to use kanji from previous levels to learn new kanji. The Radical > Kanji > Vocab system works really well, especially when starting out (I’m only at level 6 at the moment). But I feel like as you build a repertoire of kanji building blocks, you can use those AND radicals as mnemonics for the new kanji.

As an example, we learn 花 (flower) using the radicals for flowers, leader/person, and spoon. Then in level 6 we learn 化 (change) without any callback to 花. I don’t mind that we learn “flower” before “change,” but it’s seems like a missed opportunity not to use our previous knowledge to solidify the new concept (especially since in Japan the idea of transient and ever changing flowers could have been the logic behind the kanji).

The radical system is great for mnemonics and remembering the structure of the new kanji, but isn’t always the best for explaining the meaning of a kanji. Using already learned kanji could help us learn the new kanji and reinforce the old material.

Again, I know this would be a large effort to add to the lessons, but perhaps it’s something to think about in future updates. Keep up the great work!


There actually is a fair amount of this later on. Before too long you’ll be seeing more complex radicals that are composed of multiple other radicals. But since radicals are arbitrary to begin with, it feels fairly arbitrary when WK does this and when it does not. There may be internal logic, but not any I’ve figured out. Overall it works out decently though.


Later on, you will learn radicals that are basically just kanji you’ve already learned, so Wanikani does already do this to a certain extent. There are definitely some connections between words and/or kanji that Wanikani doesn’t point out but you might pick up on your own. A big one that helps me is words that have the same reading and a similar meaning, or words that have parts of other words in them and have a related meaning. (Although they may have not chosen to point this out, as they can be confusing rather than helpful depending on how you look at it.)

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This might not directly address your issue, but I would recommend giving the Keisei Semantic-Phonetic Composition script a try.

It adds for example to the lessons of 花 and 化 the following list:

This not only shows you that there are other Kanji with this phonetic component, but it also tells you if they share the same on’yomi reading (which in this case they do).


This is already part of WK, kanjis that you’ve learned before will become radicals and be used to learn new ones. More complex kanjis won’t be used to learn simpler kanjis, though (like 花 > 化).

Actually I did start using this script recently to help me start linking commonalities in pronunciation. It does help with this issue to an extent but (and I’m sure this is a consequence of only being at a low level) so far the number of times it has been helpful has been limited. Using this example, the Keisei Semantic-Phonetic script shows the common pronunciation of か, but at level six I haven’t seen any usage aside from はな - but like I said, I’m sure this will open up more as I progress further :grin:

Ah I suppose I’ll see more of this as I progress through WK. I have been enjoying the few occasions where two words have had the same pronunciation and similar meanings (gotta love 円い and 丸い)! But as @Sinyaven mentioned, the KS-PC script has been helpful finding shortcuts (eg: 思 being pronounced as シ like an abbreviation of 心).

I think the real benefits of the phonetic compounds start around level 20 or so, before it is actually more work because you need to learn the kanji and the phonetic component (and remember the exceptions when the method doesn’t apply). Around level 40 you will get the expected 2/3 of On readings for free :slight_smile:

For you can see later compounds at the bottom of the page, 花瓶 or 花道 use the Chinese reading.

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There’s a whole bunch of them that come up later on. Sometimes Wanikani mentions it, other times it doesn’t. A lot of them are common words that you’ll get used to, like 見る (to see) vs 観る (to watch), 合う (to resemble / suit / etc.) vs 会う (to meet), 暑い (weather) vs 熱い (other meanings of “hot”), others are a bit harder like 犯す (to commit a crime) and 侵す (to invade). I just learned that second in the last level or two. It’s definitely something to look out for.

You’ll end up using this script a lot later on. There are many times that the WK mnemonic might work for me for the meaning, but sometimes I feel like the reading portion doesn’t fit into the mnemonic all that well. Or other times the mnemonic gets really complicated when a whole second part of the story is added to include the reading.

In those cases, I find it far easier to fall back on the phonetic components, if available. I honestly think that while WK’s approach is awesome in most respects (I’ve seen amazing results this past year), not emphasizing these phonetic components is far and away the biggest miss. They’re so incredibly helpful and important, in my experience.

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