Vocabulary isn't everyday Japanese?

I’m on level 9 and trying to use some of the vocabulary I’ve learned through WaniKani when I have my iTalki lesson, and today my teacher told me that WaniKani vocabulary doesn’t always reflect what actual Japanese people use. For example, I used the word kaigyo for ocean fish, and she said Japanese people would say umi no sakana. So that’s alarming me a bit. Of course, there are other vocab words that are fine, but I don’t know how to tell the difference. Has anyone else run into this?


I wouldn’t focus on that yet. We don’t say:

The automobile

In English. We say “the car”. However, everyone will understand what you mean. I don’t care if I sound weird at first. What matters is that Japanese people will understand you.

In time, I know we all will get better and better and we will start using natural Japanese. I’m trying to immerse more so that I get used to it. It’s just so hard when you constantly have to look stuff up :frowning:


This has come up on the forums a handful of times, yeah. The important thing to remember is that WaniKani is a kanji learning site. Therefore, many of the words taught are jukugo (two or more kanji put together, often using the on’yomi reading). What you may not know is that these types of words tend to be more common in literature, while words that use kun’yomi (and combinations, like 海の魚 as your teacher mentioned) tend to be more common in conversation. We’ve often heard here about the teacher or friend saying “Japanese people don’t say that”, but importantly notice that your teacher did understand what you said. So clearly they knew they word. So it’s unfair to say “Japanese people don’t use that”, but it may be fair to say “here’s a more natural way to say that in conversation”.


The vocabulary used in WK isn’t intended to be the most natural or frequently occurring. It’s only intended to reinforce the kanji (but even then, there are probably better words that could be chosen from sometimes). Don’t think of WK vocab as being useful for comprehending sentences, so much as just providing a richer understanding of the associated kanji. All vocab, however, is important, and most of it will be learned eventually, so WK just provides you with 6K random words to start you off. Combine WK study with a Core/Tango deck and you have yourself a pretty rock-solid foundation. The thing about learning a language with a different script is, the more words you learn, the easier it is to learn new words.

I honestly feel like information to this effect should be placed in the first lesson. There should be a “Level 0 Lesson” that walks you through using the forums, explaining the philosophy behind WK, and providing tips for progressing in levels.


Wait, I don’t think that’s correct. They are not random words. They do teach you common words but they don’t introduce many of the most common ones at first because they want to start off with easy radicals and easy kanji.

You do get to know 100% of N5, N4, N3 and N2 and 75% of N1. That’s a pretty sweet deal!


WaniKani’s vocab is very useful when it’s time for reading. What qualifies as “everyday” in written language is a much broader net than what qualifies as “everyday” in spoken language.

Like, again, automobile. Nobody uses it to refer to their car, but you’ll see it all the time in, say, newspapers.


To be fair, JLPT vocabulary, while usually being somewhat frequency based, suffers the same issue. The fact that WK has a decent overlap with JLPT means that it’s a good tool for beginning levels of JLPT, but doesn’t ease the difficulty of jumping into conversation or media with naturally spoken dialogue like a pure frequency list does.


Working on your second language eh?

There are nuances in languages, some words are used more frequently in speech and others more in other contexts. WK isn’t teaching you japanese, it’s teaching you how to read.

I’m speechless that you usually just take words from WK and try to use them in the wild without immersion and knowing how words are used. Just translating one word to another and just take for granted it fits will never work.

Immersion teaches you how words are actually used.


Yeah that’s true. Wk should make a “special levels” section. Kinda like the ones in Mario world

But maybe that would make many of the new learners choose that instead of the lifetime and wk would lose money. I still think it would be a great implementation. They can offer a one time price for these new “most common kanji levels”.


That’s kanji, not vocab.


Yeah. But I love it! When I encounter a vocab word I don’t know, I get so excited when I was able to read it because I knew the kanji :smiley:

I don’t think any changes should be made to the kanji WK teaches. It really doesn’t need all of the 常陽漢字, or any of the name kanji or frequently used non-jouyou kanji. WK gets your foot in the door and gives you enough that you can begin accumulating language in a more passive form. In that regard, it does a pretty good job. Not as great as a heavily optimized anki deck, but the interactive and gamified approach helps a lot of people.

I just think that a little extra beginning lesson explaining WK itself would go a long way, considering the same questions do tend to pop up on the forum.


One thing I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t help at all with the 常陰漢字 though. Still have to learn all those outside of wk


This post is unnecessarily harsh towards the OP.

The assumption that learned words in a learning medium targeted towards language learners would be used in everyday context (including spoken word) unless presented otherwise is a reasonable one to make imo.

I actually feel that Wanikani should make it more clear to users that this vocab is NOT the go-to for spoken conversations. Most language learning resources cater towards teaching the language as spoken, so teaching vocab used exclusively for literature early on is rather unusual if you do have experience learning languages.

This post is not the first expressing this confusion, and it certainly won’t be the last.


According to who? There are nuances, some people might use some words in one context and other people might use it in another. It wouldn’t be all that helpful if WK told people what was used commonly in spoken conversations, would only lead to more confusion.

The usage of words are taught through immersion. Textbooks or apps cannot help with that.

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It’s not as if there aren’t trends in what’s more commonly spoken or written though, hence this exact experience. Honestly I don’t think it would be useful to have from WK because tagging that info to every new word as just a memorization piece would be overwhelming, so I agree with you there in the end. I think there’s a good bit of truth to the advice you’re giving on how to learn these things about the words, and you and I are on the same wavelength about learning Japanese. It’s just the dismissal of how they got here that can be offputting.

Prior to sort of internet language learner trends, immersion quite literally meant going where your language is spoken and using it/having it used at you. I agree the criticizing tone is unnecessarily harsh when the OP tried something they learned on their language tutor, had it corrected, and is now here seeking further clarification. In my view, I could not possibly imagine a better openness to learning, nor a more perfect encapsulation of the very function of being tutored, than what has happened here.


I’ll save my spiel about how wanikani doesn’t do the best job at giving you useful words for the readings it tries to teach.

What I will say though, is has no one ever made a script that shows you the frequency of vocabs in the lessons or something? There’s so many different frequency dictionaries out there too.

In my novel frequency dictionary, 海魚 (Jesus I had to display extra options to even get it on my phone ime) is ranked as the 117,462nd most common word. Hopefully most people can look at that and be like “damn, maybe people don’t really use this word”. So yeah, get a frequency dictionary for yomichan or something.


Wow, you’re really not kidding. I searched up a frequency list and found it particularly funny that it seems the other かいぎょ, 怪魚, “mysterious fish” is more common.


Yeahhh…this is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence. It’s still a small minority, but due to the amount of words on wk you usually end up with a handful of words per level like this.


But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? Tis the east, and juliet is the sun.

English speakers (mostly) know that this means “shut up, i see the beautiful juliet in that window” but it just sounds so weird. It happens with every language homie.