WaniKani Mnemonics are Hard to Remember

Mnemonics alone is not the only reason why I use wanikani.
Also it’s nice to have a suggestion to jump off of and connect it to something meaningful to me.

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This is probably because apprehend isn’t exactly the same as arrest. You can apprehend someone in the sense that you stop them from moving. It also has some more metaphorical meanings too, merriem webster does list some. Maybe the wk team tought, that using this meaning will be more useful in the vocab mnemonics that they have to make for the vocab using this kanji.

I don’t have any real examples to show here, but what I think the WK team is trying to do with their “fancy” or “complicated” glosses here is to restrict the scope of the meaning. If you look in RTK or any other kanji book, you will find that it has different English glosses for many kanji, simply because the compromise between mnemonic, reading, and meaning is different in each unique case.

Obviously, it’s not possible to map every kanji to a single English word, or even a set of related terms, and expect it to work flawlessly. It’s a completely different language, after all. What WaniKani specializes in is not only mnemonics, although that is one of their main focuses; they also prioritize the common readings of the kanji as well, because knowing what the kanji “means” is only halfway to reading and comprehending Japanese.

Thus the team at WK, just like any other writer or editor of a kanji textbook, has to weigh these factors and come to a compromise. Are they always perfect for their function? Of course not. There is always human error, and everyone varies in their mnemonic ability. But a company, with presumably decent finances, with a background in Japanese culture and learning, and which is currently hiring apparently, is likely always trying to perfect this balance.

Your example of “apprehend” vs “arrest”: sure, maybe it’s an unreasonable level of detail for an SRS like Wanikani’s. But think of it from the perspective of the first time user. Unlike you, they have no prior experience with vocabulary. They don’t recognize any kanji at all (which is presumably the target audience of the service). And a new kanji 捕 comes along, and WK says it’s “apprehend”, and they just remember that meaning, without referring to 逮捕 because they just don’t know it. I certainly didn’t. So this isn’t really a problem for most users, who generally know both English words and haven’t come across those Japanese vocab beforehand.

(Anyway, you can just download some userscripts if you really have an issue with that. Or even just add your own synonyms! But you’re probably talking about why the WK team didn’t implement these “simpler” “synonyms” into vanilla WK, so I digress.)

And the “football” mnemonic… personally, I think that’s pretty vivid enough. You have a cleat (i.e., a shoe, a sneaker maybe? Mutate it a bit) and you’re standing with one foot on your opponent as a victor in your match, with ball in hand. The spotlights are on you, and someone hands you a trophy. Of course, you could just go and make your own mnemonics, too. I think mine was a mix of that and “cleat (sneaker) sport with friend is football”. But you’ll have to treat that on a case-by-case basis.

Although all the examples I gave were vocabulary, the general idea of gaining abstraction and general rarity as the levels increase extends beyond vocabulary into Kanji as well. I can’t say I use “wisteria”, “plow”, or “seedling” in my everyday life. What do you think of that?

Of the examples given by rodarmor I preferred the wanikani story. Maybe its just because I am used to the pattern of building mnemonic from radical. It works quite well :slight_smile:

This is a really good one! :slight_smile:

I think the other ones which use strange synonyms are 収 (obtain) and 達 (attain), and probably a couple of others. Yes, I also find it confusing. The fancier synonyms don’t always go hand-in-hand with the more nuanced meaning of a kanji. It would probably help more if each kanji and radical had 3-5 meanings in EN so that everyone can sort of understand what the essence of a radical/kanji is, not its direct translation to English, which can be misleading if it’s a single word.

But it could work well if the related terms formed some sort of group meaning together. Kanji are anyhow more conceptual than literal, right?

@rodarmor I don’t think you need to give up just because the mnemonics don’t work for you :slight_smile: . I’m also using WaniKani without mnemonics, often adding user synonyms for new words and the core SRS system works really well for me.

Well, I’ll just go out on a limb and say that the biggest part of the mnemonics on WK are not actually good and it actually gets worse after the first couple of levels. Just IMHO of course.

For individual Kanji or for radicals, the mnemonics are actually often OK (even if they don’t always work for me), but for vocab, especially for jukugo, it often feels to me like they’re not even trying. For example, for 裁判 they have:

You’re going to get judged times two. Judge and judge again. Once by the judge and another time by the jury. This is a whole trial here.

which would make sense if it weren’t for the fact that 審判 is also judge+judge, but means “judgement” instead. So this mnemonic is actually almost completely useless.
The biggest problem is with vocab that is very similar and thus easy to confuse, e.g. 会議 and 議会.

I think if you come up with your own mnemonics it’s always going to work better though, so it’s not a huge loss. Everyone’s mind works differently. For me, it often works well to also associate the sound of a vocab with its meaning directly instead of only going through the individual Kanji’s meaning.


Interesting! Could it be that you have a strong echoic memory?

I wrote about something similar here: Trouble remembering meaning AND reading? - #11 by iinchou

Since complaining about mnemonics is the new 河豚 :joy:

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Hm, maybe.
But on the other hand I think it’s proven nowadays that the more different kinds of connections (auditory, visual, etc.) you form to a new concept, the easier it will be for you to retain it.

Also, I know some other languages so sometimes a Japanese word sounds similar enough to some German, Italian, French, … word so I can make an association that way.

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I strongly agree, and after about level 20 or so I started just opening kanji koohii and learning the top mnemonics from there.

I still love Wanikani for a plethora of reasons, including their mnemonics for learning the common readings of kanji and vocab, but as you pointed out, too often the mnemonic is simply some form of “here are the individual radicals of the kanji in a sentence. Isn’t that crazy!” with almost zero attempt to associate them in any meaningful way. This was genuinely fine for a little while, but eventually you get to kanji or vocab that require more nuance, and you’ll just start confusing them with each other.


Oh, this idea I really like. With a nice index it might work. There’s been plenty mnemonics sharing already here in the forums. Making it more organized would make it easier to others to tap into. :slight_smile:


The problem with the approach of adding more synonyms (imo) is that most people will just disregard them and go for the single most memorable one. Certainly, the nuance of a single kanji can be communicated in that way if necessary, but this is an SRS platform, not an exhaustive listing. That is the job of JMDict, probably.

Besides, from what I’ve seen, most of the nuance necessary to understand certain kanji to the extent necessitated by the vocabulary in WaniKani is inherently encoded within the vocabulary selection itself. For example, 弁 has about three “fields” of meaning due to it being a combined shinjitai of three different kyūjitai. Although WaniKani doesn’t tell you about the history like that, you remember regardless that, “oh! That kanji can mean dialect or bentō!”, thanks to the specific vocabulary that utilize the kanji.

I would say that WK should implement synonyms for such Kanji with obviously greatly differing fields of meaning and not just pretend that’s they’re the same. But I disagree that nuance needs to be encoded into the synonyms within one field of meaning; one or two should be enough. If you put more synonyms the differences between the glosses become large enough that vocabulary utilizing the kanji makes less sense (for different people using different glosses/synonyms), and that’s counterproductive. If you really want to clarify the meaning of a kanji, you should just get rikaikun or some extension to JMDict and look it up, imo.

As for your saying that “Kanji are anyhow more conceptual than literal, right?”: I’m not quite sure what you mean, tbh. I’ve always thought of Chinese characters in general to simply be morphemes. Is that what you mean?

Which is okay in a way, as long as the synonyms are actual synonyms, not nuanced meanings which overlap to a very small degree.

I think things like that would be beyond the scope of WaniKani anyway :slight_smile: .

Yes, unfortunately that might end up being even more confusing than 3 “judgement"s and 3” limit"s. It’s hard enough to discern these without extra synonyms or proper context (via immersion as @jamielin suggested).

What I had in mind are cases like https://www.wanikani.com/kanji/濃
where calling it “thick” and then explaining in a very roundabout way in a mnemonic doesn’t help, because the word “thick” has multiple meanings in different fields:

  • a person can be “thick” (not very smart)
  • a soup can be “thick” (dense)
  • a wall can be “thick” (of significant depth)
  • etc.

The mnemonic actually confuses the last 2 and as far as I understand, the 3rd meaning would be covered by the 厚 kanji.

“thick” is such a basic catch-all term that to understand what the kanji actually means one needs synonyms.

It would’ve been enough to add “concentrated” and “dense” as synonyms (which I did) and then the misleading mnemonic is no longer an issue, because you already know what kind of nuance the kanji captures.

No, I meant they represent concepts or physical objects rather than specific words which would be an issue if one were to assign only 1 English word to a kanji.

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I think this has more to do with word choice, tbh. I don’t know what they’ve taken into consideration when assigning glosses, but the “thick” kanji are a pretty good example of conflate glosses coming into play. Honestly I think they should just go with the glosses that are exclusive to either semantic field “density” and “width” but that’s just a preference.

I think there was another thread where we discussed a similar topic — really, the inability (or refusal) of wanikani to distinguish between such conflating glosses might be a bad sign for some, but I don’t think it matters that much unless it’s a sense which is completely wrong.

I’m probably repeating myself here, but the fact that WK is an exclusively JA > EN SRS makes the conflating glosses seem less accidental and more of a design choice to me. Many vocab words have distinguishing synonyms to aid users in differentiation; these groups of vocabulary with closely related meanings also tend to have conflating glosses (such as with the “law(s)” group of three). So WK serves the users who want to take the easy route by lumping closely related words together, as well as the users who wish for a bit of nuance recognition, by using the techniques described.

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I think so as well. I’m personally a little torn regarding that. On one hand, I completely agree with the several “law” and “regulation” kanji having overlapping glosses and meanings in vocab. One would really need to work with the language for a while (still a long way for me, honestly :() to understand the nuanced differences. On the other hand, for kanji where it’s clear the meaning is slightly more nuanced, it would be good if both the gloss and the mnemonic encapsulated that.

But yeah, I think we’ve discussed this more or less to exhaustion already :sweat_smile: .

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I too find some of the mnemonics really awful mostly because they’re just juxtapositions of radicals. I often come up with much better ones in my head and those are the ones I use.
I also use Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course because I feel like most “mnemonics” there make way more sense and are more credible.

KKLC mnemonic for your 護 example:
“Picture an adult bird (⾫) grasping some grass (⺾) within its talons (suggested by 又 - hand) and speaking fierce words (言) to PROTECT its possession.”

That said, I’m suprised you didn’t like/stick with the first levels mnemonics because I felt they were really nice at the time (although it’s been a loooong time for me lol) and I only started to get frustrated with mnenomics after lvl 40/45.
Some people might have said it already (sorry tl;dr) but there used to be a community mnemonic script somewhere in the forums, maybe it could help you.
In any case, I’m really glad I sticked with wanikani cause I probably would’ve gave up on kanjis without it (and the awesome community <3).


I am fine with wk mnemonics for the most part. They are very helpful but for the very few that don’t help, I create my own such as this one:



since lvl 20, I am doing my own mnemonics most of the time

those ones just saying the radical meanings at random order to state them to mean that or this particular kanji doesnt stick for me anymore.

early levels are a breeze and really meaningful, now I just keep memorizing them

just yesterday, the menomic for ‘create’ kanji which is zou, it related to zombie, lmao


I won’t lie, learning Kanji these past two years has been a struggle… I’ve completed about 85% of the program and every day is hard, but if you create a schedule and stick to it, make it a habit and just do it at your own pace I think you can make real progress. Its easy to get discouraged. I wrote a post on here about Memory Palaces & Mnemonics after hitting Level 30 and feeling just as overwhelmed as you are right now. Put in some research and posted my discoveries. Do a search and read the original post. A lot of people are whining afterward, so don’t bother with reading all of that. I went through 20 Levels in a blink with it and I wish I’d done it from day 1. Good luck!

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