What to do when the mnemonics just don't stick?

How do you deal with mnemonics that just don’t stick?

I’ve been on Wanikani for years but I’m still only level 22. This year I’ve finally got a decent study routine going but I seem to just get overwhelmed by the vocab reviews.

I do two review sessions a day - morning and night. They take me about 30-40 minutes each. On top of that I try to learn 12-15 new items a day. If my reviews start to drop below 80%, I’ll pause the new lessons.

Lately I’ve been getting bogged down in an endless loop of wrong answers. My percentage is dropping down into the 60% range and it’s blowing my study time out to 2-3 hours a day. It’s really starting to burn me out.

How do I make these words stick?

One thing I struggle with are mnemonics that just use the kanji meanings. These are much harder for me to remember. eg. 批判, 義務, 比例 etc.

Also, perhaps I’m not doing my lessons properly? I’ll read through the lesson and spend maybe 30 second on each entry. I don’t bother with the example readings because the grammar is always above my level. How does everyone else do their lessons?

Anyway, I’d love to get some fresh ideas on how to make this work. I’ve given myself to the end of the year to get to level 30. If I can’t get there, I’m gonna call it quits because the lack of progress is really starting to do my head in.


I personally review them until they start to stick naturally. I don’t rely much on mnemonics too much. Because while reading something, mnemonics are really slowing me down. So after doing one or two reviews with using mnemonics, I answer directly which pops in to my mind without using mnemonic. After a few cycles of sleep review sleep review, one day it just sticks. And it sticks better than other items. Overall, getting a decent sleep is the key for me.


I think the vocab mnemonics are much less useful than the kanji mnemonics, so you’re not alone.
Most of the time I really need to see a word out in the wild, in context, to remember it properly. I sometimes spent months struggling to remember certain items, but then I hear them in a song or an anime dialogue once and they stick forever.

So I would say try reading example sentences (it can be outside of WK, and especially short and snappy sentences might be helpful), and consume Japanese content to see the words in context. It really helps me make them stick.


Quite often I don’t understand the grammar in the example sentences either, but I force myself to try and read them anyway, even if I’m only sounding them out. I still don’t understand most of them but I find myself more able to pick out common conjugations and infer the meaning of some words from the translation, which I couldn’t do at the start and I find that quite motivating. It does make things take longer, but it’s worth it imo.


I agree with everything Myria wrote. Having some context is incredibly useful. If I can’t seem to remember a word I always look for an example sentence on jisho for it.

I think the bigger picture is that to learn a language, you can’t rely on just one tool/website. On level 20+ you need to start consuming content in Japanese, to get immersed in the language. Find podcasts, easy to read books, read news, watch anime/films, let’s plays, study grammar, go to language cafés, whatever you enjoy the most. Speak, read and listen the language every chance you get. The more Japanese sentences you hear/read in the “wild”, the more you can convince your brain these words are information worth remembering.


Quite often I just come up with my own mnemonics. English is not my native language so I have two whole languages to choose from. It works for me. But I ALWAYS make sure to use mnemonics to memorize, otherwise It won’t stick indeed.

I must say I’ve been here for a year, went up to level 11 and then, due to some life circumstances, stopped. Month ago I started again, from the beginning. I noticed that some mnemonics have changed, some of them are working much better for me now. But. The bloody Hard Gay… It haunts me, whenever there’s “せい” reading I just can’t memorize it other than the Hard Gay dancing around and screaming せい!せい!せい!at me and this is a torture :’)


I learn things best when hearing the pronunciation. When I learned hiragana, I used every vocalization example I could so I knew how everything should sound. This has worked great on WK for vocab but for kanji, I will put into Google Translate and listen over and over until I get it stuck in my head. I also take the sentence examples and play them in GT so I can listen for the word as well. This is just how I learn but for me, being able to speak the vocab and kanji properly helps my memory.


That’s a really good suggestion, I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll give that it try. My reading practice has definitely taken a back seat while I’ve been stuck doing more WK study. Thanks for the tip!

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Rote memorisation has never really worked that well for me. Could definitely do with more sleep though.

Yeah that’s a good point. I guess I just need to force myself to do them haha. Do you review the sentences when you get the items wrong, or just during the lessons?

Oh yeah, I definitely do study outside of WK. I’ve done about 3 years of classroom lessons and with a little bit of revision, I could probably pass at least N4 JLPT.

WK has become such a time sink lately though, that it’s using up all my free time, so I haven’t been able to study other things as much as I’d like to.

Wasn’t aware that Jisho had sample sentences, I’ll check it out, thanks!

I’ve also been slowly playing through Rune Factory 2 in Japanese which has been fun, and I also have a copy Kiki’s Delivery Service which I’m chipping away at. There’s a lot of new words that I’m coming across, but I prefer this to another arbitrary flash card set like the 6k word thingy. Getting soooo sick of flash cards, haha.

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Haha, I’ve noticed the changing mnemonics too. Sometimes they’ve used a different mnemonic for Kyou or Kyo, or Jou etc, and I’ll rewrite it those ones to make them more consistent.

Yeah, I’m still using Hard Gay, and Nailbat etc too. They’re just burnt in to my brain at this stage.


Yeah I could give that a go. I think Jisho has some audio pronounciations too.

Their About page actually lists Wanikani as the provider of the audio files, so using Wanikani is actually enough.


but I prefer this to another arbitrary flash card set like the 6k word thingy. Getting soooo sick of flash cards, haha.

I know what you mean, I got totally sick of Anki by now as well. For me (so far at least) WaniKani has been more fun and more effective. I guess it’s also just about finding the stuff that works for you. Good luck!

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Cry. What I do is Cry.


Mostly no, unless I feel the meaning slipping away from me or it’s one of those words where the translation is really ambiguous. I do have a plan to go back and reread them all, now I know so much more grammar and kanji, but time…

Maybe at level 60…

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Are you using mnemonics for vocabulary too? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding…usually this only comes up for special readings and verbs but otherwise the kanji guru’d meaning should be the foundation. Can you give an example what you are using?

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I may be speaking way too prematurely here ahead of level 20, but if I find a mnemonic doesn’t stick, means the mnemonic isn’t right for me. When I know it won’t stick, I do my best to tweak or reinvent WK’s mnemonic in my own way. I write up my version in the notes section, and it sticks much better.

One example was between 上がる and 上げる. WK mnemonics: あげる was raising an aadvark (あ) so it could reach ants in the trees, and 上がる was the gasp of surprise (あ!) when the tree rose by itself. My version: when we raised the aadvark, we couldn’t hold it up there forever, but after coming back down, the aadvark only wanted to go back up again for more ants - so it begs you "Again (あげ), Again(あげ)!. And the surprise is not at the tree, but the aardvark rising up itself, we are aghast (あが), not only because it can levitate independently, but because we notice how grotesque their face is as it hovers in front of us.

This and giving myself half a minute to recall the mnemonic made it a lot easier.

Couldn’t agree more with @sipuli1.
And if the example sentences are beyond you due to grammar, do yourself a favour and get into the grammar.


Hard Gay definately worked for me too, Glowingmoleculeさん. I still use him and WATERSLIDE.
They are hardwired in my brain.