Where do you learn vocabulary?

I have seen so many posts talking about how you must learn grammar and vocabulary while using Wanikani so that in the end you’ll be doing good. Although this kinda built a lot of pressure since I can’t find a place to learn, so I am struggling a little. I have seen the classics such as Anki, although the majority of people say it didn’t work for them and they moved onto something else instead. Overall, all I see is doubt and uncertainty. So I would like to know what your opinion’s on this is.
Where did you learn vocabulary?


I’ve used Torii, and it’s worked well enough to get ~1500 words under my belt to start with.

You probably don’t need much more than that before you start learning vocab from native materials instead. Something like Anki or Kitsun can help a lot with that, but for those first words to get you going Torii is a good place to start.

Where do you get that the majority of people say Anki didn’t work for them, though? Aside from the (very valid) criticism that the UI leaves something to be desired, what I’m seeing overall is that people are fairly positive about it.


Best thing I can recommend is start using the language. Otherwise the Kanjis will not stick. Depending on where you are in your language learning journey this can either be something like graded readers or NHK news easy or just a basic grammar book. Later on this probably will be some kind of manga or novel.
But you HAVE to have some use. Just learning the Kanji here on this site alone will be pretty pointless in the long run.
To make the vocab stick faster you “can” use srs like memries or Anki but I think the most important thing in the beginning is getting lots and lots of exposure since the basic words are used ALL THE TIME you will see them regardless of srs.
Later on, when you are “mining” your words from native material and the vocab gets more nuanced and rare it might help to put it in an srs.

If you could specify a little more where you are at in your learning jurney we could probably give some more specific advise.


10k vocab sentences voiced with Kitsun.io
Browsing through books with JLPT grammar, currently doing that to books with plenty of example sentences in them (8-10 about each grammar point).

I will be golden once I finish WK.

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I use Drops on my phone. It’s free with an optional subscription that unlocks additional features. It’s got multiple categories divided into topics of around 17 vocab items each, and it teaches both kanji and kana vocab (though it doesn’t always teach the kanji when a word can use them) using different types of recognition as well as spelling exercises

  1. Textbooks: In my case it was “Minna no nihongo”. Every lesson introduces new words. Most of them of very common use.

  2. Reader apps: My recommendarion is “Satori Reader”, it has a built in vocabulary list and SRS system. First chapters are free, so you can try to see if it fits your needs.

  3. Books and manga: It could be a real pain in the a$$ at first, but eventually, to consume “real” japanese is the best way to expand your vocabulary.

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Grammar I can understand but vocabulary? I learnt lots of vocabulary thru WK even if it is not its main goal. Once you finish WK, it is way easier to pick up vocabulary by reading native content. Learning vocabulary before finishing WK seems to inefficient.


Hmm, I suppose there are a lot of people who don’t like the interface and drop it quickly? In general I think it’s still a super commonly used program. (Oops, I see now yamitenshi beat me to saying exactly this)

While there are definitely more specialized vocab sites some people are recommending, I did go the anki route, primarily because it’s very adaptable. Also helps that it’s free, customizable, totally local so I don’t have to worry about someone else’s servers/accounts (beyond the one for syncing backups), etc. Because I was using Genki (1 and 2), I got my first big set of words from there, which I used premade anki decks for. Then I moved to Satori Reader, and although they have their own SRS, I used a setup to quickly mine words from the site into anki. Now I’m simply reading native material like books and visual novels and mining those for new words, and again, putting them in anki.

There are plenty of valid paths, the most important thing is to simply figure out what works for you and commit to one without falling in the trap of evaluating options and flitting between them forever. That said, I just wanted to speak in favor of anki because it is hard to beat in simple versatility. My card format is different than it was when I was grinding isolated Genki words, but from almost day 1 of using Japanese I’ve been loading up anki and doing the reviews there, and I like that consistency quite a bit.


For starters, maybe songs with translation or Anime context sentences (ImmersionKit)?

After that, maybe monolingual (Japanese) dictionary? In the dictionary, you pick up not only 類語 and 関連語, but also related vocabularies inside the explanation, which are not necessarily sentences.

In the end, well, native materials.

I am also learning vocabularies from N3 list, but Core 10k should be similar.

Media. :slight_smile:

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Personally, I really like drops (phone app) for daily life vocab. You can choose from a bunch of topics such as, health, sleep, animals, family, teas and drinks, festivals, etc. I found it particularly useful for pandemic related vocab and I’m using it now to try to expand on hiragana and katakana words.

Sometimes in the new holiday lessons, they have have bs that people don’t use (or at least don’t use in the countryside), but the lessons that have been around a bit are usually good.

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I’m another person who’s had great success with Anki. I used it from the very start to learn the kana, actually, and it worked great for that, and has worked great for me ever since! I think Anki will work for pretty much everyone as long as you can motivate yourself to do your reviews every day. From what I’ve seen, that’s the main problem people have with it. Either they struggle with SRS generally, or struggle with Anki specifically because they don’t like the UI, or don’t like the default Anki settings and don’t want to mess around with figuring out how to modify it. But it’s a program that you can use at any level of Japanese understanding, and many people with a very high proficiency in the language used it to get there and are still using it.

Of course, you don’t need to use SRS to learn vocab, because you’ll pick things up naturally from reading and such, given enough time. But SRS is probably going to be the most efficient way to do it. And, yes, Anki is a very good option if you are looking at using a SRS to learn.

If you do want to go the SRS route, I think the main thing with vocab isn’t so much the program you use as it is the specific words you choose to learn. There are various camps here. Some people go for a 10k deck of common words (the Kitsun one is popular), some people think you should never learn vocab in a vacuum and think you should get all of your words from mining them as you see them in media, and some people have a kind of hybrid approach, where they recommend learning 1.5-2k ish common words, then mining words from media after that.

I guess I’m going the hybrid route myself, haha! I’m currently using Anki alongside the textbook Minna no Nihongo. I put all of the vocab from the textbook into Anki, and use Anki to learn the vocab before I read each lesson. And honestly, it has worked great so far! This is helping me build up a solid base of common vocab that I can use as a jumping off point for reading native media. (I’ve already started reading native media, haha, but it is just getting easier and easier over time as I learn more words.)

In addition to that, I’m also using Anki alongside the browser add-on Yomichan, which is a pop-up Japanese dictionary. Yomichan can instantly create Anki flash cards for me from any word that I use it to look up. Currently, I’m not adding many flash cards of this type, because I’m prioritizing WK and the MNN vocab, but I have been adding vocab from a specific subject that I’m most interested in (Japanese pro wrestling :sweat_smile:) as I come across it in my reading.

To keep things from getting too excessive, I’m not adding kana-only words (except for a few rare exceptions that I thought seemed particularly important or interesting), and I’m only adding words that contain kanji I’ve already learned in WK, and which won’t be showing up in future WK lessons.

I’m really happy with my set-up, and I think I’m sort of getting the best of both worlds! I’m steadily expanding my base of common vocab as I learn grammar through my textbook, and I’m also working on improving my vocab among a specific subject that I’m really interested in, all while I continue to learn more and more kanji through WK.

I would try not to worry too much about which is the “best” method. Most of them will eventually get you to the same place. You could start with 1-2k words from a textbook, or from Torii, or download a 2k Anki core deck, or start building a base of vocab somewhere else, if none of those work for you. After that point, you could maybe try dipping your toes in native media and seeing how it goes.

I’d caution you against adding too many cards if you do use SRS, though, especially if you are using more than one program at once. Overdoing it and trying to learn too many words at once can easily burn you out. Make sure you start small and add cards gradually, and never add more than you can keep up with every single day, even your bad days.

If you’re not a huge fan of SRS, you could try Drops or LingoDeer or another program, or just start out with graded readers and easy Japanese books. SRS is probably the most “efficient” way to do it, but people have been successfully learning languages for thousands of years without it, so as long as you spend time engaging with the language somehow, you’ll pick up more vocabulary over time.


I’m of the exact opposite opinion - WK doesn’t teach any kana-only vocab and doesn’t teach the most useful words first, so if WK is your sole source of vocabulary you’re going to be at it a long time before you can actually read native material, and even by the end of it you’re going to see words you didn’t learn in the simplest of media.

On the other hand, just a few hundred to about a thousand of the most common words open up a whole host of possibilities, and that doesn’t have to take long at all. You can keep up with WK in the meantime, no problem. Depending on your pace you can be done in less than a month, or you can take it slower and take a month or two, three if you take a very leisurely pace.

Of course whatever works for you is best, but personally I’d have dropped Japanese in no time flat if I’d have to wait until finishing WK before learning some vocab and consuming native material, whereas now I’m just trucking along reading manga and having a blast while nowhere near finishing WaniKani (and I’m not even sure I intend to ever finish, honestly).


I have similar experience regarding WaniKani and vocabulary, but one could easily extend it to other learning resources as well. Reading the first book/manga is going to be hard, regardless of one’s familiarity with kanji, because A) kana-only words and B) different writing styles/formality levels and C) knowing kanji readings doesn’t mean one knows how to read every word with those kanji. So as long as one sticks to the same series and maybe author, it’s going to get easier until one switches, for instance from books to news articles or manga.

But what vocabulary one needs depends also on the overall goal of learning Japanese.

Regarding tools and resources:

  • Anki to repeat vocabulary (it’s not that bad, just the UI is kind of clunky)
  • books for prose vocabulary, including onomatopoeia, adjectives, etc
  • manga for casual speech
  • news articles for formal terms and general aspects of living in Japan

Oh yeah, the medium itself makes a world of difference for sure. I can read 極主夫道 with relatively little effort for instance, Kansai-ben, but a news article is a bit of a struggle at times. And trying to read a wholly different manga like 葬送のフリーレン is a trip and a half, because the setting is entirely different, and as such so is the choice of words and grammar.

But with that said I will say taking the time to learn N5 and N4 grammar and vocab has helped tremendously in all of those, I think they’d have felt like an exercise in futility had I not done that. Of course, YMMV.


Some advice I heard that I liked is that if it’s in media that you enjoy, it’s worth learning. So if you’re someone who likes manga, any vocab from manga that you read is worth learning, if you’re a novel reader, then anything you find in a book you read is worth learning, etc. Of course, if speaking or communicating with other people is a particular goal of yours, then you might have to prioritize “usable” vocab, haha, but generally if you have a goal of reaching a level of fluency where you can read and watch the things that you want, any words that show up in the media you’re engaging with are going to be useful to you.


I think that’s good advice, and it’s one of the reasons I personally follow and repeat the often seen recommendation that you don’t go for the full core 10k vocab list or whatever, but instead start learning by sentence mining at some point (which is a fancy way of saying “consume stuff and learn the bits you don’t know”).

It makes some intuitive sense too. Beyond a certain point, learning by general frequency is going to have diminishing returns, as you’re more and more likely to never encounter some of those words at all. Whereas if you learn by sentence mining, you’re 100% sure those words are going to be useful for you, because… well, you encountered them in exactly the kind of thing you’ll be doing with Japanese.

Though there’s always learning for its own sake of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. Learning the entire core 10k certainly can’t hurt, it’s just probably not the most efficient way to spend your time from a practical point of view.


I’ve been using Anki, specifically some pre-made N5 and N4 decks that I found here. The cards are mostly full sentences rather than individual worlds, so you learn context and some grammar with them.

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I did lots of N4 and N5 decks on anki, but I didn’t like it from N3. So now I mostly use manga and youtube.

Yep, exactly!

It can get a little more complicated, because some people try to prioritize common vocab within a certain genre (if you read a lot of fantasy, words for like “castle” and “magic” etc. are probably extremely frequent words and might be more useful to you than, say, a word for a rare flower used in a metaphor exactly once in one book), and maybe there’s an argument for that being more efficient, but personally I don’t care enough about trying to calculate all of that out, so I’ll just add words regardless of how common they may or may not be. I’m interested in broadening my vocab in general, and I care about that more than optimizing my studying time as much as possible.