Why do people say Wanikani is not for learning Vocab?

I’m curious as to why people say Wanikani is only useful for learning to read Kanji?

If you take Torii SRS for example, it’s exactly the same as Wanikani, except designed to learn vocabulary . We also enter the meanings and readings into the SRS to help us “learn” vocab during our WK journey.

Why is WK not considered as effective at learning vocabulary compared to something like Torii?


WaniKani doesn’t have any hiragana-only vocab.

Other than that, the vocab here is mostly to reinforce the kanji, with words being sometimes less common.


And a big reason is also that you maybe learn very similar words in english that are different in Japanese. You will not be able to differentiate them without any context or without looking the words up elsewhere.
(This might be a problem of other SRS vocab only apps)


The words on WK are there to teach you the kanji; they are not always the most common or useful words, but they illustrate the different readings and meanings of the kanji


Or has kanji versions of vocab that is mostly kana-only.

:point_up: This is also why I bring it up, mostly when people complain that natives corrected them away from kanji vocab in daily conversation.

While reading books and manga, I encounter WK vocab left, right and centre.

You learn kanji to read, so they’re not trying to make you better at conversation. A lot of the words are still very useful when you use the kanji and start reading loads. ^^


There are several good responses in this thread.

I’ve already noticed an improvement in my vocabulary after just six months with WK (learning a few new words, and solidifying my understanding of others).

WK teaches how to read kanji, but I think it’s a little silly to say that memorizing ~6,000 characters and vocabulary won’t teach you some new vocabulary words along the way.

WK alone won’t teach anyone to converse, read, and write Japanese fluently, but I’m convinced that it’s a whole lot easier to learn conversational vocabulary and Japanese grammar if you can already read Kanji.

I’ve spent over forty years trying to improve my vocabulary and conversational Japanese without learning kanji. That’s definitely not optimal, trust me. It’s kind of embarrassing how much my vocabulary has already increased with WK in just a few months.

In my opinion, saying WK is not for learning vocabulary is like saying regularly climbing walls, cliffs, and hills won’t train you to become a mountain climber.

Ooookay, maybe it’s not sufficient by itself but it’ll definitely help you get there.


Yes! This is so very true.

I’m amazed how often WK shows the same English word for very different concepts/words in Japanese. It makes me realize how imprecise English can be and how much we depend on context.

I’m sometimes already familiar with the Japanese word, so I understand the proper connotation, but I can see how confusing it would be to people just learning (and often enough I’m confused with a new word).

I can’t think of a better example, but 仕事 作業 作品 and even 利く all involve the English word “work”. One use means a job, another “works” as in manufacturing/operations, another a work you created, and lastly "it works’ or is effective. I sometimes wish WK did a better job at explaining which meaning of an English word is intended.

[I’ve thought of a couple more since I first composed this:

WK translates 提案 (ていあん)する as “to propose”. While that is exactly correct, Westerners are likely to think of a marriage proposal. That connotation is entirely lacking in the Japanese phrase.

WK translates 議会(ぎかい) as “Diet”. Absolutely correct, but it refers to the Japanese government and has nothing to do with losing weight.]

I won’t link for fear of offending anyone, but it reminds me of a famous, very funny, and fairly long scene in the series The Wire: the dialog consists entirely of one rude word used in several different ways. (Search YouTube for “Jimmy and Bunk discuss a crime scene” if you’re comfortable with a NSFW scene.)


This is a neat point. I often joke about how context dependent Japanese is, but really we just rely on context for different parts of communication. Hadn’t thought of it in that way before.


It’s about managing expectations. As others mentioned

  • it has no kana only vocab
  • it does not include all common kanji vocab
  • it includes some kanji vocab that you mostly encounter written in kana

to this I would add

  • it only teaches JP → EN, so passive recognition only

Does WK teach you vocab? Yes.
Is just WK sufficient for vocab learning? No, it’s not set up that way.


You can learn vocabulary. But it’s not for learning vocabulary.


Why’s it a joke? Japanese is a much more contextual language than English is. Aside from anything else, see how long you can go through your average English-speaking day without saying the word “I”.

I guess just because it’s so different from any other language I speak the strangeness makes it funny and endearing? I’ve never joked about it in this community but if I say something unclear to a friend who also knows a lot about languages, I might joke afterwards “Well that was confusing but at least I didn’t try saying it in Japanese” or “that would have been very elegant in Japanese.” Or I remember reading a manga a long time ago where a foreigner complaining about Japanese to a Japanese person said something like “Let me introduce you to a valuable linguistic concept called THE POINT,” and that made me laugh a lot. Does that make sense?

You are right. I am guilty of overstatement. I think my comment was more me thinking out loud about how I shouldn’t get too hung up on such commonly known details so I can see the ways Japanese is effective in communicating (ie having a lot of words for what we may consider a single concept)?


WaniKani will teach you some vocabulary, but it leaves a lot out too. Obviously kana-only vocabulary isn’t going to show up here, but I’ve noticed some kanji-based words that don’t seem to make the cut, for whatever reason.

If you’re serious about learning Japanese I would recommend some other method of vocabulary study, whether it’s SRS based or simply looking up words you encounter in native text.

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Because memorizing words and learning vocabulary are not necessarily the same thing.

i used to think the same thing, but the thing is that wanikani does not really teach nuance or the differences between words that are given the same meaning.


It’s not that learning vocab does not work with WK’s SRS (obviously it works just as well as learning Kanji), it’s more about the selection of vocab words they offer. An example: I went to language school in Japan, and one of my classmates was also using WK and knew all the vocab words that were in there, but did not know too much vocabulary outside of that. One teacher was often jokingly complaining that his vocabulary was so unbalanced.

One learns crazy cool vocab on the one hand but doesn’t learn basic words that are needed every day, like some others pointed out already. On top of that, some words are not put into their proper context (e.g. rude words or keigo words) so you basically need to look up each word and check how it is used.
For me, a huge pain point of WK vocab is that sometimes they use a mnemonic that works with a different meaning of the same English word! For me there is no way to tell, so again I’d need to look up the word somewhere else.

I think for the sake of balancing the vocab knowledge with the general language abilities one would be much better off to study one of those “Core so-many-k” decks or JLPT level decks.


I just posted in another thread yesterday about the iKnow custom decks grouped by WK level. I’m experimenting right now with skipping all vocab in WK and learning it in iKnow instead. It’s too soon to tell if it sticks, but iKnow has the benefit of sentence context, cloze deletion, recall, audio recognition, etc. And it is much more pleasant than WK or Anki to use.

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I’m not sure how many people say Wanikani is only useful for learning to read Kanji. I think it is useful for several other things. I’ve learned a lot of vocabulary, improved my kana reading skills, and even learned an English word or two by worshipping the Great Crabigator.

I think what people mean to say is that Wanikani was designed for learning to read Kanji. So the other things you learn are only incidental and will need to be supplemented. In other words, you should include vocabulary, grammar and listening in your studies and not expect to get complete training of those from Wani Kani alone.


when you see/hear something in a new context, it will add meaning and significance to that piece of information, so if you expose yourself to a lot of content and do wanikani, they will solidify each other. look at the vocab as just another connection for your speech center, apart from the obvious use as kanji teaching tool on wk.


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