Why do some just never stick

Why do some of the vocab and kanji just never stick no matter how many times I do it? Is there a scientific reason for this lol


usually my leeches were to vocab that were showed in same batches of lessons and had almost same meaning.

Like frequency, frenquent. This was the same as asking you to make mistakes during reviews and I did a lot! Especially because I did batches of over 100 items in one sitting so the changes to confuse them were great.


As written before, it depends on what your brain chooses to do with a word/phrase.
When you see or hear it, it won’t be stored permanently, but rather in a short-term memory register, so you can work with that word right at the moment. If the brain doesn’t deem it important enough, it will get deleted after a few seconds/minutes. If it is deemed important enough, it will be placed outside of your short-term memory and over night with a good rest, your brain will physically create new structures in your memory and place the information in some context to other information somewhere.
This doesn’t mean that you actually already know the word, this depends a lot on how big the context structure for that word is and how heavily wired the information is with other bits of information.

Of course this is a very simplified version and I’m sure it’s technically not correct, but I’m no scientist in that field myself. :smiley:

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For me, its always a weak mnemonic …


I’ve found over the years doing spaced repetition that leeches are usually the result of some very specific root cause that once identified can be resolved accordingly.

So, imo, the main thing to do is to ask yourself “What is it that is particularly hard about this item?” Usually, if you think about it for a moment, you can pretty quickly figure the reason out. Once you know the reason, you can formulate a plan to fix it.

Often times, the root cause will be some type of similarity that is causing memory confusion. In that case, hone in on the very specific difference in order to resolve the memory confusion.

Other times, it is usually due to a strong association with one meaning and it’s a less common meaning that is giving you trouble.

For example, I found 行きゆき difficult to remember at first. So, thinking about it for a second, it’s because the kanji was learned as “go” and the meaning of “train direction”/“bound for” has a very weak direct relation to go. Further, the reading is an exception, while the other instances learned with 行 use the other readings.

In other words, the existing familiarity with 行 and its strong associated with “go” was the root cause. In order to address that, I found an image that incorporated it to create a stronger association with the desired meaning and reading.

Namely, this one that has 東京行き (Tokyo bound) in it:

Now, I have a full picture of a train bound for Tokyo and the entire association as an additional anchor to strengthen the memory and it’s not been an issue since.


行き is a great example because you could also look up audio recordings of train announcements anywhere in Japan. Which brings up audio (such as films and songs) as another tool.


Reading manga changed everything for me. Suddenly every kanji became important and my brain tried harder to latch on to meanings. Highly recommend reading.


I find that when I can’t remember a kanji item, I need to make a new mnemonic to help it stick.

For example, recently, I couldn’t remember the reading or meaning for the kanji for sunlight 光 . So I made a new mnemonic about a triceratops head shining out of the sun (the sun being round and bright), but sending cold (こう) shivers down my spine when he tells me to get to the Great Valley (The Land Before Time movie reference).

I find that movie references sometimes work well for me. :sweat_smile:

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I don’t know why that happens, but it does, to everyone. For that small fraction of items, I’d say it’s especially ok to break the SRS strategy by just drilling it over and over until you get it right all the time. (obviously, if you’re mixing it up with another similar one, then putting them side-by-side and really looking for the difference is important. Even that doesn’t always work.)


For me its the mnemonic that doesnt stick. Some of the radicals dont make sense since they are changed from other sources of radical names that I learnt in the past.

I find drawing a picture helps me remember things though. For example this guy. its not kanji but I needed to remember a common phrase for when ordering.


In the general case (but sadly not possible in the WK system), for vocab, I think it’s also OK to say “this is just a leech for me, it doesn’t stick, suspend it from the system”. Eventually you’ll encounter it in a more memorable context and it’ll stick then; or you’ll barely ever encounter it and it wasn’t worth the effort to memorise. Either way, there are so many words that you need to learn that it’s better to spend the time on more words that fit more easily into your brain rather than struggling with the handful that just won’t stick. (This only applies once you have a system that basically works and a few leeches, not if your accuracy is generally low and you’re having trouble with lots of words.)

I second the other advice that it’s important to start doing other Japanese stuff and not just WaniKani. It is encountering these words and kanji when studying your textbook or whatever and when reading that provides the extra reinforcement and signal to your brain that remembering these is useful and isn’t just a memory game.