Why does WaniKani often make the primary meaning of the vocab be different from the primary meaning of the kanji?

Why does WaniKani do this?

Often, they make the primary meaning of the Vocab/Word be different from the primary meaning of the Kanji.

For example:

For the kanji 学, it says the Primary meaning is study, and the Alternatives are learn, learning.

And for the vocab 学ぶ, it says the Primary meaning is to learn, and the Alternatives are to study, to study in depth

On jisho.org, for 学ぶ, it says:
1. to study (in depth); to learn; to take lessons in
So it puts “to study” as the first meaning. Shouldn’t WaniKani also make the primary meaning of 学ぶ be “to study”? - just as it makes it a bit easier to memorize. This is a common thing on WaniKani which I find strange. There are many other examples I run into.

So my question is, why doesn’t WaniKani make the Primary meaning of 学ぶ be to study instead of to learn?

It would be a bit easier to learn if the Primary meaning of the kanji matches with the Primary meaning of the vocab; for example, 学 primary meaning as study and 学ぶ primary meaning as to study. I memorize the alternative meanings, so it would be easier if the vocab primary meaning would align with the kanji - e.g. for 学ぶ primary meaning is to study and alternative meanings are to learn, to study in depth


im not too sure why but maybe because there is better vocab that is more suited to be used. For example, 勉強する which also means to study. I feel this one is more commonly used than 学ぶ. Not sure if this helps but this is just the way I see it. Maybe Jisho is right for putting to study first idk.


Thanks, ya it is odd. When I memorize the meanings of 学ぶ, I will make the primary “to study” not “to learn”. It would be better if WaniKani already did that.

I don’t believe that EDICT (which is the underlying J-E dictionary used by jisho.org and pretty much every other free dictionary app and website) makes a consistent attempt to sort its glosses of a word sense by priority. So when it has an entry like “1. to study (in depth); to learn; to take lessons in” all it is saying is “one of the meanings of this word is this clustering of ideas” – the multiple English words are there to give you an idea of the scope of the word and to suggest possible phrasings if you’re trying to translate a Japanese sentence into English. So I would not put much weight on what order the entry is in.

For what it’s worth, the 新和英大辞典 (best of the commercial J-E dictionaries IMHO) defines 学ぶ as “learn; be taught; take lessons / a course in; study; prosecute one’s studies; draw a lesson from”.


More generally, kanji “meaning” is a bit hard to pin down and to some extent is derived from the meanings of all the words that kanji is used in. For 学, it gets used in a ton of compound words like 哲学 philosophy and 物理学 physics for ‘fields of study’, which adds up to mean that if you’re going to try to pin a single English word label on it then ‘study’ fits better than ‘learn’. But there’s no guarantee that that best-fit label for the kanji is going to match the best English translation of the Japanese word that happens to be written with that one kanji, because Japanese words and kanji are different things. The words are the important things, and the kanji are just how you write the words. In the long run there is not really any need to be able to remember “kanji meanings” IMHO.


I think the best reason is it could keep you from depending on an overly narrow definition of a kanji. One-word glosses don’t really get you to the point where you “know” the word. That said two-word glosses aren’t that much better, but it reminds you to challenge the idea of English-Japanese equivalencies for any word :smiley: That would be my honest guess why they do it.


Something that I haven’t really seen mentioned is nuances. In my head, “to study” and “to learn” are subtly different- “to study” is when you’re teaching yourself something or going over material you were taught, and “to learn” is the product of studying or being taught. In broad strokes, they are the same thing, but they have a little bit of a nuance to them.

The same goes for Japanese, which has it’s own nuances. If a word in Japanese has a nuance most similar to “to study,” then WK might make that it’s primary meaning. That doesn’t mean “to learn” is wrong, but it may just not carry the nuance of that verb.


Yeah, in many cases I’ve forgotten what Wanikani used for a specific kanji. Like, for 学, I completely forgot what WK used until it was brought up here. I just think of it as the first Kanji in 学生.


That is interesting to hear how more advanced don’t even think about what WaniKani used for a specific kanji. The words and their many various meanings are what’s most important in the end. Learned a lot here, thank you!


Yeah, I think I could tell you, with confidence, the wanikani definition for maybe like 20 of the kanji on here? Most of which would be body parts I guess. I could probably guess a lot of them though. Of the 3000+ that have made their way into my srs decks over the years, there’s probably not a single one outside of wanikani that I learned the definition to outside of a vocab word.

The kanji itself just becomes either a concept in my mind or a collection of concepts, or it just is tied to some word its in.


One other thing that’s specific to this forum is that when you want to talk about a specific Kanji, it can be very hard to type just that kanji using your IME. The usual way I do it is type a word with the kanji then delete the other characters. :wink:


Yup, I feel that’s one of the major challenges of teaching kanji meanings as stand-alone components. At an early stage it might feel useful, but with a strict SRS like WaniKani where 1-2 glosses match the kanji the diminishing returns are brutal. It’s essentially one of the reasons I gave up and turned to Anki which is not as punishing.


oh right, I did hear This Man Yuta on YouTube say that is not “cheating” lol, and is what native Japanese do too when typing. Thanks for reminding me!

1 Like

My old job had us use 学ぶ because it didn’t come with the connotations of 勉強. Like you can learn something but benkyou has the image you are sitting down to learn something from a textbook.

1 Like

Japanese people do it to describe there names. 私は桜島です。桜のさくら、島のじま。

1 Like

Yesterday was my last day as an ALT and I had to give a speech in the staffroom. I mentioned 学んだこと as something I would take from my time at the school, the “things I learned”. This wasn’t in reference to sitting down with a textbook to study how to be a teacher or something. It was stuff I naturally learned through the course of the job. The implication that I learned from others is stronger than with something like 勉強する.

Obviously you do learn things when you sit down to study from a textbook as well, but I prefer WK’s gloss for 学ぶ.



I have also heard people use 勉強なりました for when they learned something new. So its not a hard rule or anything. But I think thats the image people have when they think of 勉強 vs 学ぶ

1 Like

Just to make sure, it’s 勉強なりました.


sure! :stuck_out_tongue: I totally forgot!

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.