Why doesn’t some vocabulary stick?

So I just made it to Level 8 of WaniKani (yay me), and I want to believe that I’m making good progress. I’m getting 90s and 95s on my reviews and all, but I feel like something is off. I’ll come across a piece of vocabulary that’s been on my review log for a week or so now (like 手作り, 活用, every single Level 7 vocabulary that starts with 以~) or maybe even words from previous levels (like 工作 or 仕草) and while I feel like I should know it, I end up sitting there like an idiot for 20 seconds, and then I finally go “oh frick! oh yeah that’s how it goes!” This could be for either reading or definition.

And I don’t know, I’m not using any user scripts, and I make sure not to cheat. I’ve contemplated resetting a few times, but then realized that I shouldn’t really reset if it’s only a dozen words bothering me. I just feel like I should be recalling them quicker is all. Maybe I just to wait for the SRS repetition to kick in for these words, but like I said, it’s bothering me. I don’t know, I think I find it really frustrating because some words are sticking really great in my memory (本当に, 首になる, just to name a few) and I’ve been feeling pretty bitter about it.

Thoughts? Should I go back a level or two? Slow down a bit? Don’t stop?


SRS is nothing more than a way to violently slam information into your head that your head doesn’t have any better reason to bother with. If you can’t remember a word, don’t worry about it. You’ll pick it up when you want to. Funny you mentioned 手作り, since I knew that one long before I started WK. It’s a real life word for me, although I was misusing it to refer to soba - soba is not handmade, it is hand hit. 手打ち.


If you have good accuracy in your reviews you shouldn’t reset for a few stragglers. No matter how well you do there will always be a few troublesome items. If you reset for this you will never make progress because you will be resetting all the time.

You may be patient and let the SRS do its thing. You may also do some leech training. (Leech is how we call an item that causes trouble in reviews) Currently the two best script for training your leeches are Leech Training and Item Inspector. (Disclosure: I am the author of Item Inspector)

  • Leech Training will quiz you on your leeches. It is like Self-Study Quiz but specialized in leeches.

  • Item Inspector will display your leeches on your dashboard. You go over then reciting readings and meanings and you check your answers by moving the mouse over the item. Then answers will show in a popup. You can also start a Self Study Quiz session on your leeches from item Inspector thanks to integration between these two scipts.


Keep going, don’t reset :blush: I’m usually very patient with these things and just let them go for a while. It’s normal.

Some words/kanji just need more repeats to go in. But if I keep failing something over and over again, I try to figure out what’s difficult about it. It could be:

  • Meaning doesn’t clearly follow from the kanji (e.g. 仕草 or 名字)
  • The Kanji meanings are “misleading” (e.g. 作用)
  • Something irregular about the reading (e.g. the づ in 手作り). In this case I try to link the softness (or hardness) to its meaning. For example, you cannot handicraft steel, just softer materials. So it’s the soft づ, not the hard つ.
  • Meaning is too broad/vague and not tangible enough

Often, just making this conscious check already helps. Or I try to think of a better mnemonic/story for that word/kanji.

Things that are vibrant, visual or just absurd often stick right away. Like 首になる or our favorite: 金玉.


I’ve just reached 60 and still not burned 里心 from level 5.

Luckily nobody in Japan uses that word, apparently


If something isn’t sticking, don’t worry about it. It happens to everyone and it’s not something to be concerned about.
If it’s a common word it will end up sticking eventually because you’ll come across it very often in immersion.
If it’s not so common, you don’t really need to worry about not knowing it.
90% is a good retention rate and it’s definitely not a reason to reset. I’ve made the mistake of resetting a few times and I really regret it. Just keep pushing forwards and you’ll get there.


It is not uncommon to have a number of items that just won’t stick. And as someone who deeply regrets a 2:00am decision to reset, lemme tell you: DON’T. So much time wasted on things you already know.

If it really bothers you to let them just come up again and again, instead try looking up the items in the Wanikani’s search, sing the mnemonics to yourself while swinging around in a cozy chair (or whatever gets your sense memory going), write the English and hiragana and kanji down to imprint it in your brain, put them on post-its and leave them in common places like on your computer screen, on your bathroom mirror, in your purse or wallet, written on the back our your hand - anywhere you will see them regularly during daily life. Or try using the self-study script, put them on Anki cards and run them repeatedly, or use a site like BishBashBosh to practice.

Don’t worry about it to terribly much at this moment though, it’s not terribly uncommon for things to bounce between Apprentice and Guru even for a few months if they just aren’t sticking and you have no context to attach to them.


Yeah just let the SRS do it’s thing. You’re going to have to make peace with leeches sooner or later. I’ve still got 近日 from Level 5 knocking around in Guru.

The good news is that when reading, I can almost always recall the word, but standalone on WK is hit or miss.

So just power through. :wink::+1:

I’ve burned it and struggled to read it just now. :joy: Although I do remember the kunyomi for both 里 and 心.

It’s also never come up when reading for me either.


This sounds like you do remember the item, but not instantly. For things that fail, the SRS will make sure they come back, for items that you don’t fail, but you just don’t recall instantly, it’s a matter of exposure - and with that I mean outside WK.

Some people don’t like the fact that it takes time to recall an item, and they’ll fail it on purpose if they don’t instantly know it, to make sure it comes back a couple extra times. I’m not that bothered - my goal for getting through WK is being able to recognize the items, even if it’s slowly, as long as I won’t need a dictionary to look them up. Speed of recognition will come as I read more.


I think it’s easy to get the idea that you’re supposed to know items after you’ve done your “lesson” of them. So, people spend lots of time on that.

Personally, I don’t. I spend “some” time on them, but not very much. I count on the SRS to do it’s thing and just make me remember after enough repetitions. And I think it’s fine for you to do the same.

Don’t think to hard on failed items. They just needed more repetitions than others.

Of course, if you continuously fail the same items, you might as well Leech train them. But, the rest of the items are not worth that extra effort.

Good luck with your studies! :slight_smile:


I changed my overall approach to writing out every review with basic calligraphy technique (brush pen), kanji, main reading, main meaning. I don’t feel it slows me down because I increase learning depth and barely forget anything, but I also get this is not for everybody.
My recommendation is to write out leeches or just anything you subjectively consider difficult, with correct stroke order and while having the mnemonic in mind.
Userscripts help, well, some do. E.g. I have the stroke order in the reviews and even the brush stroke types, the latter making similar-looking kanji more distinct.

As for me, I am extremely bad at remembering words referring to some abstract concepts, all these “action”, “conduct”, “preparation”, “operation” and so on. I’m especially bad at “action” words, there seem to be so many of them, still not sure about the context in which they’re used. Don’t know how to get over it. Oh, and 活用 is literally my nemesis.

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I also hate all the action words.

The words using 比 get me too.

all these “action”, “conduct”, “preparation”, “operation” and so on

Yeah, same here. I think we learn those differences much better when we see/hear those words in context. So, often I don’t care separating them apart 100% in the SRS. I avoid the broad meaning (“action”), and instead focus on the meaning that sets it apart from the others: “Gesture” for 仕草, “Active” for 活動, and “Effect (Medicine etc.)” for 作用.

I feel it’s better to read text, and then learn: Ah, 仕草 is the ‘gesture/behavior’ type of ‘action’, 作用 comes up when something is working / showing an effect.


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