Why is vocab the most complicated and most abundant in Wanikani

I notice in Wanikani when it comes to learning Kanji and Radicals. Out of wanikani, vocab is the most abundant and also much more complicated to remember then either Kanji or radicals. I’m sure I’m not the only one but when I sometimes see the abundance of vocab, it can be overwhelming to remember and there are few times where I don’t bother to learn or add more vocab for one day and only handle the load I was given for that one day. I get disappointed when I can’t add any new vocab due to life circumstances or any other miscellaneous factors

to put it in a nutshell. I would like to know why vocab takes the bulk of the wanikani program, why it’s complicated to remember vocab and I also get frustrated when I can’t add any new vocab or remember them that easily. I do not want to get overwhelmed but I also want to continue learning more. Any inputs or thoughts?

Well WK is indeed a kanji-learning website, but the vocabulary are a (major!) added bonus to actually reinforce the readings and even expose you to the different kinds/exceptional readings kanji can take

Learning the kanji but not bothering with vocab would kind of be like learning the letters of the alphabet (albeit, a much larger alphabet) but not actually learning how to read words

It can be tough and even overwhelming to wrap your head around sometimes, especially at first because there really is a pretty steep learning curve with Japanese in general, but I promise you it’s worth it! That’s why it’s important to not let the vocab pile up (i.e. finish the vocab lessons before each level up) and to find the right pace for you :slightly_smiling_face: everyone’s learning style (and lifestyles) are different, so do what works for you! がんばってね :crabigator:


In short, because vocab is used to reinforce the readings. Also, a kanji learned in isolation is not useful. Only when used as a vocab word is it useful.


As for why vocab is the bulk of the program, I would say it’s because vocabulary is what you actually use to communicate in the language, whether it’s reading, writing, speaking or listening, you can’t really do it without vocabulary. Kanji are like building blocks to vocabulary, and while some kanji do double as vocabulary words, if you only learned those vocabulary words, you would still be hopelessly lost in trying to communicate.

You mentioned that vocabulary the most complicated part to remember, and I don’t necessarily disagree, but often times the kanji that are combined to make a vocab help give clues to the meaning of that vocab. They also often use the same readings (although unfortunately this is not true in all cases). I can only suggest that you try think of vocab as an extension of the Kanji you learned as a prerequisite for it.

I’m sorry that you get frustrated when you can’t add new words or struggle to remember vocab, I think everyone has had their fair share of “leeches” that they just can’t seem to get no matter what they do. For this I would just remind you that Wanikani is not a goal, nor is leveling up. learning is the goal, and Wanikani is a tool you are using toward that goal. Just take a deep breath and go at your own pace, because it’s a marathon not a sprint! If you keep working on it you’ll get them sooner or later.

Also, celebrate the small things in whatever way you can. If you have a word that is really tripping you up and then you finally get it, pat yourself on the back, jump for joy, or even share with people on the forums here. It’s all part of the process.

Best of luck to you!


Well, I am only guessing, but vocab re-inforces the Kanji and shows Kanji in use.

Actually, in my opinion it’s just the other way around. I have it much, much easier remembering most of the vocab since I already know the reading from learning the Kanji readings. Practicing the vocabs again helps me re-enforcing what I learned with the Kanji. Seeing the same Kanji again and again helps me let go of the mnemonics and helps me recognizing Kanji.

A pain are the irregular vocabs that do not follow the readings we learned. Or rendaku. But I usually just accept an error, move on, and the item will appear in my review stack soon enough.

1 Like

I like this analogy a lot. Thanks for this!


Well, it makes sense mathematically. Let’s say you know 5 radicals. That could theoretically be:

5 single-radical kanji
25 double-radical kanji
125 triple-radical kanji

If you know 100 radicals, then theoretically you could make 1 million unique triple-radical kanji. And that’s assuming that there’s only one way to arrange 3 radicals to make a kanji.

Vocab similarly multiplies the number of possible words based on kanji you know.

1 Like

I think there’s a point in Wanikani, too, where suddenly remembering vocab is very easy (for 90% of the vocab, at least) and learning new kanji becomes much more difficult. I’m not exactly sure where that tipping point is, but I know for sure early on I always struggled to remember new vocab but every new kanji was easy. Now I can breeze through 20 vocab lessons a day with (almost) no issue, but 5-10 kanji lessons are often a struggle, and take far longer for the meanings/readings to “stick”.


If you haven’t started already, learning grammar really helps with the vocab. Some have recommended not starting grammar until level 10, but it does help to break down vocabulary and make it easier to remember.

For example, 大した is really 大 (big) plus the past tense of する (to do). So, “did a big thing” helps me to remember that this is an expression meaning “great”.

The other important point is that it’s very helpful to know when something is compound kanji (地理 - geography) or a compound word (大空 - heavens, basically the words for big and sky smooshed together). AFAIK, there’s no real pattern to when the kun or on readings are used other than going through the vocab.


I’d rather learn from WK with the reinforcing vocabs than Heisig where you don’t even learn the readings until the second book, much less vocabs.

1 Like

if you know the radicals then reading the vocab becomes easy … and the point of learning kanjis is ti be able to read words , not only kanjis

To me, the vocab lessons are always easier to do than the kanji ones. Remembering vocab is most of the times easier as well.

Maybe because when I see a new vocab, it’s based on previous unlocked kanji that I already know, so it’s easier to remember.


Vocab is the most important yet difficult to remember because of inconsistent readings. You need to remember all readings for the kanji to be able to read the vocab. You won’t be able to read any sentence without vocab. Just let the SRS do the job, it will be easier over time.

What I don’t get is the importance of radical. It’s good for the first time to remember a kanji, but when the kanji is already remembered, I found that the radicals become useless. I’m having a hard time remembering radicals because it doesn’t really useful on real sentences.

How does one do this? Can I decide when I level up? I’m not letting anything pile up - I am simply doing what WK asks of me but I noticed (after I installed a script) that when I hit lvl 5, I still had lvl 3 vocab to learn. I don’t know how to stop this from happening except somehow making my memory “git gud”

I think what MissMisc is talking about is that with a script like [Userscript] WaniKani Lesson Filter you can do the radical lessons of e.g. level 5 before having done all the vocab lessons of level 4.

That in itself is not a bad thing if you want to move faster, but if you’re still having open vocab lessons from level 4 while already being level 6 you’re not doing yourself any favors.


Cool. Thanks :slight_smile:

Ah sorry if I confused you! :see_no_evil:

More specifically I meant it’s important to clear your lesson queue before each level up, otherwise things can really start to pile up (happened to me once, was not fun :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:)

Pretty much what @GrumpyPanda said, it’s especially important to be careful if you’re using something like the reorder script to prioritize the current level’s radicals and kanji to maximize level ups, this will leave you with only vocab lessons left, and it can add up if you’re not making sure to clear your queues. Every level up you’ll unlock some of the previous level’s vocab along with the current, new level’s radical/kanji/vocab so that’s fine, but still having vocab from 2+ levels ago can kick you in the butt overtime and put you at a risk of burnout

TL;DR you should be burning the turtles, not letting the turtles burn you :durtle_the_explorer:

Also, the 0/0 streak challenge thread is a fun way to keep yourself accountable for clearing your queues for each current level so check that out if you’re interested/haven’t already ^^


Well, imagine trying to learn English or your native language, whatever that may be, and not learning the letters of the alphabet or how to read them when put together or with different sounds and rules. Kanji is important, as they are the building blocks of the language. But you can’t just use the reading for the Kanji in everyday language, as they are not actual words. The vocabulary are the words you are going to use everyday in spoken and written language. When you try to learn English or Spanish, they start with the easiest vocab words first and build on that. WaniKani teaches you those vocab words once you have learned the letters or Kanji. So, yes, it is a Kanji learning program, but there is more to Kanji than just the On’yomi readings that may or may not even be used in everyday conversations. So, in a nutshell, Kanji is complicated, yet essential!!!

1 Like

Someone on the forums mentioned using the reorder script to hit a certain level learning kanji only and not the vocab so they could get reading asap and I was really scratching my head at that (I didn’t ask why).

I mean, read what, exactly? A book written using only single-kanji-vocab words?

本本本本本本。Sounds interesting!

1 Like

So sorry, but I’m still a bit confused. I’m not using any scripts that modify lessons at all. The only lesson script I have is self-study

WARNING Lots of questions incoming

So, are you saying DO use lesson scripts or DON’T?

Being scriptless, lesson-wise, is it bad that WK was still giving me lvl3 vocab after I hit lvl5? And…

…Can I do anything about this vocab backlog without using scripts?

Umm, do you mind if you can explain any answers like I’m 5 (or 43 and very tired)?

I’m on the slow and steady path for a few reasons so 0/0 streak challenge isn’t for me. No more than 20 lessons per day, although I’m starting to wonder if I should say new radicals aren’t really lessons and make it no more than 20 kanji and/or vocab. Having 0 reviews is no problem at this very early stage - I do, like, 4-6 sessions a day of any and all reviews available

eta - It sounds like I’m in love with being scriptless for lessons - I’m not. I just thought that they all looked a bit dangerous as far as messing with the WK SRS goes