Why learn reading for single Kanji and vocab?

I’m still fairly new but something that has been bothering me about my WaniKani experience is how we are taught a “Kanji” reading, then, not long after, a “Vocabulary” reading for the single Kanji. To me, I have yet to figure out why that is useful. All it seems to do is make me remember the first reading I learned whenever I see it by itself. The problem with that is that the first reading I learned is the “Kanji” reading, but it’s actual pronunciation by itself is the “Vocabulary” reading.

I’d be happy to hear why this is supposed to help me, but my experience so far is that it’s a detriment.

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The kanji reading (it normally says, sometimes not the case) is the on’yomi reading of the kanji, the one you will normally see in compound kanji. The vocab reading is normally the kun’yomi, which is found when the word is alone, occasionally in compound kanji, such as 近道. Also even though you might be learning one per kanji now, later on, when you learn some compound kanji in the vocab section, you will see there might be a new reading for the kanji, as well as a mnemonic to help you memorize it


Right, I understand the general rule of thumb for on’yomi and kun’yomi. But why wouldn’t I just learn how to say it by itself, which I understand is typically the kun’yomi reading, then whenever I find myself learning it in a compound kanji I’d learn the way to say it in that compound, typically the on’yomi reading. Right now, it’s teaching me to associate the on’yomi reading with the kanji by itself, then turning around and saying “by the way, you’re supposed to use the kun’yomi reading when it’s by itself.” This is why I say it seems detrimental. And in practice, I find myself remembering the kanji reading (on’yomi) when seeing it by itself, whether it’s got the pink background or purple background.

The one they teach you during the kanji lessons is usually the most common reading (usually the on’yomi). Teaching that one separately makes sure you see it most often (you see it during both kanji and vocabulary reviews), and allows you to more easily guess the readings of words you don’t know. They then teach you the reading for the single-kanji word afterwards, but often this isn’t the most common reading of the kanji.

For some kanji, their single-kanji words are also rarely used (or are never used as single-kanji words at all). It’d make no sense to teach these uncommon readings first, as you’d be able to read a lot more by teaching the common reading first. Having the uncommon reading be the first thing that pops into your head would in most cases not be very helpful.


Ahh, so they are pushing to associate it with this reading more because it’s more common. That makes much more sense. So, that means it’s almost always going to be different than it’s single reading. Got it. Thanks for the knowledge!


Indeed. This is a common beginner mistake: faced with a new compound word you go for the kun’yomi you’ve seen elsewhere and inadvertently create a word that doesn’t exist since it’s the on’yomi you should be using to read the word.


You get used to expecting a different reading after a while. After a bit longer you recognize intuitively whether readings are on’ or kun’ based only on their sound and know when you should expect each one of them.

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Honestly I have a bigger gripe with [noun] and [noun]する being treated as 2 separate vocabulary words. Are there exceptions that crop up? Because it seems like it’s always the same reading, and the definition is always “to [noun]”

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To me, it sounds like that noun is being turned into a verb. So technically, it is different vocabulary, if you think of it like that. Not all nouns can be converted into verbs, so they’re just specifying what is a verb.

noun + する is basically just a way to turn a noun into a verb. In English the equivalent would be to stick “to” in front of it to get the infinitive (e.g. research → to research), so the definition is nearly always going to be something similar.

The reading is usually just the reading of the noun itself with する attached to it. There are a couple of exceptions like (ばっ)する where the reading changes slightly though, but those appear to be quite rare.

Another way to think about it is that it balances out the stuff that you learn. For example in level 1:

  • You learn 入 and 力 as radicals with the meanings “enter” and “power”
  • Then you learn that 入 is read にゅう and 力 is read りょく
  • Then you learn that 入る is read はいる and that the word 力 is read ちから
  • Then you learn that 入力 means “input” (meaning isn’t obvious from the kanji meanings)
    For all of these, you only had to learn one new thing at a time.

On the other hand, if those kanji were taught with the readings ちから and はい, sure you would already know the words for “power” and “to enter”, but once you got to 入力, you’d have to learn three new things at once: that 入 is read にゅう, that 力 is read りょく, and that 入力 means “input”. For someone new to the material, that will take a lot of work to keep straight. The goal is to minimize the amount of times you’ll need to be learning multiple new things at once.


Yes, technically they are different vocab, but if I’m reading and come across [noun]しました, I’m going to know what it means even if I haven’t seen [noun]する as a vocabulary word. I guess it could be useful from the view that not all nouns can be treated this way, but I am very unlikely to remember which nouns showed up with する in WK.

Also, for the record, I’m not really griping, just observing that it is a more valid (IMHO) complaint than complaining about single kanji vocab, which is a complaint I’ve seen before, and is pretty easily countered with the fact that many single kanji have different readings as vocab than they did as kanji, and it is important to know which is which

Yes, all of that is exactly my point. If I already know [noun], I can easily figure out both the reading and meaning of [noun]する without WK having to teach it to me. It is interesting to know that there are at least some exceptions, though. Of course there are. Because language.

Same!! :weary: I have a love-hate relationship (mostly the latter …) with suru verbs in the lessons. I don’t feel like I need to learn them separately if the meaning is the same as the root noun, just in verb form.

In any case I can’t do anything about it so I just think that at least I’d really memorize the reading of those nouns since they’ve been drilled twice.

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I could be wrong about this, but I’ve always just assumed that the reason why they include some vocabulary that seems redundant is primarily to give us more occasions to practice those kanji readings. If there are two words with the same kanji reading coming up in reviews, then you’ll be seeing those readings twice as often. I know that I got tripped up a lot as a beginner over 下げる, 下がる, 上げる, and上がる, but by the time I figured them out, I had seen them so many times, those readings for 下 and 上 were pretty permanently stuck in my head haha. I’ve seen some people argue that WK shouldn’t include transitive/intransitive pairs because it’s redundant, or because WK is not the right tool to teach these, or any number of other arguments, but from my experience, having another word with the same reading showing up in my reviews just gives me more practice, and if it’s similar to another vocab word, it makes it easier to remember the readings (though the meanings are a different story with transitive/intransitive pairs :weary:).


Well, I did mention in one of my replies that I’m not really griping. I’m more playing devil’s advocate, I suppose

(And on the subject of trans/intrans verbs, mere minutes ago I had a lightbulb moment about those that I would never have come to if WK didn’t have me struggling with them daily. We’ll see if this still seems so groundbreaking in the morning, but I currently have hope that I might untangle them!)

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