Like others already said, this knowledge comes with experience. The reason for this is that the readings are not randomly applied to the kanji; for each “use case” (aka vocabulary word) there is basically one valid reading for the kanji. So the readings basically only make sense in the context of a word.
As this would be a bit overwhelming for a language learner, WaniKani takes the intermediate step of teaching the kanji readings and meanings in isolation, but this is nothing more than an intermediate step, because in order to know which reading to apply, you have to know the vocab words. (Of course there are some general rules, but of course there are also exceptions to those rules.)
To give you an example, you maybe have learned the kanji 出 (it’s on level 2 but I don’t know how far you’ve got yet). WaniKani says that the on’yomi is しゅつ and the kun’yomi are で and だ. But what does that really mean? You may come across these three words: 外出 The first kanji means “outside” so altogether this means “going out, leaving”. The reading is がいしゅつ. 出る Here we have the kanji together with the hiragana る. This is read でる and means “to leave; to come out”. 出す Looks almost identical to the first one, no? But the trailing hiragana is す in this case. This means the whole word is read だす and means “to put out; to show”.
There is no way in mixing these up, they need to have exactly those readings in those words. There is no です or だる or がいで or anything. Therefore, I think it’s an important first step to learn one of the readings with the kanji (i.e. the pink cards), but after that, subsequent readings will usually be learned through the vocab words. So I think there is no need to stress out too much on the different readings in the beginning as you will learn more and more of them the more vocab words you get to know.
Wow! I did NOT expect to get the volume of replies that I did. I want to thank everyone for their insight, advice, explanations and kind words.
I definitely feel more motivated knowing that it is pretty normal to feel the way that I currently do.
A couple people asked if this was my first dive into Japanese and if I am using any other resources. This is technically my first dive- but I did do some researching on grammar and particles beforehand. I know my hiragana and my katakana (of course tsu and shi still trip me up sometimes…) but when I was looking into the grammatical side of things I felt like I would benefit more if I knew some kanji. This way when I go back and start learning again, I can really see the fruits of my labor.
There was an excellent site I was looking at… 8020 Japanese. I may consider buying the authors book as a means to really study the grammatical side of things.
This is totally normal. Been there, I felt the same way.
You’ll know when things are slowly starting to stick when you can recognize the kanji as a word. Even if you have no idea what the rest of the sentence is, if you see 日 you know that it probably means “day”. The next step is figuring out which reading it has, and that will be what you study, but just that initial recognition helps you infer SO MUCH, even with the easier/simplier kanji in the first levels.
I hit Level 26 a few days ago, started last October. I’m behind in grammar but being able to look at the lyrics to my favourite songs and immediately recognize words (even if I don’t remember the readings as quickly) is SO satisfying.
You’ll get there.
My word of advice is don’t skip your vocabulary lessons. You don’t need it to level up, and some people will skip it entirely, but this is what is going to teach you how to read kanji in different ways depending on their context and if they are compound kanji (beside another) or with hiragana attached. It sounds crazy this early on, but eventually you will know exactly which reading to use, and it will just sound WRONG using any other with it. You’ll think like a native speaker
The vocabulary is what I seem to struggle with the most but I didn’t even know I could skip it. Either way the constant reviewal of it is helping it sink in. Very slowly but that is OK with me. It’s not a race.
It makes no sense to me why someone would skip it anyway… I’m learning it all- no corner cutting!
I really hope I can get to a point where I can start decode the cryptic lyrics to my favorite Aqours songs.
This is great advice and it probably sounds quite far off, but even after a few months if you keep at it this will start to feel like second nature. The readings that were tripping you up will just sound odd and you’ll feel silly for being confused in the first place
We’ve all been there when we started, so you are definately not alone.
I wouldn’t worry about the readings variations, you’ll get used to it. I dont even get too fixed to know when to use onyomi or kunyomi, i just know that a given word uses one or another (our sound/visual memory + SRS will do its job). And with time you’ll get better at creating mnemonics of your own too. I stick with WK mnemonics in like 50% of times. Sometimes you’ll even remember the word w/o a mnemonic.
Also, if did not already, you should check some threads:
And a good thing to do is to follow some leadeboard group or some goal thread, examples below:
And, almost forget, welcome!!
PS: Remember that It usually takes like 50-100 days to really create a habit, so the first months are supposed to be the hardest ones.
Not to mention you’ll instinctively start to be able to predict whether or not something will rendaku based on how the word would sound when it’s compounded. THAT was when I knew things were starting to gel.
Level 25 vocab has quite a few rendaku stylizations pop up, like 満足。As I was reading through the meaning and trying to guess what the reading would be, the ぞく just rolled off my tongue so naturally. It just SOUNDS so much better than まんそく
I’m at 298 days straight of reviews, and average of 98 a day and the last 2 months have been the hardest. The worst part is when you get a large pile of Enlightened items and when finished find you now have a much larger pile of Guru items.
Oh wait, this was supposed to be the “encouragement” thread.
Hang in there! It’s total fun when you do a lesson for a new kanji and then see it pop on something the next day. Best piece of advice I can give is go at your own pace. Don’t let the speed freaks think you have to keep up.
I made that mistake, and I’m now doing my second run-through because of it.
I got to around Lv.10, I think, in the first.
This time around, I choose to learn only between 10 and 20 new things per sitting, instead of going through an entire batch when it first unlocks. I know this means I’ll be going slower, but it also means I’m forcing myself to take my time and actually learn each item in the way I need for my own goals.
And, yeah, at first these reviews feel so arbitrary. But, so much of it starts to just have a spark when I see something in another place, and I’m like, “I know that!” This part takes, time, but it is so worth it.
Edit: Of course, if you are a speed freak, then by all means, go for it!
Ok, I know this was the very first question answered on this thread, and quite adequately, but since you’re quite clearly an English speaker, I wanted to try to give you an answer that’s more relatable since saying that you’ll have to accept that Japanese is just ‘different’ or saying that this is ‘figurative’ might still leave you a little frustrated.
Think about it: what image does the word ‘bestow’ bring to mind? It’s a type of giving, isn’t it? What are the prepositions we use with ‘bestow’ in English? We say ‘bestow on’ or even ‘bestow upon’, right? It has a grand feeling, and using ‘on’ or ‘upon’ presupposes that the person doing the bestowing is ‘above’ the receiver. (You can’t place A on B without being able to raise A higher than B.)
Well, ください is the same sort of thing. It’s a form of a verb called くださる, which you’ll one day use as an honorific verb to describe ‘giving’ from someone you need to respect to you. See? It’s grand, like ‘bestow’. ‘Bestowing’ requires that the giver be elevated, so what is given is brought down to the receiver’s level, hence 下. The full formal way of saying ‘give me’ with くださる is to turn it into くださいませ. However, at some point, people decided that was too long, so ませ got dropped, and we were left with ください. That means ください literally means ‘give me’, but in a polite way. Now then, wouldn’t you agree that saying ‘bestow upon me…’ sounds a lot like you’re asking for a favour? Well, in that case, it’s the same thing as ‘please’. Logical, no?
I can assure you that there’s probably a better/more appropriate word for ‘bestow’, and I think you know that there are little grammatical details surrounding how you should form sentences with ください in order to make requests, but I hope that my explanation helps to make the idea of ください＝’please’ more intuitive for you.
I’m a Chinese speaker. Native Chinese speaker, because I started as a baby and kept going for 14+ years until my formal Chinese education ended, provided you’re willing to ignore the fact that my main language was (and still is) English, and that I used Chinese mainly for TV and homework from school. I still use Chinese occasionally now. If it’s any assurance to you, I don’t fire off all the readings I know for a kanji the moment I see one. I see what it’s doing in context, and if it’s completely alone, I give it its default reading. One example (none of these are Japanese readings, so don’t bother learning them): 着. When it’s alone? zhe. When it means ‘to come into contact with something’ or ‘end up in a certain state’? zháo. When it means ‘to intentionally come into contact with’ or ‘to cause to come into contact with’, with a nuance of ‘paying attention’? zhuó. When it’s used to refer to putting something down, especially in a game of weiqi/go? zhāo. How did I list all these? I looked them up… I don’t actually have all these readings come to mind the moment I see the character. At the most, I remember the first two, because they’re the ones I’ve seen the most. The rest come to mind when I have the right context (e.g. 着想 is zhuóxiǎng in Mandarin). I learn readings by knowing what they mean, associate those meanings with kanji (and more accurately, with kanji combinations), and then wait until I need them again to see if I remember them. I think I can quite confidently say that no native speaker of Chinese or Japanese, language professors aside, will rattle off all the readings for a single character the moment they are asked. We know these things because of context. It’s more important for you to be able to use the correct reading for a particular kanji + kana combination or kanji + kanji combination in context than for you to simply spit readings out like a machine. We have dictionaries for that.
Learning in terms of phrases and combinations, with the help of context, will also solve this problem:
You’ll find out with time. The only thing I can say is that usually, the most common on’yomi will be the one used when you’re looking at a kanji combination. That’s all, and that’s only a general rule. There are exceptions. There are even combinations in Japanese that allow both an on’yomi and a kun’yomi, with both readings meaning exactly the same thing. (The kun’yomi will probably sound a bit more ‘native’ though.) Sometimes, you’ll have multiple readings for the same combination, and they’ll all mean different things. Don’t worry about it. Take things one step at a time. You’ll figure it out. The key is really to get used to it. After a while, you’ll start to remember which reading means what, and maybe even notice patterns that tell you why. Just keep going, and you’ll get there.
Thank you for the great level of detail put into this… I really appreciate it.
Your explanation for 下さい does add some context but I still feel a bit lost. I can’t even quite put into words why I am still confused but am I on track by thinking the 下 is there to represent the speaker being “lesser” than the listener, and that this sort of relates to formality?
The bit about context… This is still a foreign concept for me at the moment. I’m thinking once I learn more vocab and kanji I may get better at understanding context in Japanese? Maybe it sounds silly to say that…
Presently I can, at best, pick out 1 or two words in text that I see be it in fan art, lyrics for songs, or twitter posts.
Since it roots in “to give”/“to lower”, I think it’d be more appropriate to relate it to “bestow”, i.e. “please bestow this upon me”. In English the word also implies that it’s something granted from someone higher up toward someone of lower status (a king may bestow a title upon a peasant, but not vice versa).
I’m not completely sure, to be perfectly honest. I think you can see it that way though, because the non-honorific version of the word isn’t written with 下. For the sake of being a more accurate, it’s the subject of くださる (i.e. the giver) who is above the speaker, and in this case, yes, that would be the listener.
No, no, it isn’t silly at all. It’s the truth. English doesn’t have symbols that are completely independent from sound, so it might be hard to grasp for now. I think the closest analogy I can give you in English would be the word ‘tear’. If you’re talking about paper, then you say ‘ter’, as in ‘to rip’. If you’re talking about the fluid that comes out of your eyes, you said ‘teer’. Japanese (and Chinese) are like that: you change how things are pronounced based on meaning, and sometimes just based on usage (i.e. how everyone usually says something). What I meant is that you’ll start to see that when a particular kanji appears with one kanji or kana, it’ll be pronounced one way, and when it appears with something else, it’ll be pronounced another way. You might also see differences in pronunciation based on where a kanji is in a kanji pair (1st or 2nd). My suggestion would be to keep in mind that patterns exist and to look out for them, instead of despairing and feeling like you’ll have to memorise every single thing individually. The truth is more nuanced than that.
That’s normal in the beginning. You’ll be so proud of yourself when you start understanding a few more. I may have a free pass on many kanji because of my Chinese knowledge, but at the start, if you had given me nothing but hiragana, I would have been really stuck.
Glad to see I’m not the only person who thought ‘bestow’ was an appropriate word for explaining ください.
I stumbled on that site a week ago… and it looked intriguing… BUT it also looked gimmicky and I wasn’t sure how far it actually goes (It looks maybe somewhat comparable to Genki 1, but that’s about it… or maybe less?)