Let’s Talk WaniKani and Annoying Words

I wrote about WaniKani a few days ago but neglected to get into detail. Instead,  I spent most of that post going on about my failed attempts at learning Japanese. There’s still actually a lot of fail going on since I’m focusing on vocabulary and kanji only and not grammar. Having noted this, I’m not going to get all that far in terms of comprehending actual sentences. 😛 Still, it’s a start and I already know more kanji and kanji compounds than I ever did.

As for what WaniKani is, here’s an explanation of the site: http://www.tofugu.com/2012/04/26/wanikani-sneak-peak/  While this was written over a year ago and the site has gone through some cosmetic changes and tweaks, the fundamental teaching method and mechanics still remain the same.

I took some screencaps (after receiving permission from one of the founders) and will now share them with you. 😀 Each image can be enlarged if clicked on.

WaniKani Dashboard
This is what the user sees after logging in. :3 The numbers above Apprentice, Guru, etc. indicate the amount of radicals, kanji, and vocabulary you know/remember. Every time you answer an item correctly in a review, it goes up a rank. If you mess up its meaning or reading, it will fall back down to an earlier rank or even all the way to Apprentice. :/
WaniKani Level 1
Here’s what you learn at Level 1.
WaniKani Lessons
A lesson in progress! Every kanji lesson starts with a breakdown on the character and then the explanations of meanings(s) and reading(s). Radicals and vocab are also taught in this fashion although the former will not have meanings or readings.
WaniKani Radical Review
A screencap of a review. Radicals use mnemonics or the corresponding kanji meaning as their name. In this case, this is a mnemonic.
WaniKani Vocab Review
見せる will only go up in rank if you can provide its meaning and reading correctly!

I should note that only the first 2 levels are free. To access level 3 and beyond, you will either need to pay a monthly or yearly subscription. For what it’s worth, I’m at level 6 now but only on a monthly subscription due to financial issues. :X

Anyway, as things are right now, WaniKani is a great source for what it provides. However, there are some shortcomings:

  • There are no thorough explanations of why certain readings are read one way or the other. An example is the 日 (sun or day) character where it can take a じつ (jitsu), にち (nichi), or か (ka) reading when following another kanji. It depends on whether the compound deals with counting days or not (among other reasons). I didn’t know this until someone on Twitter mentioned it. Of course, if I kept up with grammar lessons, it may have saved me the agony of  trying to remember which one to use. However, because I don’t, I have to rely on mnemonics or memory to remember what reading I should be using.
  • Inconsistent mnemonics for radicals. I have raged many times when a radical name didn’t make sense. For starters, a good deal of them in level 1 dealt with what a radical looked like which meant that I can figure out what it was just be looking at it. However, there are also a few radicals that are kanji themselves and thus, their radical names take on the kanji meaning. This causes me to blank sometimes since I couldn’t associate what I was looking at with anything. :/
  • Ridiculous mnemonics. ナis Narwhal, ムis Pile, 久 is Raptor Cage, and ヒ is Spoon. WTF? None of them invoke the imagery of the words they’re based on. Maybe I just lack imagination. Due to this silliness, I ended up making up my own mnemonics for three of them; ナbecame the katakana “na”, ムbecame “a pile of mu”, and ヒ is the katakana “hi”. Don’t ask me how I can figure out their names this way. 😛 Well, with ムit’s easy since “pile” is a part of it. As for raptor cage, I just had to remember it as such. I’ve yet to figure out something although I do remember the part about Jar Jar going “hisa” for its kanji reading. 😛
  • Site slowdowns. It happens rather frequently when doing reviews. 😦 You’ll end up waiting a good many seconds before an evaluation is complete. If you’re impatient, you can reload the page which will either have you retype in the answer or it will move onto the next item in the review. Apparently, they’re still trying to optimize and accommodate load and such. Let’s hope they’ll figure out something before WaniKani comes out of beta.

Regarding the radical mnemonics and WaniKani’s teaching method — From my understanding, some of the radicals are based on the ones from Remembering the Kanji? And the method itself is inspired from Heisig’s method. I point this out since I believe WaniKani shouldn’t take all the blame for the odd mnemonics. 😛

Hmmm~ I suppose I should have the following as a separate blog entry but it’s not that long so I’ll put it here:

I. Hate. Japanese. Readings.

It drives me mad that, for a language that relies so heavily on context to understand meanings, why does it have SO many changes in pronunciations based on compounds? Even with the excuse of rendaku, it seems pretty annoying and even seemingly extra work overall. I mean, if there’s already one or two readings for a kanji, why introduce 3 or 4 MORE? For example, why in all flying fuck is 今年 (which means “this year”) pronounced ことし(kotoshi) when just about every other compound where 年 follows or proceeds a kanji is read as ねん (nen)? It’s not explained in WaniKani and this YouTube vid doesn’t know either. I guess it’s just something that’s lost in history or is explained in some obscure Japanese book that no one’s read? Thankfully the exception seems rather rare as seen in this current vocab list that involves the 年 character. I’m not sure the curator will add more as time goes on though.


In general, the year kanji can be a slight pain in the ass since the meanings can be annoying as well. :E Examples: 先年 (sennen) is former years, a few years ago, past years … everything is PLURAL so past YEAR or last YEAR isn’t accepted. Hell, last year isn’t even one of the meanings because there’s 去年 (kyonen).

Aside from the weirdness of the year kanji, other ones also encounter pronunciation changes. One of the strangest ones to date is 行う which doesn’t use an i or yu reading or have anything to do with “go” or “going” or “journey”. Its reading is おこなう (okonau) for some bizarre reason. I suppose this reading is just something that happened somewhere in Japanese history and they kept it since. Without explanation or associating it with a kanji meaning, the only way to remember this is through mnemonic or simply pounding it into your head. Incidentally, it means “to perform” or “to carry out” or “to carry out a task”. Japanese is wonderful, isn’t it?

Anyway, I’ll complain more next time about the insanity of the language. :3


7 thoughts on “Let’s Talk WaniKani and Annoying Words”

  1. You seem to be complaining about irregularities in Japanese language syntax yet the very language you use, English, is a great example of a language with highly irregular structures (syntax, spelling, etc).

  2. this will be rather short i’m on the cell. first I tend to agree with a lot of the ideas you have. Secondly you seem to be on the right track from my studies. certain kanji readings were adopted from Chinese readings at the time of introduction. As times change meanings change for the same kanji. As a secondary resource please check Nihongo Master it seems a fun community as well in similar vein but with more detail and also offers extensive free resources as well as low monthly subscription. well enuff of my ramblings.

  3. It was an old article, but I still like to comment.
    No wonder you failed in your attempt to learn Japanese. That is one of the many characteristic of any language: irregularities. A lot of times, you just need to memorize and accept it. If you hate it, you better stay away from any foreign language learning.

    1. If you’ve read my other post about learning Japanese, you’ll notice that my failure has nothing to do with the language’s irregularities; it’s more of the fact that I lack focus and that I’m only focusing on words and not grammar at the moment. Also, Japanese pronunciations that have baffling readings sometimes may cause me to bitch about them but that’s also how I learn and remember them well.

  4. You got it all backwards:
    The way you describe it, it’s asif the Japanese people had a bunch of Kanji to describe things, and they arbitrarily decided that a certain kanji would be pronounced in one way some of the time, and completely differently the rest of the time.

    This is not how language works, and not how Japanese in particular – works.

    First of all you have the SPOKEN language.
    And in the spoken language there may be many things which seems irregular and non-standardized.

    For example in English you would say “yesterday” to describe the day before the present day, but you would use “tomorrow” (which doesn’t contain “day” at all, but instead contains “morrow” which is derived from the germanic word for “morning”) to describe the day after the present day. Moreover, “today” is basically “to” + “day”, so if “to” somehow expresses “the present”, why does “tomorrow” start with “to” as well?

    This is equivalent to Japanese expressions of 今年 “kotoshi” (this year) , 去年 “kyonen” (last year) 来年 “rainen” (next year) and 先年 “sennen” (former years, recent years), etc.

    And these are just the examples I can think of right now.
    There’s probably tons of other examples of English irregularities.

    Things BEGIN with the spoken language, and the Kanji is then plastered ON that language to express visually what used to be expressed only orally.

    So – to keep with the analogy, if English had Kanji itself the same way Japanese does, then “morrow” and “day” might be two “readings” of the same pictogram, simply because the same concept is being expressed differently in the spoken language in different contexts.

    1. Thanks for the explanation! 🙂 But I wonder why konnen can’t be accepted as the norm though? I suppose it’s the same with English too in that people just accept readings as they are. Wish I tried learning Japanese when I was a kid so I wouldn’t question everything. XD

      1. there might be some lingual explanation for that, but it’s also possible that there simply isn’t one

        spoken languages evolve naturally, over time

        words are borrowed, changed, transformed, fused together, broken apart, shortened, etc.

        above all — language is shaped by culture and by the society which uses it

        so – for whatever reasons, “tomorrow” has a different structure than “yesterday” and “today”. Maybe it’s a more modern concept. Maybe in ancient times people didn’t plan ahead as much as they dealt with the present and the past.
        Or maybe it has some other obscure cause. Maybe there used to be a different word but it became unfashionable.

        the bottom line is that “konnen” would be meaningless to Japanese people – or worse, it would just remind them of other similar-sounding words that have completely different meanings.

        It’s good to question things and explore their origins — sometimes this can shed more light on things and actually help you understand and remember them better,

        but don’t get too hung up about this –
        in the end the language is what it is,
        you can’ change it,
        so just embrace it 🙂

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