Falling Behind in Vocab

I’m about 50% through N3 and I feel like I’ve been making good progress on my grammar. I keep in contact with a few native Japanese people and I’ve been able to work in a lot of what I learned into conversation and have been able to identify grammar points in the wild.

As the title implies, however, my vocabulary is really suffering. I’ve been working through the 6K Anki deck at 5 cards a day, but it’s clear to me that’s not enough. I can barely read any of the example sentences on Bunpro and I still have to stop to look up quite a few words when inputting. On the other hand, my retention for more than 5 new cards a day is really low, and when I try to do more than 5 they end up leeching a few days later.

Any advice on how to get through this slump, other than inputting more and making more Anki cards?


Hi! You mention grammar and vocabulary but not kanji. This makes me wonder whether your knowledge of kanji is sufficient or not. Knowing enough kanji really helps because usually you can infer the meanings of a new word from the kanjis it is made of (but there are exceptions… like traffic light or police box). So maybe you should try and study kanjis more.


Bunpro uses pretty hard vocab a lot! A lot of the vocab i came across in n3 grammar study is n1 or higher!

Don’t worry too much about understanding all the words in bunpro, just focus on understanding the grammar and the message being conveyed. IF you can learn some useful words too it is a bonus.

My advice for vocab learning is to consume as much media as you can. Try out some video games in Japanese. There are a few lite games on steam that can be played in a few hours with context for vocab and the use of real Japanese. A Short Hike was amazing for reading practice! And you can manage no problem at n3 i think!

Try out Satori Reader for reading practice and learning real Japanese which is also voice acted.

Our goal is to transition to native materials asap, so get into that asap!


In addition to other suggestions made here, I would like to mention that Wanikani is a well regarded resource for learning Kanji along with some vocab that you may want to look into. It’s made a big difference for me personally.


Not sure if this will suit you or not, so take this suggestion with a grain of salt and it’s okay if it doesn’t work for you.

At first, I started out with WaniKani after mid-way using Genki 1 textbook for my weekend Japanese class and then using Bunpro soon after. But only much later found out about Speechling through a suggestion in WaniKani forums as another Speaking practice.

At the moment, I think most of the service in Speechling is free unless if you want the assigned tutor to guide you with more words or sentences. However, I’ve only just scratched the surface of the free beginner stuff and I’m already learning new vocabularies and nouns that I haven’t yet learned in early level WaniKani or Genki 1. Although to be fair, WaniKani is a Kanji learning service first and foremost that only uses Vocabs that reinforce the Kanji memorisation, while Genki 1 is still mostly N5 level stuff.

I’m sure many people here will give you more suggestions that could help with your Vocab and Japanese learning journey. Good luck!


I personally think studying 6K Anki deck is a really devastating activity. I had this experience twice in my life - it was 14K English deck (and I’ve dropped it after 5K words) and it was Wanikani (have dropped it on 20 lvl).
I can’t properly remember the words without a context, so it may be true for you too. So now I have a really simple Anki deck with a field for the front side and for the back one. I add there words from my immersion content that I want to learn, that I think I ready to learn (not any unknown word I ran into) with some context: a sentence or a part of sentence where I found it. On the back side I place the same sentence with a furigana over the word I learn. You can add a picture too on the back side in case it’s some manga.
You can add a translation if you think you can forget it, but I recommend to avoid it as much as possible. I prefer to look into a dictionary only once when I create a card and then just infer the meaning of the word from the whole context.

Cure Dolly have a video how to mine your personal Anki core:


You are not alone, the sentences continue to get more challenging as you go along through N3-N1 and I’ve mined plenty of vocab while doing the sentences here. I don’t have specific advice other than brute force but my experience thus far:

BunPro is a great opportunity to learn several things at once. For BP, I keep ghosts to minimal (I wouldn’t turn them off)…they actually help learn vocab besides grammar by seeing a repeating sentence over and over.

Don’t get too distracted by the sentence. I will have a favorite focus sentence from BP that I will put in my SRS that will help grind the grammar point. This has helped comprehension and transition to output on BP so to not loose focus on grammar goal.

Even after going through WK, there are plenty of gaps, especially vocab but also kanji. But I prefer to read at a level beyond my ability rather than below. If I read too easily, though feels nice, but I’m not growing. And higher level sentences are frustrating, they are definitely a learning opportunity. Plus there are reliable translations to test your comprehension. I read sentence fully for every review and then open up translation to see how accurate I got.

Some sentence I don’t like here…the contexts are way too obscure to paint the scenario and sometimes not complete. I don’t get too hung up on these.

Engagement is everything though for consistency. If you stick it through, you may find your reading goal material to be much easier in the long run. But if BP is a just a frustration spaghetti-mess hairball, then just diversify you study routine for growth + fun.


I really think of kanji and vocab as one in the same. Usually even if I know both kanji in a word, I might not know the actual reading of each kanji, and some more abstract concepts are difficult to determine in my opinion.
For example, a recent word I came across is 出場 - which I thought was something like departure location, but is actually “participation”

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Thank you for the advice everyone, these are some really helpful resources!

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Speaking of Satori Reader, I’ve heard it recommended quite a bit. But I read on a Tofugu article that it’s mainly useful for a specific and relatively short window of Intermediate Japanese. My question is, about what level would you say that Satori Reader is going to start being effective.

For context, I’m using a mixture of Wanikani, Bunpro, Torii, and the occasional Japanese Ammo video, but focusing mostly on Wanikani and Bunpro. Level 8 and about 3/4 through N5 at the moment, so definitely still a beginner.

Sorry OP for hijacking your thread!


If possible, try adding to Anki (or any SRS system that you use) words that you see while reading. That way at least the new words that you are learning on Anki (your SRS system) will have context and be actually useful to your interests.
Experiment with Anki to make it work better for you… (maybe the card structure / testing could be improved…)

From time to time coping text on paper also really helps. It may be something really small like a NHK web easy article or some text from a light novel / manga. Connected to this, just writing new words from Anki could really help too.

Try reading simplified with green borders light novels from 角川つばさ文庫. Reading a few of these really helped me to just build comprehension (sometimes its not the words that are the problem :D) . They are available on Bookwalker JP/ Booklive digitally or in any bookshop in Japan (in the kids section). They have furigana on everything.

Go through a JLPT N3 vocab book… That could be really useful too as the book will have tests etc


There’s already been some fantastic advice given so far, my only piece of advice would be to ask if your Anki is best set up for you to succeed? There’s so many small tweaks that may/may not end up making the difference. Automatic ease adjustment so you’re not stuck in anki hell, adding/adjusting your steps so you see learning cards more and thus retain them (hopefully!) better, Lapse new interval %, Leech actions, etc. All of that isn’t going to significantly improve your SRS skills but if your goal is long-term knowledge and not spending forever to get there, there’s always going to be some level of brute force needed to get over certain material imo.


Satori lets you read the first two articles of every series for free, so I would just download the app and see how easy/hard it is for you and if you find it helpful. Personally, I think even the free version is enough for a beginner to help a lot with reading and shadowing practice.


This seems pretty interesting. Right now I’m looking for something that helps me actually talk / compose sentences myself, I wonder if this could fill that gap

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This site is great for making you type complete Japanese sentences. It’s limited in that it’s looking for a very specific sentence, but it at least gives you some practice:


Oh that’s really neat, thank you!

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Personally I am a big kanji advocate, and would have to agree with the people recommending kanji here. While it is possible to learn words independently of learning kanji, you’re really kneecapping yourself.

Japanese doesn’t quite behave the same way as other languages when it comes to reading. Usually if you don’t know a word, you’re kind of stuffed in working out what the sentence means (in roman alphabet based languages). But if your kanji knowledge is good, even 2 or 3 words in a single sentence that you’ve never seen before will not hinder you understanding the meaning through context. You may still have to look words up occasionally, but I would wager that over 80 of the new words I encounter are deducible without looking up, purely from surrounding context, and which kanji are used.

I admire the people that can memorize words without knowing the kanji and their readings, but I am not one of those people :rofl:


How have I not heard of speechling!? This is an incredible resource!

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I think Satori Reader is good until N1, at N1 level you should use completely native materials.

Satori reader is smart because it teaches using the comprehensible input method. And it adds to the idea that learning a language should be fun to keep you motivated.

I think it is good for shadowing, vocab building, pronunciation practice and reading fluency. Not to mention on my walk to work I D/L and passively listen to the entire story to review everything.

I use Anki for vocab in sentences. Bunpro for grammar. And Satori Reader for listening and reading. I just found Speechling from this thread which is an incredible resource for pronunciation too. I will add that to my summer studies.

For context I am about 4 years into my studies and have yet to take a test, but i would bet I’m around n2 since i speak Japanese at my job everyday here in Japan. Also never taken any formal education in Japanese.


The tofugu article is pretty old, they’ve added quite a bit of content since then.
I think it depends on how low/high you want the difficulty level to be (relative to your level).

Personally I started with Satori when I was about halfway through N5, and it was a struggle for sure. But it also really helped me grasp basic sentence structure and grammar. So while it took me a while to get through an article, I’d definitely say it was effective even though I wasn’t anywhere near intermediate. And at that level there just isn’t really anything else interesting to read out there (personally didn’t like text book texts or other graded readers much)

Right now (~N3ish) I still use it occasionally, but not nearly as much, because native material has become approachable. I think that’s partly what the article was getting at - the more you learn the less you really need the kanji settings, word-by-word/sentence-by-sentence translations or even material targetet at learners in general. Because of that I’d almost say that Satori is the most useful at low levels. But they have material up to N2 or even N1ish.

If you try it out, definitely go for one of the stories listed as “easier”! The difficulty of the articles varies a lot.