Great at grammar now, horrendously bad with vocab

Allow me to explain the rather… erm… peculiar situation I now find myself in after using Bunpro for a bit…
So, I’ve been using Bunpro for a little while now, and have fully completed N5, N4 and a little over half of N3, with usually over 95% correct on reviews (and closer to 100% whenever I Cram). I love the service, and it has helped me tremendously with tackling grammar, the very thing that has kept me away from learning Japanese for far too many years. I intend to finish up the N3 grammar by late February at the latest, and will then go over to the N2 grammar. Nice progress, right?

Well… There is a teensy-tiny issue…
My vocab level isn’t even at N4.
Yup. I haven’t even finished all of the vocab for N5 (close, though!) :joy:
As you can certainly imagine, it’s rather disheartening cracking open a manga or elementary-level novel and not being able to read a word, despite the fact that you know the grammar. I can’t really watch television or YouTube videos in Japanese either, as I don’t know the words… I know the grammar that is being used, but obviously, that doesn’t help much when you don’t know what’s actually being said.

So clearly, I’ve been going about my studies very wrong. I’m trying to rectify this with other services like Wanikani, but due to the way their site is set up, it’s going to take a long time before I have a vocabulary level that is remotely close to my level of grammar.

I haven’t seen this happen with anyone else… Does anyone have any tips on how I can quickly (or efficiently) improve my vocabulary level to be on par with my grammar level? If not, has anyone else experienced (or is currently experiencing) something similar? I know it’s a strange issue. :joy:
I currently own two comics in Japanese which I should be able to read, but can’t due to the aforementioned issue. Feels bad, man… :joy:

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I had the opposite experience, I could read N1 vocab but barely knew N4 grammar.

The best way? Do what you do for grammar just with vocabulary. Lucky for you there’s a bunch of resources out there. I’d recommend doing Core 2k (then 10k) with your SRS of choice: Anki, Kitsun, Torii, iKnow, or Memrise, etc.

If kanji is an issue too, then Wanikani or RTK or KKLC as well.


I’d recommend reading manga despite your lack of vocab. Just have a dictionary nearby. If you lack kanji as well, I’d recommend Aria the Masterpiece. It uses furigana for everything and the language is pretty straightforward most of the time. If kanji isn’t an issue, 放浪息子 isn’t too difficult either.

For comparison, my vocab knowledge is pretty lacking (though probably more than yours based on your post), and I’ve read over 50 volumes of manga and five books. For the last month or so I’ve also been adding interesting vocab I encounter when reading to a deck on Kitsun.


Thank you everyone for the tips! :smiley:
I’ve actually been using Wanikani, Torii and Memrise, but not enough it seems! I’ll definitely pay more attention to them. I definitely make sure to crack open my manga, with Jisho and Memrise (to create my own decks for the vocab I encounter) by my side as well.
I’ll be checking out the two manga recommendations (how funny, Aria the Masterpiece was the first Iyashikei anime I ever watched when I was a child)!
Thank you once again for your responses. :hugs:


I have a similar suggestion to @seanblue, but it touches on the other part of your comment: AV media! It doesn’t matter if you miss most words, just soaking in them is helpful.

Listen to music, watch anime and YouTube, and if you’re a gamer, then change the audio in some games to Japanese (if it’s nonessential audio, e.g. CoD)! This might not be super fast, but it will make the vocab you do recognize rock-solid.

Music is especially good because it’s short, repetitive, and you can put catchy songs on replay. Any words I understand are linked to the melody, which helps me remember them even better :slight_smile:


well, i’m no expert when it comes to japanese but meh, my two cents.

i think giving with a 2k or 6k or 10k (10k, really) deck is a bit overwhelming. instead do this, get a n5 deck. when you learned a great amount of them, continue with n4 deck. do this with kanjis too.

i really don’t like wanikani, don’t like the approach or stories too. instead try ryou flashcards it’s free and has all the kanji and vocabulary you need. you can practice at your own pace and what’s better? site has a cram section like here, bunpro.

i like anki but i love memorion (supports anki, memrise, quizlet decks). why, you may ask. my dear, it has a play section like cramming and those plays also helps (me at least) greatly.

listen nihongo con teppei, it starts from very beginning, so will help you to feel better at listening (i can’t tell how proud i felt when i understand the first episode). it doesn’t have to be so hard at the beginnings i think, start with small steps and you’ll feel more confident and not overwhelmed.

anyhow, whatever you do, do it regularly. this way or another, you’ll make progress.

have a great day!


@povner, thanks for bringing that up! I keep telling myself to watch anime/TV for listening comprehension, but I always get scared that I missed something, and end up turning on the English subtitles… I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and push myself to listen more, even if I am unable to catch every word/sentence. And I’ve been playing video games my whole life (actually, my whole motivation to learn Japanese was to be able to play untranslated games), so that’s absolutely an option as well. Thank you for the tips! :smiley:

@mert, wow, I’m really surprised I haven’t heard of Ryou Flashcards before, it appears to be really good! Anything with a Cram feature is extremely useful to me. Thank you for the recommendation! I’ll also check out Nihongo con Teppei; I love a good podcast.
Hope you, and everyone else reading this, has a great day as well! :hugs:


I think this is one of the benefits for taking JLPT; forcing one to balance out what they need to study rather than what they want to study. Otherwise, there really isn’t any other value to low level JLPT other than perhaps personal milestones. No doubt the study material or vocab lists would help for each respective grammar/listening level. I generally appreciate preparing for JLPT to discover my own vocab/listening gaps…as for preparing for the format of the test itself, bleh. But it’s satisfying to have a specific level where most aspects of the language are manageable and kinda help build toward more material.

If you are not JLPT minded, there is an argument where a JLPT level (or WK/BP level or whatever) becomes the personal goal rather than a tool towards a personal goal (completely counterintuitive IMO unless you need it for career goals). I suspect this is why some people avoid the ‘structuredness’ of JLPT but I think anyone can get the benefits of the exam study course without losing sight of whatever one wants to do with the language.

On a separate note, I like to regularly scoop up useful BP vocab and collect them in a Kitsun deck for later use. There are some scripts/extensions that I like to use to help with this.


Very interesting point, and one I would agree with. Without any sort of structure or curriculum of sorts, it’s far too easy to end studying wrong. I personally never truly studied for the JLPT, as it’s nearly impossible for me to actually take it, but I understand what you mean. I currently live in a very small, fairly remote area of Europe, and the closest city that hosts the JLPT is roughly 15 or so hours away; I simply do not have the wherewithal to make such a trip. If I had studied as if I were talking it, I would have most likely been able to avoid the conundrum I now find myself in…
Upon reading the tips given to me on this thread, I am studying the vocabulary and kanji per JLPT level, so hopefully that will bring some structure back into my messy studies…
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :grin:


I recommend memrise, but don’t guess which multiple choice answer is correct. Either you know it when you see the kanji or you don’t. :slight_smile: There are N2 and N1 courses as well, but I couldn’t find any decent ones with audio.

N4 vocab:

N3 vocab with audio:


I second everything everyone said, especially music. When I lived in Japan I met a friend who had limited, but very natural sounding, English. She told me she listened to cds every on the way to work. I assumed they were educational cds, but when I asked closer she told me it was Usher, Beyonce, etc. ha ha.

I listen to Japanese music (Asian Kung Fu Generation is really enunciated, lyrically) a lot and it has really helped me understand the flow of Japanese.

Be encouraged: If you know grammar you’ll have an easier time separating words and knowing what to look up! When you see よんでいた you’ll know to look for よむ at least :smiley: Early on in my studies, without grammar, I found myself looking up words that don’t even exist, for example: つなみなど (tsunamis, etc.) …since I would have to guess where the word ends and begins…is it… つな みなど? … Is it about a rope or a fish and みなど isn’t a word?!?

In other words, I am of the opinion that grammar gives you the upper hand to start reading, as long as you’re learning both. I hope you feel super encouraged knowing that :slight_smile:


I am in almost the opposite position to you, I have memorized a ton of vocab very well and I’m now focusing on the grammar more because even though I can understand it when I hear it my production isn’t very good.

The fastest and most efficient way way to learn Vocab is by using Anki which is a digital SRS flashcard app that is free on android and PC but cost money on iphone. It’s much more efficient than Memrise and WaniKani. Buy the vocabulary books from the series called " はじめての日本語能力試験 N4 単語’. There is one book for each level of the JLPT. These books are very cheap and someone named Nuke Marine has made Anki decks for the books that have both audio and reading cards for each word/sentence. If you message him with modest proof of purchase he will send you the Anki decks. These decks are MUCH BETTER than the Core2k/6k decks. Trust me.
The words in the books are grouped by category and words are always inside an i+1 sentence, meaning a sentence where the new word is the only word you don’t know. Since there are also listening only flash cards it improves your listening comprehension a lot too. There is a big difference between being able to read a word and registering what it means quickly when you hear it. It also helps you reinforce the grammar since the words are all in sentences that use grammar matching the JLPT level of the book.

I recommend using ‘recognition RTK’ (look it up) in Anki to memorise one meaning for each of the 1000 most common kanji (at least) before you start the vocab and then to learn every vocab word in full kanji from the beginning. You can learn the readings of the kanji by learning the words that use the kanji, the same way Japanese people do. Learning the words without kanji and then having to go back and relearn how to read them all again is a huge waste of time.

Lastly, just letting you know, even if you know all the vocab for N5-N3 in full kanji, there will still be tons of words you don’t know in manga, anime and novels which is why you should learn to sentence mine native media and make your own i+1 flashcards later using Anki addons like morphman and SUBS2SRS which can turn anime into flashcards.


@Shuffleblast, those decks look very good, I’ll add them to my list! Thanks! :smiley:

@reverie, I am constantly listening to music, so if I can practice my listening comprehension with something I already do daily, I definitely will! I personally find that making out the lyrics of Japanese songs can be rather challenging at times due to the instruments and occasional unusual pronunciation, but it seems like a fun way to practice. I remember one day I was listening to the song “やツメ穴” (Yatsume Ana), a song which I had heard many times before, and for the first time, I was able to understand what was being said in the second half of the song. It was really awesome. :joy:
Thank you for the recommendation, Asian Kung Fu Generation has some great music! Utada Hikaru also sings fantastic music with a really clear pronunciation, so check her out if your interested. :smiley:
Thank you very much for the extra encouragement as well, I had the exact same problem when I began trying to read native material, but now it’s a bit easier looking up words (especially verbs) when I know the grammar of the sentence. :smiley:

@Moyga, Once again surprised by something I haven’t heard of, the i+1 method sounds great! I know that some people don’t like Wanikani and other vocab/kanji memorization services due to out-of-context vocab memorization not working for some people, but I find them to be highly effective when using them in tandem with in-context learning methods, such as reading news articles, etc. Even though learning the words/kanji twice can take a bit longer, I’ve found that it helps me understand and retain the words, but that method definitely doesn’t work for everyone. Thank you for the book/anki deck recommendation as well! :smiley:

It’s very nice to see everybody’s different experience with learning vocabulary, and the techniques that works/worked for them. :hugs:

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I don’t have much of a problem remembering vocabulary but grammar is a different story!
I have a strange method - I like having a book such as New Kanzen Master Vocabulary 2200 (there’s sou matome ones as well) where the words are just put down like a simple shopping list with a square to tick. I just think of a mnemonic on my own such as “hashi - has she got any chopsticks?”. I also write down the word plus kanji and sentence but I think the key for me is to read through without stressing much (make it fun!) and then at some point I come across that word reading news etc and it triggers my memory off. I would go through the whole book again about 5 times but just casually reading through and ignore the ones I’ve ticked. :slight_smile:

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Clever! I typically use mnemonics for kanji, but the thought of using them for vocabulary never really occurred to me! Thanks for the tip! I hope you get the hang of grammar! :smiley:


If it helps I was brought this book many years ago - I didn’t really use it much as I like making up my own stuff but maybe it will help? :slight_smile: If you like Anki type of things you could create your own deck with your own mnemonics. :smiley:


Thank you for another recommendation!! :smile:

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The only challenge with vocabulary is that it takes a long time to build up; there’s no way to rush it. So, don’t worry about choosing the “perfect” method, just be sure to choose something you’re comfortable with and can use consistently on a regular basis, because that’s the only way you’ll make good progress.

I used WK (to 60) to tackle kanji/vocab initially, because it has everything already set up for you― all you have to do as a user is show up for reviews everyday. It’s possible to make it fast, too; you just have to pay close attention to the radicals/kanji of the current level to advance them as soon as they’re available (or rather, as soon as you reasonably can).


Yes, luckily learning the vocabulary doesn’t have to be so hard, as long as you have a good method, it seems. That’s something I learned upon seeing all the different tips everyone has provided. I’ve enjoyed WK a lot, so I think I’ll renew my subscription today!


Personally, I would recommend the Jalup app. Jalup Maximum is expensive, but well worth it for developing vocab and reading ability. You can get the decks for Anki instead of Jalup’s own app, but Anki doesn’t have the hyperlinking functionality, and that’s a big loss.

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