I made a post on the wanikani (Japanese learning website – based on Spaced Repetition Systems) community forum regarding how I address “leeches” and I figured I’d copy it here as well in case it helps anyone else who’s also using it.
Leeches is a term that refers to review items that you get stuck on – this can happen for a variety of reasons, which I outline below. Basically you get it wrong over and over again so it never progresses up the SRS system (which works by using a system wherein the more frequently you get something right, the less frequently it shows up in your reviews until it’s eventually “burned”).
Note: I’m only level 6 on WaniKani (out of 60 total levels) so I’m not that far in, thus it’s possible this becomes less useful the further in I get. But for now it seems to be working well for me.
Later on I intend to write up a full overview of the tactics I’m using to learn Japanese but that will have to wait for when I’ve got more free time.
My general approach for new lessons is pretty standard, I think. I mostly ignore WaniKani’s mnemonics, and most of the time don’t even read them. I find they often just don’t stick for me, and ones I create are more memorable since… well they fit with how I think better.
So upon a new lesson I try to do the following:
- Make a mnemonic (usually in sentence form) trying to keep it as short as possible
Bonus points if the mnemonic encompasses radicals, meaning, and reading all in one
For example my mnemonic for 他 was “The other (meaning) leader (radical) was a tall (reading: た) alligator (radical)” This isn’t always possible so sometimes I do a separate one for reading and radicals.
Also, sometimes the kanji is only composed of one radical so I don’t bother adding it to the mnemonic. For example, for 土 the mnemonic is “If something is priced like dirt (meaning) it means it’s too cheap (vocab reading: つち）
- If I already know a word that uses the kanji and the reading WK is trying to teach me, I’ll also write it down – in some cases I forego a mnemonic entirely if I’m well acquainted with the word and know I’ll remember it. For example I never had a mnemonic for 多 because I already was aware of the word 多分・たぶん and would just think of that to remember it was た
- Start going through reviews
- As soon as I notice I’m getting stuck on one repeatedly I evaluate why.
For example: Is the mnemonic I created not coming to mind easily? Is it coming to mind, but I can’t recall which parts are the key information I need? Am I not recognizing the kanji?
If the mnemonic is just not sticking, or isn’t working well in terms of information retrieval, I make a new one and try again.
If the new mnemonic doesn’t work, I draw a picture that represents the answer. It’s essentially a mnemonic paired with a picture. An example of this is 子. I could not remember for the life of me that the on’yomi reading was し, or す.
So I doodled a picture of a “A child (meaning) in a sheep suit (on’yomi readings: し (sheep) す (suit)”
I had read in the book Fluent Forever (essentially talking about how to learn a language, SRS usage, etc) that visual memory is far superior in terms of recall to other types of memory, so I use this to my advantage. If I’m really struggling, I’ll draw a picture tied to a mnemonic. This seems to work really well.
Sometimes I’ll do this right away if I suspect it’s going to be hard to remember. This came up recently with 本来・ほんらい because of its more abstract meaning (“originally”). So I just drew a visual representation of a woman named “hon” “writing” (らい) the word “originally” and haven’t had any issues remembering it.
Also, sometimes the mnemonics for on’yomi or kun’yomi readings are replaced with thinking of a vocab word and that mnemonic if it’s easier. E.g. the mnemonics for on’yomi reading of 右 (ゆう) and 左 (さ) got replaced with the mnemonic for 左右 as it contains both of their on’yomi readings anyway.
That mnemonic is “I saw you (reading) looking both ways (meaning)”. Then I just have to remember which comes first and tie it to its reading (さゆう).
If I’m confusing it for another kanji, like 右 (みぎ) and 石 (いし) I try to take my time when doing reviews, or make a new mnemonic to differentiate them. Like “My right arm sticks out of the sleeve” (referring to the part at the top of 右 that sticks up where it doesn’t in 石).
Another common problem I come across is trying to remember the exact spelling of the (usually) on’yomi reading.
In all of them, I couldn’t remember if it should or shouldn’t include a う after the ょ or ゅ.
And in all cases this was resolved when I learned a vocabulary word that used this reading.
For me (so far) it really just comes down to trying to have a variety of tools in my toolbelt that I can resort to if needed.
Handtooled mnemonics I create myself, knowing when to try a new one if the original isn’t working, noticing vocabulary I already know using the kanji/reading I’m learning, drawing a picture paired with a mnemonic, and sometimes just writing the kanji over and over as you’ve mentioned previously.
As a caveat though I also go pretty slow – I work multiple jobs at the moment and don’t always have the mental bandwidth to add new lessons even if I’m mentally ready to (I usually only add new lessons, 5-10 at a time, when I feel I’ve got a decent handle on the previous ones – this doesn’t mean waiting until they hit a certain phase like guru/etc, just when I’m not getting them wrong over and over again even if it takes me a second to think of the answer. In other words when I feel like I’m not “struggling” with the previous lessons).