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Struggling remembering vocabulary

I've been studying Japanese for a week or so, and I can't seem to get the vocab to stick. Could anyone possibly share some tricks or tidbits on how you got it to stick with you?

Thanks, Austin

November 1, 2017



Organize the vocabulary you learn into randomized lists. Then start practicing with those randomized lists. You will conquer the same vocabulary faster and more efficiently than if you learned by categories.


I've been doing it into categories, but I think your idea of randomized lists will work more effectively. Thank you!


I've never tried that, actually. That's a great idea...


I'm learning Spanish, and I forget the vocab a lot ; what I do is make little sticky notes, flashcards kind of. If it's object vocab, like trying to remember what the word for "chair" is in Spanish (or Japanese), then stick it somewhere you can see it often (like, well, on the back of a chair).
Also, if you're lying there at night, going over Japanese in your head, trying to remember, you can write down what words that you just can't seem to remember! Then, tomorrow, you can look at the notes and make some sticky notes, and eventually it should stick. For me, it works well.

That's what I do, anyway!! ^_^


Excellent idea! I will start doing that. :)


Yes this is good advice, I read it someplace else for visual learners. Plan to start doing it.


I still struggle with this. Tbh, what method will work for you will probably depend upon what type of learner you are. There may be several, but the three main ones are auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. I would recommend taking a test online to see what you are. Then, you can focus your study methods accordingly. For example, if you are a kinesthetic person, I would write the hiragana/katakana/kanji to help you remember them. If you are an auditory learner, I would use auditory-centered mnemonics. If you are visual, I would suggest creating stories or flashcards with pictures. (You can combine some of these together.)

There are also different steps to learning. It seems to me that, as children, we are usually exposed to our native language in the following order (...ish - I'm sure there are more):

  1. Auditory (recognizing sounds)
  2. Auditory/visual (associating sounds and words with nouns and actions)
  3. Speaking (beginning)
  4. Thinking in the language
  5. Auditory/speaking (more complex vocab)
  6. Visual (alphabets, syllaberies, words, pictograms etc.)
  7. Writing
  8. Formal training

Adult learners generally do not follow this order. I'm not sure why. It seems like independent learners start with steps 6 & 8, then go to steps 1-3, then 5 & 7, then 4. Scholastic learning seems to be 5 - 8, then 1 - 4.

Some people advocate for language shadowing (repeating words along with recordings of native speakers), which helps with steps 1 - 3. Immersion is obviously ideal for all steps. Barring that, you can come up with creative ways to accomplish them, albeit in a slower way.

I loooooove Duolingo. Here are some additional/supplementary Japanese resources to try (in no particular order):

  1. LingoDeer
  2. Memrise
  3. Mirai Japanese
  4. WaniKani
  5. Lyrics Training
  6. Simple Kanji Quiz
  7. LingQ
  8. HelloTalk

Hope this helps!


Another way to remember is to practice a sh*tton, especially with the basics, as everything is built upon those. Like, go to the Hiragana 1 part, start there, and practice only that lesson several times after each other. When you are confident or bored, go to the next level, and so on. You can return to these any time you feel the need, even if that subject is shown gold. I started Japanese not long ago as well, and saw that I was having that problem you mentioned. I am not a fan of wordlists, as I prefer learning by usage. So yes, the words are sticking more and more now, so I can continue on with new lessons :)


I recommend flashcards!!! It's personally how I learn vocabulary and it's a great way to really reinforce those tricky words.


Personally, I don't get on with them (I hated them at infant school) - but many people do like them, so they're worth trying (for Austin). I think ones with pictures rather than your native language are better.


Another good method is to sing or listen to songs, Make up your own if you have particular words you want to remember. I learnt an number of words from a free children's CD.

Another technique that worked was to act the words. We learnt a big bunch of verbs at a weekend school without translation because the tutor taught us actions to go with them, For a few weeks, I found I did the actions first and this prompted the memory until it was absorbed into a different part of the brain more closely associated with speech (I presume), I still do the actions sometimes...
I suppose those are kinesthetic flash-cards...lol

Handwriting things is a big help to me. In the first few weeks I found I was retaining little, although I got the homework right. When I stopped just filling in the blanks on the printed sheets but instead copied out the whole sentence things changed for the better.

The Welsh course I go to values spoken drills. Some of the tutors have found ways to make these interesting in class - pairs work rather than the whole class chanting all the time. The college put videos online. I found playing these whilst cooking and washing up worked for me, I wouldn't pay attention at first, then I find myself dancing round the kitchen chanting along!

I hope one or more of these you find useful. It's worth trying everything suggested by all posters on this thread to find what suits you - and feel free to adapt/alter the techniques to fit your learning style:

The accepted four styles are:
Visual: pictures and target language only. Labels on household objects
Auditory: sound files, radio, record yourself, sing
Kinesthetic: Walk around saying or reading things
Wriiten word: write by hand, paint characters

You'll probably be a combination of at least two styles. There are free online tests to find which you are (avoid the ones you have to pay for!).

Finally: remember you have chosen to learn and you can do that whilst enjoying the experience! Yes, you have to put in the work, but if it's fun, it doesn't feel like work! Keep smilimg :oD


3rd party external flashcard software like Memrise, AnkiSRS, FlashCards Deluxe, SuperMemo, etc.

I do the same for my Portuguese.
DuoLingo is just addon for grammar and training translations with mid to longer sentences where the vocabulary is being used.

Are there maybe any flashcards on http://tinycards.duolingo.com for the Japanese course?


Yay! Duolingo has released Hiragana and Katakana decks there. There also are awesome user-created Japanese vocab decks too! Like Isotope's Food in Japanese and Japanese Central's Adjectives. There are many more there to explore or create. =]


It may sound daft, but don't try too hard.

I started learning Welsh (in real life) 2 years ago, and having learnt other languages I know I struggle to learn days of the week and months. So I decided NOT to learn them. I had the days of the week sorted in no time. The months took a little longer...I learnt a few because I needed them, then I noticed someone at work had a bilingual calendar, and for some reason I looked at it every time I passed...and by the end of the year I had learnt all the months.

I find that if I decide not to do something, then it will be the first thing I do....^-^

Try listening to Japanese radio - don't try to understand it...jus let it drift into your ears. You will find you start to recognise odd words....and I'll bet you shout "xxxx!! That means yyyy". LOL I still do it with Welsh radio :o)

As you're learning japanese - perhaps painting the characters would be appropriate...with a pic of the object too!


Listening to the radio with no context and without knowing basics words will not teach a language. You can only learn new words by association when you know most of the others in a sentence. Even if you listened and had a real-time english translation, it is a very inefficient way to learn for adults. And taking a year to learn the months is very slow, too.

I'd recommend drilling the problem vocabulary with the Anki program (or create your own Memrise course) - to can create your own digital flashcards. some could have the Japanese word written, or with spoken sound (or both), or in the context of sentences if there is conjugations. Going over them again and again will make them stick. Even just making the flashcards will help you remember vocab.


I have heard a number of people (usually from Africa as it happens) interviewed who say they learnt English by listening to BBC radio. However, I wasn't suggesting it as an only method, but as a way to hear the music (rhythm and tempo) of the language and for the reward value of picking out already learnt words.

I have found it very useful, having listened to Radio Cymru almost from day 1 of learning Welsh. When we learnt numbers, I could pick them out. I got ahead of my lessons by picking out that "wedi" was an auxiliary verb for the past tense before we were taught it, simply because it apeared so frequently in news reports.

Personally, I don't find drilling useful at all and, as I've mentioned in another post, I loathe flashcards - and have since I was six. Thanks for mentioning Memrise: I was going to suggest it, but forgot to include it in my post. I've tried it, but prefer DL's style, however it is useful.

I don't think you can tell someone else what is the best way for them to learn something - I was sharing my experiences to demostrate that different ways work for different people. As for a year to learn the months...that's better than any of the five other languages I've learnt. I have O-level GCSE French (learnt over 5 years and an A grade) and was never confident of the months. I have A-level Italian (learnt over 4 years A* at GCSE, B at A-level) and have no idea of the months. So the fact that I do know the months in Welsh is an achievement. And I did it by setting out not to learn them!

My point wasn't about taking a long time about it, but rather that being kind to yourself makes learning easier. I've watched other people tie themselves in knots to remember things...and then fail. I decide that I'm not going to worry about the times I forget things and find I remember them quicker. I was fully confident with mutations far earlier than most of my contemporaries and many of those who've been learning longer than I.

I know this won't work for everyone, but since Austin is struggling, I thought perhaps an alternative POV might help him. I have suggested he make his own flashcards - by painting them. The act of being creative and spending time with the characters will bring a familiarity.

I am happy that you have ways that work for you. I know those won't work for me. I have no idea which ones will work for Austin.

Once last thing: My techniques do work. I've just heard I've got an award for having the highest mark in the county for last academic year's Welsh exam (99% - 1% dropped in the oral paper). And I didn't need to use a month anywhere in the exam... ;o)


Practicing sentences rather than individual words works well for some people (like me). Often, using pictures gives something to help you remember.

This way of practicing w/ Duo can be effective:

  • do not look up anything (don't even use the mouse to peek) while you are doing a lesson, and don't move on to the next lesson until you get all of the questions right in a run-through. At first this means a lot of going back and doing the lesson over again. Well, repetition is what you want, right?
  • Work every lesson in a skill this way, and the non-timed practice.
  • Doing this for the timed practice will really help but may take quite a long time, or you can treat timed practice as review for any lesson that needs work.

You will go through the lessons slowly this way, it's true, and this can be somewhat boring, but it definitely sets the material into your memory, For days when you have little time, try to do at least 2 runs through a single lesson for that day (i.e., earn 20 XP's), as one time through a lesson isn't enough.

Sort of disclaimer: I'm only studying language here on Duo that I am already familiar with. Haven't tried this w/ a "new" language yet. I bet it will work just fine for either Swedish or German, which are what I plan to study next, but can't say for certain that it will.


One of the ways I find helps me remember vocab is by reading books. I thought about what I did as a child when learning my mothertongue - read more than most other children - and applied that to my Welsh learning. We are lucky in that there are books written in Welsh for adult learners. I made sure that I was reading above my "lesson" level, as I had as a child (reading age of 13 at 7yo). Yes, I need a dictionary for vocab I hadn't yet met; yes I meet new grammar, but I got the meaning of the stories - choose a book of short stories if possible, they're less daunting! And my subsequent lessons were then easier. After just 2 years of learning, I'm reading a "proper" Welsh book, written for native/fluent speaker...hard? yes...but that's what makes it fun, it's the challenge! I've already learnt 2 new grammar points...

The reason everyone focuses on repetition is that it has been shown that we need to meet a new word 80 times before it properly sticks. Now flashcards and the way Memrise works are good for straight repetition....but I find that so boring that my brain switches off and those repetitions don't count. Even DL goes on a bit - I had the same word 5 times in a row and another 4 times in a single strengthening exercise. Did I remember it? Nope - I can't tell you what it was, so the irritation technique didn't work. I've tried flashcards and I walk away from a session not even remembering the English for the words I've looked at. So I find ways to encounter the words that interest me, hence reading and writing at or just above my level; listening to radio to spot words and then phrases I recognise - now I can follow a lot of what is said; watching tv - kids programms and soaps are good as they have limited vocab and tend to talk more slowly. Remember it's not about understanding every word...I watched a dreadful German soap for 6 weeks while I worked there (I had no German at the time) and came to understand the outline of the story and work out how sentence structures worked - like a child does, without knowing names for grammatical things. It's the closest to immersion you can get without actually going there.

So, if flashcards work for you - fantastic. If they don't, there are other methods out there. Find ones that you enjoy and make you smile - these will be the ones that work for you.

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