What are the best ways to learn kun/on reading of kanji for you?

Currently i've got myself into a bit of trouble, because I can easily learn the meaning of kanji, but it is much harder to learn kun-on readings. At the moment i am using flashcards like (Picture of kanji on the top side) - (Picture of the kanji meaning, kun-on readings, words with this kanji on the bottom side), but it doesn't really help me to learn it. What are your ways of solving this problem?

November 19, 2017


You'll find it a lot easier if you learn them from compound words, and even better, from compound words in sentences. Trying to learn them individually will not be of any help as you're not efficiently linking concepts in your brain. You need to create accessible synapses rather than isolated bits of information... So, in other words, don't mind the readings. Try to remember words where the kanji could be read differently.

November 19, 2017

Memorizing the kanji without context can be dreary work. Using flashcards with a few different words utilizing a specific character and different readings is a good idea. I would recommend supplementing that with examples of how the words are used in real sentences.

One tool that I have used is Jim Breen's WWWJDIC. It has been around for a while and has an impressive list of words, many of which have example sentences. If you type in one character under 'word search', like 正 for example, it will give you a host of words including this character. Many commonly used words, like 訂正, will have an 'Ex' to the right of the word. Clicking on this will give you numerous sentences showing how the word is used in actual sentences.

Another useful tool might be Kanji Jiten. This page is entirely in Japanese. If you type in or paste the kanji character or combination of characters and hit 検索(search) it will display your results. Then click the 「***」 について for the kanji you want information on. The next page will display: Main radical (部首), number of strokes and stroke order, 音読み(Onyomi), 訓読み (Kunyomi), level of difficulty, and at what grade in school this would be learned.

There are likely other tools out there but these two should be worth bookmarking.

As you likely know, many times a character can have various meanings depending on context (本 = book?...origin?). Learning the nuances of the particular kanji will help to guide you as to which pronunciation would likely be appropriate. Most of it, unfortunately, is repeat exposure.

Also, please keep in mind that there are can often be surprising readings of some characters. Try to keep in mind when learning the pronunciations that these are not 'the only' readings but only the more prevalent ones.

Again, reading these and using their variations in everyday examples is the best way to reinforce your memory regarding their pronunciations. Hang in there and with time it will gradually become easier.

November 19, 2017

For a long time I also struggled with readings of kanji. Lately I became much better at it. I'll describe my method to you, maybe you'll find it or part of it helpful. I'm currently using Kanshudo to learn readings, as it has almost everything I need in one place, but when I started I was using a combination of resources:,,, Anki, Wiktionary and this tool for kanji decomposition.

  1. Start from the most useful/easiest kanji FOR YOU. Unsuprisingly, it isn't as simple as it seems. What is "most usefull"? You can find kanji grouped by grade, N-level and frequency, but none is ideal. After a while I gave up going by lists made by other people, and started grouping things myself. Or I just encounter a kanji, decide that I like it and then learn it.

  2. Learn to recognize the shape of the given kanji first. Also, do some research on the kanji, find out what components it is made of, check some common words it is used in, what it may mean in those words etc. Do a Google Image search on it.

  3. Don't learn all readings at once. Treat ON readings and KUN readings as different things, and learn them separately - it seems like a simple concept, but it took me quite a while to truly comprehend. KUN readings are basically WORDS, usually adjectives, verbs and some nouns consisting of a single kanji, and they need to be treated as such. On the other hand, ON readings should be treated as LETTERS.

  4. For every kanji you're learning, associate a single ON reading with it, preferably the most common. When in doubt, learn the one you like most, no need to overthink it. This way you'll have over half of the words with the given kanji covered with the single reading. Even if rest of the words you'll have to learn on a case by case basis, it'll still be less than before by over a half.

  5. Optional step: Associate a mnemonic with your chosen reading. I use mnemonics a lot, also to learn what the kanji itself is made of in the first place (for example 語 language, to talk = 言 words of 五 five 口 mouths) and not to confuse them, I decided to associate my reading mnemonics with PERSONS instead of things and animals which I use for other mnemonics, e.g. existing people I know, names of characters from books and movies or made up creatures (for example a gigant monster made entirely of SOCKs has enourmous 足 feet and it can be really 速 quick, because both these kanji can be read soku). Again, don't overthink it, but try to be consistent when possible.

  6. Choose a single useful word with the ON reading you're learning. Kanshudo has words ordered/graded by usefullness which I find very useful, but sometimes I just choose any word I like. At this stage I tend to avoid words with very abstract or broad meanings. The important thing is to use your chosen kanji reading.

  7. Find up to 5 sentences that use your chosen word and make them into flashcards. Here the important thing is choosing sentences that are on your level, or better yet slightly above your level. The only really new/previously unknown element should be the kanji you're learning. Also, don't focus on the grammar or learning the meaning, it'll come to you in time. After all, the goal is to learn the reading.

  8. Learn your flashcards dayly. (I try to do about 20-30 items in a dayly review, then add 5-10 new sentences)

Pointers that make things easier:

  • Before you even start this method, learn some common verbs first, like 行く, 取る, 来る, 待つ, 見る, 使う so you have more sentences to choose from when creating flashcards. Learn some common adjectives, and some common compound words too.

  • Check search options of Jisho when you're looking for kanji to learn, for example you can find all N5 kanji by searching for #jlpt-n5 #kanji

  • There are a lot of kanji with only ONE READING, and some of them are quite common too. There will be no confusion. You can learn them quickly. For example 電 electricity can only be read DEN, 員 employee can only be read IN, 題 topic, subject is read DAI and nothing else.

  • there are some kanji that appear in only one common word. Look for them (I think had some of those pointed out), this way you'll only have to learn that one word to cross the kanji from your to do list (for example, this is true for both kanji in 挨拶「あいさつ」 greeting and 犠牲「ぎせい」 sacrifice, victim, and kanji 璧 in 完璧「かんぺき」 perfect)

  • you can easily learn some simple, one-kanji, non-abstract nouns by using simple word flashcards, preferably with pictures (such as 雨「あめ」 rain, 天「てん」sky, 耳「みみ」 ear, 羊「ひつじ」 sheep, 花「はな」 flower, 石「いし」 stone, 車 「くるま」 car etc.). It's a quick way to broaden your vocabulary. And you'll be covering many KUN readings at the same time.

  • Some kanji borrow one of their ON readings from one of its components, for example 寺 temple ON reading is JI, and 侍峙持時 can be also read JI. Such patterns are worth noticing. You can learn more about it here

Now a practical example how to use the above method.

Let's say you want to learn kanji 員 employee, member. It is always read IN. Mnemonic: An INspector (have you ever seen this silly cartoon called "Inspector Gadget"?) comes to your workplace to interview each EMPLOYEE. When used in compound words, it is usually a suffix that means "member of X".

Then example sentences from, or or The Internet would be:

  • 私は会社員です。 = I am an office worker. (会社員 = employee of a company)

  • 店員が「いらっしゃいませ」と言った。 = The clerk said, "What can I do for you, sir?" (店員 = employee of a shop)

  • 全員その車に乗った。 = All of us got into the car. (全員 = every member of a given group)

  • 私はテニス部員です。 = I'm in the tennis club. (部員 = member of a section/club)

Obviously, before this step, you should already know how to read words:

  • 私 「わたし」 I

  • 会社 「かいしゃ」 company

  • 言う 「いう」 to say

  • 車 「くるま」 car

  • 乗る「のる」 to board a vehicle

  • kanji 店 shop is read てん when in compound words

  • kanji 全 entirely, everything is read ぜん in compound words

  • kanji 部 part, section, club is usually read , no matter where it appears (the notable exception is 部屋「へや」room)

November 22, 2017
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