Frequently asked questions

How are your kanji keywords better than those from Heisig's Remembering the Kanji book? #KanjiKeywords

Heisig's keywords are widely considered to not be the best among the more experienced learners of Japanese. The canonical — and the most extreme — example of that is probably the following:

KanjiHeisig's keywordActual meaning

In this case Heisig got it completely wrong and assigned the keywords the other way around!

There are many other kanji where he arguably picked the wrong keyword, even though the keyword can be considered to be somewhat related to the kanji; for example:

KanjiHeisig's keyword

So how can we tell how good is his keyword for this kanji? It's not "obviously" wrong like with the town/village, but it becomes pretty obvious that we can pick a better keyword once we look at some of the most frequently used vocabulary which makes use of that kanji:

VocabularyHeisig's keywords
高校 (high school)高 (tall) + 校 (exam)
校舎 (school building)校 (exam) + 舎 (cottage)

This kind of makes sense, right? A "high school" is a place where you go to take exams, and it is "tall" since you go there after you finish middle school and primary school, and also because "tall" is a synonym of "high". And a "school building" is more-or-less a kind-of a cottage where you take those exams.

We can do better though; here's what we've picked as keywords for those particular kanji:

VocabularyOur keywords
高校 (high school)高 (high) + 校 (school)
校舎 (school building)校 (school) + 舎 (building)

Oh look, we don't have to do any mental gymnastics now that we've picked better keywords! The word for "high school" is simply composed of the kanji for "high" plus the kanji for "school", and the word for "school building" is made out of the kanji for "school" plus "building". It immediately makes sense!

Of course, this is an ideal example and it isn't always this nice; often it's impossible to pick a keyword that would make sense for each and every word it is used in. However, in general, our picks should be on average better than Heisig's.

Let's look at another example. Here's a pair of closely related kanji for which we've also assigned different keywords than Heisig did:

KanjiHeisig's keywordOur keyword

It is true that "足" can carry the meaning of a "leg" in common usage since in Japanese both "foot" and "leg" are phonetically homonyms, however technically the "足" is a "foot", and "脚" is a "leg", and the whole point of having separate kanji for those (since, again, they're pronounced the same!) is so that you can easily disambiguate between them in text. And yet Heisig assigned "leg" to "足", and then for "脚" — which is the actual kanji for "leg" — he just picked a random vaguely related word and called it day.

Another habit of his is using somewhat obscure and/or difficult vocabulary in his keywords, more than it is necessary, for example:

KanjiHeisig's keywordOur keyword
decameronten days
hankerlong for
prostratedlay face down
environslocal area

Not everyone out there is a native English speaker; and while it is sometimes necessary to use a more complex word to properly represent the nuance of a given kanji, in a lot of cases you can just use a simpler keyword that is at least as good or even better.

Of course, it's virtually impossible to pick the perfect set of keywords for kanji. You often have to compromise somewhere, and we're no exception. When picking our keywords we tried to capture the nuance of various kanji as best as we could, so that later it makes the most sense when you're learning vocabulary which uses that particular kanji. We think we did a better job than Heisig did, but nothing's perfect, so you'll have to keep that in mind.

Which button on the bottom of the review screen should I press? #ReviewGrading
After being shown a card you need to tell us how well you have remembered it by grading yourself on a 5-point scale:
"Nothing"You didn't know the answer at all.
"Something"You knew something, but in the end you couldn't remember it.
"Hard"You knew the answer, but you struggled.
"Okay"You knew the answer, and it was neither hard nor easy.
"Easy"You knew the answer, and it was easy for you to recall it.
If you didn't know the answer then you should also take this opportunity to try and memorize the given kanji or vocabulary before grading yourself.
What are the keyboard shortcuts? #KeyboardShortcuts
Show answerSpace
Grade as "Nothing"1
Grade as "Something"2
Grade as "Hard"3
Grade as "Okay"4
Grade as "Easy"5
Grade as "Never show this again"B
Grade as "Fail"1 or 2
Grade as "Pass"3, 4 or 5
Replay audioR
By default the grading shortcuts will only select a given button, after which you'll have to press space to confirm your choice. You can change this behavior in the options.
I can change the order of my decks with the arrows on the right of the deck list; what does that do? #DeckOrder
The order of your decks decides from which deck we will pull any new cards that you'll see during reviews. That is, we won't show you any new kanji or vocabulary from the second deck on your list until we've already shown you everything that comes from your first deck.
I want the cards to autoplay the audio during reviews; how do I do that? #Autoplay
That's actually the default, it's just the web browser you're using blocks audio autoplay by default. You need to go into the settings and turn it on. Here's how to do it in Firefox.