Learning the vocabulary of any language is hard work. Learning Japanese vocabulary is a league of its own. Hiragana, katakana, limitless Kanji, and lots of similar-sounding, easy to mix up words are just a few aspects that make the Japanese language particularly challenging.

In this post, we'll explore a few of the common pitfalls that Japanese vocabulary learners tend to fall into and how to avoid them.

  1. Learning Kanji "Later"
  2. Relying on Romaji
  3. Multiple-Choice Apps

1. Learning Kanji "Later"

A frequent method that people take when beginning with Japanese is to defer learning Kanji for when they become a bit more advanced. After all, you don't need to learn Kanji to speak, and most textbooks contain thorough furigana].

While this is an excellent strategy while still learning hiragana and katakana, it's problematic when done for too long.

Kanji is present in all texts meant for native Japanese speakers. Without a solid passive knowledge of Kanji, the content you can read is minimal, limited to Japanese language textbooks. Minna no Nihongo's ミラーさん is an entertaining character (there's a short novel as well!), but there are probably more exciting pieces of literature out there. Being able to read a few hundred Kanji is incredibly helpful and will open a whole new world of fascinating content.

For Kanji, passive knowledge is vital. Writing a lot of Kanji by hand is admirable. Still, in practice, you'll probably be writing most of the Kanji on the keyboard, which only requires the pronunciation, with your computer/smartphone doing the rest.

Luckily, passive knowledge is much easier to achieve. By only paying attention to the Kanji instead of automatically reading the furigana, you can build your passive knowledge quickly and without much effort.

The Kotobaten app for learning Japanese comes optimized for acquiring passive knowledge of Kanji. For each new word you input, you also add the Kanji. Kotobaten doesn't let you off the hook and makes sure that you remember the exact pronunciation. Over time, this enables you to build up your passive Kanji, allowing you to read Japanese text much faster as you don't need to look up each kanji character in the dictionary.

2. Relying on Romaji

A second mistake that learners frequently make is using Romaji for spelling out Japanese words, instead of using hiragana/katakana.

Romanji is comfortable (you already know it!), but it's hard to stop once you start. It's not used outside beginner lessons, so a transition to furigana is inevitable. But, the longer you use Romaji, the harder it's to switch as you get used to it.

Luckily, learning hiragana takes less than many people expect, and if you stick to it, you can learn it within a week or two.

Abandoning Romaji as soon as you learn hiragana (which should be the first priority when learning Japanese!) allows you to quickly start reading hiragana, clearing the first milestone to mastery of Japanese.

3. Multiple-Choice Apps

The third common mistake learners make is learning vocabulary by leveraging apps that use the "multiple-choice" system. For each word, the app presents 2-4 options, and you pick one, no writing required. It's so easy!

Unfortunately, it's also completely ineffective.

Japanese has many homonyms, but even more words that differ in just one or two sounds. This quirk makes learning the exact pronunciation crucial. Without it, it's easy to make mistakes when speaking and to confuse your conversation buddy thoroughly.

Selecting between a few options that usually sound completely different isn't an effective way to learn pronunciation confidently.

Taking the "learning by tapping" route can work great for the first few months as the student doesn't know many words yet, and there are not that many words that sounds similar. But as they progress, the similar-sounding words start adding up; confusion is inevitable.

For that reason, learning by typing out / writing out the full words when practicing is essential, even if it takes more time and might feel a bit less fun.

This is also the reason that Kotobaten doesn't support multiple choice-style practice. Typing out words is a bit less convenient, but it leads to better results long-term.

That's it for today. Hopefully, you found some of the information useful. Thanks for reading, and best of luck on your learning journey!