Step 3 – Master New Vocabulary and Kanji

Welcome to Step 3 of the Read Japanese Faster series!

In the last step we created a study list of new words and sentences, and used tools like to help us translate.

In this step, I’ll introduce one of the most efficient ways to learn new Japanese words and sentences. It’s a technique known as Spaced Repetition.

What is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced Repetition (or SR) is simply a technique where you continuously drill previously learnt material over an extended period of time.

In learning theory, newly learnt material sits in your short term memory – it’s easy to remember right now or in a few minutes, but it get’s harder to remember as time goes on.

The goal of SR is to move the knowledge you’ve acquired (e.g. vocabulary, kanji) from short term memory, into your long term memory. In other words, it becomes easier for you to remember that knowledge even if it’s been days, weeks, or months!

I won’t go into much more detail than that – you don’t need to understand ALL the theory behind SR in order to use it!

Spaced Repetition Apps

Like most things today, there’s an app to help you with Spaced Repetition. Actually, there are quite a few SR apps out there – some are free, while others cost money.

The basic idea is that you create your own flashcards through the app, and then the app will decide which cards you need to drill next. As you review cards, you decide whether it was “Easy” or “Hard” to remember, and the app will automatically adjust when you need to review that card next.

By far, my favourite app is Anki. I spent a long time trying out different SR apps, but in my opinion Anki is the most customisable. You can also sync it across different devices (laptop, tablet, phone), so you can study wherever you want!

Using Anki

Anki logo
Anki – SRS

Anki is a very powerful program with a lot of features. You can precisely customise your cards to cater for your personal learning needs, which speeds up your learning dramatically!

I want to keep this post short, so I won’t show you how to use Anki here. Once you get used to it, it’s not a complex program to use, but if you need help then check out my “Anki Fundamentals for Learning Japanese” guide.

From Step 2, you should have the following fields:

  • Kanji
  • Kana
  • Meaning
  • Example

You can set up your Anki card templates in a number of ways, but my recommended way is to have the Kanji on the front, and the Kana, Meaning, and Example on the back like so:

Not all words will have the Kanji field, so you can just repeat the kana in the Kanji field so the front of the card isn’t blank, like so:

After you’ve entered all the data into Anki, you’re ready to start reviewing!

Anki Tips

Here are some tips for using Anki effectively:

Use only one deck for your reading practice

As you read more articles and translate more words/sentences, add them to a common deck. This will help Anki better decide which cards you need to review and which ones you don’t.

Keep cards simple

Only have one word or sentence per card. Don’t fill the card with too much detail – you won’t learn effectively! SR works best with small chunks of information, so keep it simple!

Review often

Ideally, you should try and review your cards every day, but of course that depends on your schedule. If you have the Anki mobile app installed, you can review on the go – whether it’s on the train or waiting in like for coffee. All the small reviews add up!

Don’t give up

You’ll inevitably come across cards that you just can’t seem to get. We’ve all been there – it’s frustrating! My advice is to push through the frustration and trust in the Spaced Repetition technique. It will work eventually – one day you’ll see the card and it will just “click”.


That’s it for this step! Nice work!

Next Step

Before you move on to the next (and final) Step, make sure you’re comfortable with most of the words/sentences you highlighted and translated. You’ll need it for the next step!

Keep in mind you probably need to review and drill these cards for a week for the knowledge to really sink in. Of course, that depends on the number of new cards you added, but moving stuff from short term to long term memory doesn’t happen overnight!

Here’s your next dose of motivational kitty!