1-60 in 496 days: Here's what happened


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Holy crap. This has been a lot. I feel like the true realization won’t sink in until I finish Guru-ing the level 60 items and then get to like… below 100 new reviews every day, but given this is my last レベルアップおめでとう!, I figured I’d take the time to talk about my experiences leading up to starting WaniKani until now, and also squeeze in advice along the way so that hopefully everyone reading this who’s still on their journey gets something worthwhile out of this as well.

I started studying Japanese in college, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it: I didn’t really study kanji to any substantial degree. I had heard whispers of WaniKani then, but hadn’t looked into it at all. I absolutely rocked my kanji-sparse first and second years of Japanese, but come my third year, the expectations skyrocketed and the university got a new Japanese teacher who… well, she was bad enough that her contract was terminated after one year. It also doesn’t help that the only thing I was doing outside of class to prepare was homework. No Japanese friends, no reading manga, no going to Japan club… heck, I wasn’t even watch anime! I wasn’t super worried, though, because I had recently been accepted into a study abroad program in Japan, and was excited to be able to shift all my priorities into language acquisition. I intended to literally make learning Japanese my life’s purpose for that semester. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for Summer 2020, so… it got pushed back to Fall 2020. Then Spring 21. And then, after a year and a half of struggling through online Japanese classes, I was literally finished with all my graduation requirements except for the study abroad that was now scheduled for maybe Spring of 2022.

That meant living at home for an entire year–perhaps more– just hoping that the borders would open up enough to let me in, all the while letting the Japanese I had acquired slowly leak out my ears.

So, I emailed my advisor, and asked if there was anything that could be done, given I literally had been accepted to the thing I needed to graduate but couldn’t complete it due to a global emergency. Luckily, she pulled some strings and got it waived, so I was officially graduated! That relief lasted for about a week, until I realized that graduating meant that I needed to get a job. Adding onto that, despite Japanese being literally written on my degree, I didn’t feel qualified AT ALL to use it in the workplace. I needed to get myself to Japan, and I needed to do it yesterday. From there, I contacted a career advisor from my university, had a very nice conversation about searching for jobs online, and then I proceeded to forego all her advice and apply to the JET Programme. Not sponsored, but I would absolutely recommend it. It’s a program that negotiates assistant teaching contracts with Japanese schools, and its only two requirements are that you’re a native English speaker with a college degree of some form. Best part was, they had absolutely 0 expectations regarding Japanese proficiency, which means that any Japanese ability I came with would be seen as a nice bonus.

So spoiler alert, I got the job! The process took an entire year, but I started my contract with a small remote island town in July of 22, right at the start of their summer vacation. The first few days were a rush–getting me settled into my new house, setting up all my insurance, phone contract, internet, bank accounts, etc… I would come to work, fill out papers, be driven to other places, fill out more papers…Doing that while trying to unpack, live on my own for the first time and overcome jet lag was quite the challenge. However, one day I showed up to work and asked what was on the docket for the day, and they told me there…wasn’t anything. No classes to prep for, no electrical bills to set up, nothing. So of course when I asked what I was supposed to do to keep myself busy for the next 8 hours, my handler shrugged and said, “study Japanese.” So thinking back on the legends I had heard in college and at the recommendation of some of the folks in a group chat of mine, I signed up for WaniKani.

Now I was in a golden position to study. Aside from being free all day every day for a few weeks while summer vacation was around, when classes started, I found that I was on average only asked to teach an average of three out of 6 class periods, which meant there were three hours where I wasn’t in class. And given my assistant position, I didn’t have to do a lot of lesson prep myself, which meant the vast majority of that could be given to WaniKani (and other things when I inevitably finished early).

The first few levels went by quick. It was all review from college at that point, and the fact that I only could do a small amount of lessons drove me kind of crazy. I knew that this was going to ramp up eventually, and I’d probably look back wistfully on the days I had only a few dozen reviews at once, but at the time I was really champing at the bit. Truth be told, I wanted to go as fast as possible. I had seen a post before about someone talking about their insane speedrun to level 60, and at the time I was doubtful of its credibility. After all, only a robot could answer thousands of reviews perfectly right as they came up, right? Well, yes, but as I soon figured out, that’s not what you need to do in order to level up. In fact, you can mess up a lot and still go as fast as possible. But before I actually get into the info and advice, a few disclaimers, since this knowledge will grant you power that if used improperly… could be dangerous:

WANIKANI IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT. Just like running a marathon, if your goal is to go as fast as possible in the long run, the best thing to do is NOT go as fast as you can go in the short run. If you get yourself into a position where you level up a lot and you have more reviews coming in than you have time to do them, they’ll quickly pile up and very likely you’ll collapse under the weight of your own studies. I had hours daily to set aside just to do WK, and even then sometimes I took it home and did an hour on top there (not to mention weekends and holidays. WK waits for no one!)

LEARNING IS WHAT’S IMPORTANT. Not the shiny gold 60 badge you get in the forums. It can be really tempting to cheat on reviews to make sure that you level up when you want, or to rush through lessons just so you can fit them in before the day is out, or forget about really learning items that won’t contribute to leveling up. This will obviously defeat the purpose of the whole program. If you want to go as fast as possible, make sure it’s because you want to learn as much as possible, not because you’re trying to show off. You’ll regret wasting your time if you do.

Okey dokey, now that that’s over, we can get into the nitty-gritty of it all. If you’re someone that doesn’t want to speedrun your studies, feel free to read on; there’s still lots of value in understanding exactly how WK works, and I’ll include a little bit of advice at the end for how you can approach it if you don’t have hours of time every day like I did to go as fast as possible.

So where was I? Ah, yes, I wanted to speedrun. Well, I found out that because in order to level up the only requirement was to Guru all but three of a level’s kanji, if I could focus on making sure to get the reviews correct that contributed to that as soon as they popped up, I could level up as quickly as possible. So, I made sure to first focus on getting the radicals up to guru so I could unlock the greyed-out kanji on the level, and then I focused on the newly unlocked kanji. As long as I didn’t mess up either of those, and as long as I didn’t mess up the kanji that were unlocked at the start of the level badly enough for them to not be Guru’d by that time, I would level up in about ten days’ time. But that wasn’t quite efficient enough–there was one thing that I was overlooking: SRS intervals.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, WK operates on a pretty simple premise: answer a question right, it’ll ask you again later. Answer it right again, and it’ll ask you even later. Answer it wrong, it’ll ask you later, but not as late as it would have been had you been right. But how much later, exactly, assuming you got it right? Well, straight from their site, the order is:

Lesson

4 hours later

8 hours later

1 day later

2 days later

I had been doing it once a day, but it turns out that if I did a lesson and then came back at least 4 hours later, it would be ready to be reviewed again, and I could get it to Apprentice 2 the same day I unlocked it. And by the way, this is something I recommend for everyone! If you can, try and do lessons when you have time to do it again 4 hours later. It’ll help cement them in your brain before you go to sleep and make them much easier to remember in the morning.

Anyhoo, when I did the math of how fast I could go, this is the schedule:

Day 1: Unlock lesson via level up/guru-ing a radical; Apprentice 1

Four hours later review; Apprentice 2

Day 2: Review shows up 8 hours later at night, do next morning; Apprentice 3

Day 3: 1 day later review; Apprentice 4

Day 4: ~no review~

Day 5: 2 days later review; guru and level up/ unlock kanji

Do new lessons; next item apprentice 1

For those of you wondering, yes, technically, you could do lessons at, say, 8 am, then noon, then 8 pm, but that would mean having to do reviews every day at 8 pm, which would mean unlocking the next batch at 8 pm, doing reviews again at midnight, then again at 8 am… don’t do this. It’s too much stress for too little reward. If you do it my way, it’s much more reasonable, and it even means if you mess up the apprentice 2 review the first time early on in the day, you can do it later if you want and still be on track.

Overall, this means guru-ing an item in three-and-two-halves (e.g., 4) days, since you get to double dip by guru-ing an item on day one and unlocking the ability to do the lessons and reviews on day 5. Hope that makes sense; if not, oh well. The math will work out. Which means that you’ll be able to guru a level’s radical in 4 days and then the resulting kanji in 4 days, which is where my 8 day level-ups come in (assuming your computer doesn’t break and leave you review stranded, cough, level 16 cough cough).

Now, to touch on the red-headed stepchild that is level 40. Why is it over a month long? In short, I took a vacation. And from that vacation came my biggest regret: vacation mode. I don’t regret going, and I don’t exactly regret not doing reviews, but there is a glaring flaw with vacation mode. If you don’t know, in the depths of WK’s setting there is a “vacation mode” which, if turned on, freezes all future reviews. For example, if you have a review coming in 5 days, and you turn on vacation mode, it won’t come until 5 days after you turn it off. So while this is really effective in keeping you from feeling overwhelmed when you come back, it super messes with your SRS timings. WaniKani SRS stages are created to remind you of an item right before you forget it, so turning it on for a month means that instead of being reviewed again in a day, you’ll be reviewed in a month and a day–3000% longer than WK expects you to remember it for. A week becomes a month and a week, 4 months becomes 5…. It really messed up everything that I learned that wasn’t burned before it or learned after. So even now I get reviews that I have a hard time recalling because they’re coming a month after the point WaniKani expects me to forget them. What I probably should have done was just hold off on lessons for a few weeks before vacation, and either done the few I had left each day on vacation, or bite the bullet and do them all after I returned.

And with that out of the way, we’re on to the final stretch of my journey. If you look at some of the later levels, you might see that they’re comparatively short. I don’t know how intentional this is, but in those levels–and only those levels–the number of radicals is so low that the number of kanji they unlock is 3 or fewer. And that means that you can technically level them up after guru-ing the first round of kanji–but watch out; depending on how many kanji you unlock via the radicals, you might not be able to make very many–if any–mistakes. In fact, theoretically, if you’re doing level 45, which has exactly 3 kanji unlocked from radicals, and one of the content updates shifts a new kanji in to the level while you’re on it, it’ll take more time because you now have to level up this new kanji that you couldn’t when you started the level (I’m salty lol). Now, this is a lot of work. Like, a LOT a lot. Like, 200-300 new reviews a day, plus 120 more lessons and then subsequent reviews on level up days. So there’s no shame in taking it a bit slow and only doing, like, half the lessons at the start of a level and half four days later to simulate the old pace. But in my case, in addition to just wanting to finish as soon as I could from a general perspective, I also am traveling to Tokyo this winter break to see my girlfriend, so the sooner I get this done, the sooner my reviews drop, and the more likely it is that I’ll just be able to knock my reviews out in the morning and then enjoy the day with my gf absolutely guilt- and vacation mode-free.

But! I promised the non-speedrunners a tip at the end here. If you’re not looking to get things done absolutely as soon as possible, there’s no harm in that. I’m living in Japan and have the time to do it, so it absolutely makes sense for me to want to and try to get through as many kanji as I can. But even if you do WK in four years, that’s a few hundred bucks for much much much more kanji than four years of Japanese at a University would teach you, so that’s more than fine.

My advice is to still try to do reviews every day and to completion. I mentioned this earlier, but WK’s SRS timings are made to remind you at the last possible moment before you forget, which means that the more time you skip, the harder the reviews will be and the more likely you are to have forgotten them when you do come back. So try and figure out how much time per day you can spend–maybe it’s just twenty minutes a day; who knows. But figure out how many reviews you can consistently afford to do, and then take a look at your review forecast. Every new lesson you do will give you another review that same day, and then one the next day, two days later, and then 4 days later. Use that knowledge to predict how many reviews you will have in the future, and then do lessons to fill in what you can. If you stick to this routine every day, you WILL get done. You can do it!

:jack_o_lantern::jack_o_lantern::jack_o_lantern:

In conclusion, after hundreds of fresh new reviews every day… I’m here! No more kanji to learn (accept that one that unlocks with the singular radical on level 60 grrrrr), which means that my reviews will hold steady for a bit, then after I guru these kanji and then their resulting vocabulary, I should drop precipitously given I’m not injecting around 120 reviews into my forecast every 4 days. I’m super looking forward to not having this on my mind on vacation, and quite honestly, I’m looking forward to having more time to do things like go to kendo practice more, read manga, or film and edit some YouTube vids. biiiiig sigh On to the next chapter!

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Congratulations :crabigator: :cake:

Thank you!!!

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Good post man! Kinda awesome that you got to get a job abroad. Perhaps I too can get such luck!

Also, thanks for the tips about how you spaced your lessons. It’s something I’ll take into account moving forward with my own. Cheers mate!

Hey, hope you can snag a job too! I’m glad you found the post useful. Happy reviewing!

This is really helpful and inspiring! Thank you and congrats :partying_face:

I’m curious how confident you feel in Japanese now? Talking specifically WK, have you found level 60-ing’s been useful?

Thank you! I feel pretty darn confident; When reading manga I only have to stop every once in a while to look up a word or kanji, which is much better than the constant use of my dictionary that I had to do before.
Overall, I’ve come to find that when learning languages it’s always helpful to just have more stuff in the back of your mind. Even if a kanji or vocab word isn’t all that useful on its own, it can serve as a potential anchor point for learning other stuff. Strange example, but in Wanikani you’ll learn the kanji for crow 烏 and the kanji for wicked 邪. I was talking with a coworker today about kanji and he said there was an alternate way of writing the crow kanji that emphasizes its symbolism as a bad omen: 鴉. It probably would have been hard to remember that, but since that one looks like “wicked bird,” it becomes super easy to recall because I have prior kanji knowledge.
Of course, this example isn’t all that useful, but having learned lots of kanji and radicals I’ve certainly had an easier time learning new words and such that actually ARE useful.
Level 60 also feels like a good stopping point; from what I gather the level 60 kanji are increasingly obscure (there’s literally one that has 0 vocab attached that is included bc sometimes you see in it names), and all the remaining kanji can become wildly more or less relevant depending where your life takes you. Like there are a bunch of fish kanji that might be invaluable if you work in the fishing industry but almost worthless anywhere else (of course, given how I now live in Japan, I probably would do literally anything WaniKani throws at me regardless lol). No regrets, but glad it ended when it did!

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Congratulations, I too am closing in and my biggest motivator is one you mentioned - getting the daily review count down into the double-digits!

Given that 60 has the same deluge of 120-ish reviews that come with all the stuff you unlock, I’m still swimming in an average of 150-200 a day. Friday’s got 67 though and I couldn’t be happier to see it–makes me laugh when I think back to the time I had an anomalous 120 in one day and was complaining lol

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True, if i ever see 120 I think there is something wrong with the forecast or that I’m scheduled to do a round of reviews that will end up falling into that “quiet” day. :stuck_out_tongue:

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