Now that it’s been 1 year on WaniKani (Yeiy cue confetti) I think it would be nice to reflect and maybe try to give people an idea of what 1 year of WaniKani will get you.
So 1 year of WaniKani doesn’t necessarily mean 1 year of studying Japanese, but in my case they might as well be equivalent. I went in with hiragana, katakana, and whatever grammar/vocab is gained from years of anime and games (which, by the way, turns out to be a surprisingly large amount) and basically nothing else. But regardless, where does 1 year of WaniKani land you? That of course depends on you pace, but I believe I’ve maintained a reasonable pace of 13ish days per level. So if someone were going max speed, they’d be at twice my level (almost finished at level 52!) and while some people certainly do go max speed, I believe that is out of reach for the majority. So, being roughly average speed, what have I gained from WK in a year?
Well, I can read some kanji. And as a bonus I can also read some words.
And that’s it really. I now have the ability to read a given sentence and, if not understand it entirely, at least get the general idea of it the majority of the time. It might seem small considering it’s the result of a year’s effort, but I think that’s a really significant achievement. When I started WK, kanji wasn’t even on my mind, I took my time just parsing hiragana and katakana while now I can comfortably, if slowly, read a good portion of sentences I encounter and I do believe that WK succeeds quite well in what its aim is; reading kanji.
And I also believe that reading kanji is where the majority of effort in your Japanese studies will go. I’ll be honest; I probably spend 80% of my studies on WK, but somehow that feels to be the right balance, for me at least. An SRS system is less required for grammar I think. Well, basic grammar at least, because if you spend any time reading or listening to the language you encounter it all the time. The frequency of occurrence for grammar points is just much higher than any given kanji or word, so you can spend less time studying and more time just seeing it in action.
But there is one thing to be weary of. Studying and reading does not make you a good communicator. My composition skill is still minimal. I take a good couple of minutes just to compose a rather simple sentence (though most of that is me triple checking to make sure it’s all correct) so that is certainly an area that would be wise to supplement.
So now a list of some tips I think would have been helpful for me when I started. The fruits of my experience, or something like that.
1. Do your LESSONS
Even though “do your reviews” is a meme here, even more important I believe is to do your lessons (and do them well!). It’s really easy to amass a gigantic pile of vocab reviews but that is one of the worst things that you can do to yourself. Around March-ish I had something like 200+ lessons and it led to me seriously dropping pace because I knew that there was always a behemoth lurking behind me. A behemoth called piles of vocab from 2 levels ago. Luckily I was able to pull myself back from the hell of reorder abuse, but even better would be to never fall into that in the first place.
2. Do your lessons well
Read the example sentences. It’s really easy to just skim right past them, especially when you’re already familiar with the item or can already guess the meaning and reading. Truth is, it doesn’t matter because you’re gaining more than just retention of that particular item when you read the example sentences. You’re getting simple reading practice, even when it is in bite sized form. It helps takes the item from the formless theoretical WK nebula and inserts it into a concrete, practical context.
Read the mnemonics, especially the kanji. When you start just wanting to get through the endless onslaught of reviews, you can will yourself to forget one of WK’s main strengths; mnemonics. If you aren’t reading the mnemonics and have low accuracy, just reading them is likely a surefire way of getting accuracy up. Even when they’re bad (@ verb mnemonics)
3. Use the forums as a resource
I was a bit late on becoming a somewhat active community member and oh boy am I glad I did. As a self-taught learner having a community of people who are going towards the same goal as you is invaluable. Seeing other people be genuinely enthusiastic and curious about the language helps a lot in preserving. And of course beyond that there are plenty of things that the forums offers that help independently of that. Book clubs, progression tracking, user scripts, a venting thread, the ability to ask a question and work out a problem together, and just having somewhere to share your own experiences with. These are just some of the great things that the forum offers.
4. Try new methods and avenues
Because language learning is a long term endeavor, you’re going to be doing a lot of things. If you do a lot of anything, you need to be careful for it not to become tedious and I think this is the best way to avoid burnout. If Japanese starts feeling stale or like a chore, change things up. Go study some subject you don’t much know about and use some new program or resource to do it. Every month tofugu has an article on new resources, so if you feel like learning isn’t fun anymore go try something from there, or do something from the upcoming point 5.
5. Expose yourself to the world (of Japanese)
This one is really important. It seems like something obvious, but if you want to improve your practical abilities then you need to put them to practice. No matter what it is, just do something with Japanese everyday! Read something written by real Japanese people doing things that real people actually do. Go on Japanese twitter, look at Japanese comments, read a book/manga/visual novel, change your phone’s language to Japanese, see if you can incorporate Japanese into your hobby, listen to a radio in Japanese, watch Japanese youtubers, play a game in Japanese, write a journal in Japanese, try to communicate with natives no matter what method, just do ANYTHING in Japanese. The most important thing to do is to make it so you aren’t studying but you are learning. If you do something like that, it will improve your skills in a dimension impossible through simply studying.
(side note, this advice is kind of worthless if you’re living in Japan as hopefully you’d be using Japanese everyday anyway)
Overall I’ve found my time on WaniKani to be very rewarding and I’m looking forward to spending another year here (let’s see if I can get to 60 by then)