First, this post is going to be very long so…
TLDR: 3 years of WKing later: I absolutely love the Japanese language, and Wanikani has helped me turn my life around
I just wanted to make a quick post to reflect on the last few years since I started WK - this wall of disorganized text is mostly for myself but may be helpful to anyone else who has faced some of the same challenges
I went to Japan for one month in August 2017 equipped with about 20 lessons worth of Pimsleur Japanese 1 and despite the lack of communication skills I had the best time of my life. Upon returning, I spent about 3 days doing nothing but research about how I could start to learn the language, which led me here.
The beginning of my WK journey started exactly 3 years ago yesterday.
Like a lot of people, I assumed I would kick ass and finish in about a year and somehow be able to watch anime with no subs and hold a fluent conversation. Sadly it took me a long time to figure out that kanji was only one part of the language and would only get me so far.
At the time I was working as an electrician and the job site I was working at had a long commute of about 1.5 each way every day for 3 months. I spent every minute possible hiding out where I could to blast out my reviews, and it helped me push through this rough time. However, the next year I became complacent and started to lose track of my goals and really didn’t make that much progress. I studied off and on, had my wedding in July 2018 and was way behind on my reviews.
My wife and I started planning our honeymoon to Japan which gave me a boost in motivation, and I was able to get to around level 12-15 (I don’t remember exactly) before the trip.
My whole life I was a horrible student who was mostly interested in playing games, and I also never thought I would be able to go to university. Being able to memorize hundreds of kanji gave me a serious confidence boost and I started to realize I could probably do something different with my life if I wanted to. On my second trip to Japan I hadn’t studied any grammar, but all the kanji I knew were popping up everywhere and I was able to function much more effectively than the first trip. This completely empowered me and during the trip my wife and I started talking about me going back to school.
Shortly after I returned, I took some placement tests at a local college and was accepted for an arts program. I also reset my WK down to level 6 because I had let things get out of hand before and during my trip.
From this point on, I had quite a few long breaks but for the most part I was doing about 2 weeks per level while taking a full course load. Luckily, I was able to take Japanese for both semesters at the college and finished up Genki 1 and 2. Thanks to my GPA I was able to transfer into one of the top two schools in my province (BC/Canada). With the pandemic getting out of control, I didn’t enroll in classes for the summer which enabled me to get into a groove of about 7 days per level from March to August.
This is when I changed my approach and started working through more native materials and listening to a lot of JP audio. Until this point my listening skills were completely horrible and I had trouble even figuring out what was going on in the Genki CDs. I sort of adopted a WK friendly and less extreme version of the mass immersion approach which helped me bridge the gap into natural Japanese.
At the same time, I worked through Genki 2 by myself and used italki tutors 1/2 times per week, and I’ve now started working through Tobira.
Tbh, my speaking is probably barely N4 as my output is still not great, but reading and listening are both N4+ (I think)
From this point, I’m hoping to move through Tobira, continue with italki, listen to JP podcasts throughout the day, and watch anime with JP subs while still taking a full coarse load. I’ve taken a 2 week break on WK to do reviews only before I start my next semester, but I hope to get to 60 in January/February. After the pandemic is over I would really love to go back to Japan and put my skills to use
I honestly never thought I would be working through WK still after 3 years, but I have begun to realize that language is going to be a lifelong journey and the speed isn’t as important as consistency.
Curedolly says that you measure language learning in hours, not years. I completely agree, because the first two years for me I really didn’t put in that much effort. If I think of having spent 3 years to get to N4 it seems like a long time, but it’s really only been one year that I made it a part of my life and really studied hard.
Reflecting on my journey so far, a few thoughts/personal advice…
My pace - All the “be fluent in a year” stuff out there is a good motivator, but definitely unrealistic for most people. I think the most important thing is to try to fit your learning into your life and stay consistent.
Have fun - Learning can be stressful, but it is also hugely rewarding. When you start doing things in Japanese for fun, it becomes a part of your life instead of just a subject to study
SRS pitfall - Honestly srs programs are fantastic and enable us to remember so much that we would have forgotten. The problem is when we take on too much. I had one point where I was juggling 4 srs programs and I spent little time doing any other study. Right now I’m only doing anki sentences from the anime I watch and WK. After I will probably get back in bunpro, but right now its too much to maintain
Grammar - I have never seen such huge leaps in comprehension as when I learn new grammar. Sometimes things I have noticed in passing many times and not thought twice about will pop up in a grammar lesson, and my entire understanding changes instantly. I neglected grammar for almost 2 whole years. WK can be so comfortable and you know you are learning, but forget to study other parts of the language. Grammar study has really been the key for me to be able to level up my Japanese. All those vocab I learned don’t seem that useful if I can’t form them into a sentence!
Laugh at your mistakes - I have made some stupid mistakes that were really embarrassing, but reflecting on them makes me laugh and realize how far I have come. I have called myself senpai to a hotel concierge, and replied with just “夏休み” to a grocery store clerk when she asked if I have lived in Japan. I also thought there was someone really popular named Taku-san that everyone kept talking about… Being afraid to make mistakes in language learning can really hamper your ability to progress - nobody will be able to study enough to magically become a fluent speaker one day
Native content & listening - I severely underestimated the importance of just listening for study. Over the last 6 months I have been listening to japanese audio whether its podcasts (shout out to nihongoconteppei) or audio from the anime I watch. This has significantly improved my ability to hear the language, and really didn’t cost me any extra time. Any time I go for a walk, clean, cook, or drive I’m always listening. These little moments throughout the day add up and in just 6 months I can say my listening has become much more comfortable and better than my speaking skills. I can understand about 70-90% of nihongoconteppei now from about 30-50% before. I used to listen to pimsleur, but I really think native audio at native speed is much more beneficial in the long run.
Wanikani - This program is honestly fantastic and I really appreciate the hard work the team has put in to make this an awesome experience. I’m excited to work through the last quarter of it and join the 60s club in the beginning of the new year. I can honestly say without WK I would probably still be slogging around a construction site getting electrocuted instead of starting my second year of university and having a blast learning Japanese.
For anyone who actually read any of this stuff, thanks for taking the time! The community here has been really supportive and is an integral part of the WK experience. Shout out also to @jprspereira for some really good advice he gave me last year that helped me keep on track