A level 60 celebration and some advice for newcommers

I technically reached level 60 two months ago but I had accumulated a backlog of vocab lessons from rushing the last 10 levels that I finally completed this week:

I started WaniKani in November of 2022, so it took me roughly a year and half to cover all the material. I’m in my late 30s so it feels a bit strange to think that within the span of two years I went from seeing kanji as inscrutable moon runes to being able to derive meaning from them. In some ways my life hasn’t changed much over those two years, but a whole new world is now within reach!

Do note that I’m a freelancer who works from home, so it’s easy for me to find time throughout the day to do my reviews and on top of that I’ve used similar SRS systems to study Portuguese and Russian in the past so I knew what I was getting into and I knew what I was getting into and how to use these tools efficiently. I don’t think my pace is necessarily reasonable for people whose lifestyle is not as permissive as mine.

I want to thank the script writers for allowing me to work around some of the limitations of the website (WaniKani would be near-unusable for me without undo). In particular I extend my deepest gratitude to @Joeni for continuing the legacy of Flaming Durtles, it was my main WaniKani interface and improved the experience massively for me. I also highly recommend the keisei script, the more kanji you know the more useful it becomes.

With the benefit of hindsight I can also answer some of the questions and doubts I had when I started:

How good are you at Japanese once you’re at level 60?

Knowing kanji is obviously a massive help when reading Japanese. Kanji are a huge hurdle when you start learning Japanese and it gets in the way of everything else, but once you reach a critical mass of about a thousand kanji (around level 30) it sort of flips around: kanji make reading easier. You can derive a lot of meaning from just recognizing the kanji in a sentence. It makes dealing with new vocab a lot easier too, as long as it’s spelled with kanji you already know.

It also makes it a lot easier to deal with new kanji since the vast majority of the time they’ll be made up of radicals you already know. I learned 鎧 fairly effortlessly a couple of days ago even though it’s a 18-stroke character, but obviously it’s just 金 + 山 + 豆 so if you know these blocks it becomes trivial to recognize and memorize.

That being said WaniKani alone won’t let you read Japanese. You’ll need to study grammar, important kana vocabulary and then get used to using all of that in the wild. If you just do WaniKani alone you won’t be able to read even the simplest Japanese text by the time you’re done.

What worked for me

  • First of all I want to say that in my opinion, when it comes to bootstrapping language knowledge, quantity beats quality. Don’t feel bad for abusing undo if you feel like you were “close enough” or even passing outright failed reviews if you feel like you may remember it later. Knowing 2000 kanji okay-ish beats knowing 1000 kanji super well when it comes to practically reading Japanese.

  • For the first 15 to 20 levels I mostly did just WaniKani. I did also listen to a bunch of Cure Dolly’s videos but at that point I would recommend just getting a feel for the grammar, not focus heavily on any particular topic. I remember rewatching some of these videos a few times over the course of a year or so and getting more out of them every time as I had more experience with the language.

I would recommend going as fast as possible through these first levels because those kanji are extremely common and you’ll see them everywhere all the time. You get a massive return over time invested. This kanji coverage chart is always worth keeping in mind:

You can see that at around level 20 you get about 75% kanji coverage in the wild. The more kanji you know the more you understand, obviously, but it also makes it easier to focus on the remaining unknown ones and increases the chance that you’ll learn them organically. There are a bunch of kanji I learned just through exposure that way because they came back so often in all sorts of materials.

  • The road to level 30

As I got closer to level 30 I noticed that, when I tried to read some simple Japanese (like easy manga or videogames), while I still needed to look kanji up regularly, it was no longer the main issue. I was mostly struggling with grammar and vocab.

At this point I started using bunpro seriously. I tried learning two grammar points every day which covers all of N5 in about two months, and N5-N4-N3 in about 9 months. N3 is the target you should aim for in order to engage with early-intermediate Japanese content. Note that I mainly used the grammar part of the website, they also have vocab decks but I can’t vouch for those.

I also used this JLAB anki deck which gives you some simple N+1 practice using snippets from real Japanese shows. It’s a good way to get used to reading actual Japanese (don’t forget to edit the card model to remove the roumaji and only keep the kanji, there are instructions on how to do that in the deck’s description).

  • The part of WaniKani that doesn’t work so well: 30+

At this point you should really think about spending more and more time actually reading Japanese and working on other aspects of the language instead of spending hours doing SRS drills. That’s why I say that this part of WaniKani becomes frustrating: on one hand there are plenty of kanji in there that you’ll want to learn, but because you can’t decide which one to study due to the level structure you end up having to memorize words and kanji you don’t have an immediate use for while a kanji that you do want to learn for something you’re reading at the moment is locked 15 levels away.

The higher I got into the levels the more frustrating it became. That’s why you can see in my level up chart above that I first slowed down significantly at level 40, then decided to rush the last 10 levels to get it over with.

  • Just read

Just read. It’s always going to be messy and super difficult at first, it’s one thing to be able to answer SRS questions in a controlled environment, it’s an other to use that knowledge it in the wild. Many times at first you’ll fail to recognize a word or kanji that you saw many times on WaniKani. That’s perfectly normal. You need to build your reading skill and your confidence. Set your expectations low and painfully work your way through simple material (ideally material you already know at first), and eventually it gets easier.

  • Bonus: kanji drawing practice

I can’t really recommend doing that because it’s a huge time investment but around level 15 I decided to start learning to draw the kanji using this Anki deck:

I don’t regret doing it but it takes a lot of time and it’s of dubious value if you don’t intend to actually handwrite Japanese. Since I would typically write every kanji a bunch of time for every review, I wrote well over 100k characters in the span of a year and I would spend 30m to one hour just doing these reviews on top of everything else:

Are there enough kanji on WaniKani? It doesn’t even cover the Jouyou!

I remember being a bit bummed out when starting and I noticed that WaniKani didn’t cover 100% of the Jouyou or those JLPT kanji lists you see everywhere. All that work ahead of me and that won’t even be enough! I think this is a common frustration since we routinely see people in these forums ask for more levels in order to cover the Jouyou/JLPT lists.

So is it really a problem? I would say no. In fact I would argue that there’s too much stuff on WaniKani. It’s not to say that the kanji you learn aren’t useful, it’s that at some point you’ll want to move away from WaniKani and towards learning things more organically, and for me that point occurred long before I reached level 60 as I pointed out above. I would have preferred if WaniKani had 50 or so levels (like it used to) but packed with the most useful kanji and vocab, leaving things like kanji used mostly in names outside of the course or on a different track.

On top of that since I’ve completed WaniKani I started adding extra kanji to my Anki deck, and while some of them are Jouyou, many aren’t. Some examples from my latest additions:

  • 錆 (rust): not Jouyou but I encounter it regularly

  • 鎧 (armor): not Jouyou but very common in videogames obviously

  • 醒 (awake): Jouyou, reasonably common in my experience although 目覚める is an even more common way to talk about 覚醒.

  • 貰 (receive): not Jouyou but sometimes used to spell もらう in more formal settings.

  • 傭 (employ): not Jouyou, used to spell 傭兵 (mercenary) which is reasonably common in the games I play.

On this last one note that if you encountered the word 傭兵 after finishing wanikani you wouldn’t be able to know what 傭 means, but you would know the 兵 kanji (taught on level 17) and that it means soldier. So in context you can still make an educated guess as to what the word means, and you’d be very likely to remember the word if you encountered it again a little while later.

I think the average native Japanese speaker can recognize about 3000 kanji, so obviously WaniKani will not cover everything, but it teaches more than enough kanji to bootstrap the process and give you tools to deal with the rest. That’s the important part.

Was it worth it?

Yes. Overall I could spend a lot of time criticizing WaniKani and some its design decisions but for all its flaws I genuinely think that it pushed me to learn more in a shorter amount of time than other kanji-learning systems. While I did find that the unlock/level system was frustrating in the 2nd half of the course, it was hugely motivating early on. It gives you a short term objective, a measure of your progress and clear goalposts.

Conclusion

Do your reviews. Keep pushing. There are good days, there are bad days, but as long as you don’t stop you’ll reach your target eventually.

I first very briefly tried to learn Japanese 20 years ago when I was in college, I gave up because it felt like I wasn’t progressing fast enough. If I had continued, even at a slow pace, I’d be fully fluent by now. The idea that it will take you 5+ years to finish WaniKani if you’re not going as fast as I did may be demotivating, but if like me you give up then in 20 years you’ll think “wow if I had kept up I’d be so far now”.

I learned from my mistake and you should too. Slow and steady wins the race.

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Congratulations! Also impressive you held off on making this post until you felt actually “done” enough to start the thread. If that isn’t delayed gratification, I don’t know what is.

Definitely feeling you about needing certain scripts to make this site feel much more useable. It’s kind of crazy how many things situations I had early on where I felt this crucial thing was missing that’d make the experience less frustrating, only to find a user had felt the same way strongly enough to prepare a script for it.

Like the undo script, the one that hides context sentence translations, the one that properly fills in the not yet learned kanji in the context sentences.

Also agree with handwriting the kanji yourself. It’s a great cure to the issue of not being able to read stylized fonts too, since you’re naturally going to get much more familiar with the shapes they can come in.

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Yeah absolutely, it helps distinguishing similar kanji a lot too (the original reason I decided to do it). But as I said, doing it comprehensively for all the kanji ended up taking a huge chunk of my study time, and I don’t think it’s necessarily reasonable if you can’t cram 3+ hours of Japanese every day.

Maybe an intermediate approach could work well with a fraction of the work, such as writing the kanji down a few times only when you fail a review for instance.

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Congratulations - and thanks for your suggestions of tools and techniques - it certainly helps to encourage me to keep up the effort.

Both of those Anki decks look interesting - learning and practicing hand-written stroke orders is one of the tools that I’m experimenting with to see if it may help me to improve my kanji recall, and so I will definitely check out the kanji drawing practice deck.

I’ve stepped back from trying to speed through WK, in favor of attempting to do a better job of learning and retention - and even though I’ve been ‘stuck’ on level 12 ‘forever’ (partly due to going into vacation mode, but also partly due to not having properly studied the lessons in order to have them ‘stick’), with my recently-revised approach to using WK I know that I will be able to get my pile of reviews back down to 0 and then move forward.

Also, even though I do look at that wkstats page from time to time, your comment of

around level 20 you get about 75% kanji coverage in the wild

also helps to keep things in perspective.

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Aww, thank you for the mention, I’m so happy that you found SD useful <3

Also, a massive congratulations on reaching the gold level ^-^

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Congrats!!! And great write-up.

I don’t regret doing it but it takes a lot of time and it’s of dubious value if you don’t intend to actually handwrite Japanese.

I wouldn’t underestimate the value of writing Kanji. It’s just another way to activate those synapses in your brain to recognize and recall a Kanji. I don’t write every Kanji, but I DO write those pesky leeches that I have a hard time retaining. And, it works. After writing it out, I find that I am able to burn them.

Slow and steady wins the race.

I can agree with you there. There’s a bunch of turtles with 1st place trophies that would agree with you too!!

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Congratulations on reaching level 60, and thank you for the advice!


Hello, fellow perpetual 12. There are dozens(dozen? twelve? :scream:) of us! I’ve also slowed down a bit and I take comfort in the idea that I’m still learning new things and still moving forward, even if it’s slow progress.

I like this!


This is totally off-topic, but is that a Moonman/Majohn A1? I’ve wanted to try a Vanishing Point for a long time, but they’re too expensive for me to justify it. However, I’m also not sure how I feel about the design being so heavily, ahem, inspired by Pilot’s. Also, we have the same mouse.

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Exactly in the same boat, but it turns out that it’s become one of my favorite pens. It’s truly great and now it’s convinced me that I want to buy the real one!

I decided that I will buy a Pilot when I first travel to Japan, whenever that is.

Maybe it’s a Tyler Durden type situation.

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I have a sneaking suspicion that one way or another your off-topic comment is going to end up being very expensive for me - spurred on by your enticing words, I’ve just jumped headfirst down the rabbit hole of iconic “fountain-adjacent” writing instruments, including legit VP models as well as a host of various and sundry ‘influencees’ (yeah, I know that’s probably not a legit word, but…). I’m intrigued by what I’m seeing.

I don’t really need a self-capped-enclosing fountain-ish pen - but since when has “need” ever triumphed over “want”?

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I’m glad to be left-handed so no matter how good or bad my pen, my writing will be a smudged mess by my hand having moved over it as soon as the ink has hit the paper. Saves me quite a lot of money. :melting_face:

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Welcome to the club!

https://community.wanikani.com/t/stationery-thread/45676


You don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy writing with fountain pens, though. It can be a collection hobby, just as people seem to collect watches, mechanical keyboards, fancy headphones, guitars, and other expensive products. It can also just be a way to be more intentional about writing (and to be more careful with your belongings, so you don’t misplace or break your fancy pens), or even just a way to make work or school a little more interesting. Some of my favorite pens are the Platinum Preppy and Pilot Kaküno (both from Japanese brands!), which are at or below the $10 range.


It doesn’t have to be this way! The Best Pens & Stationery for Left-Handers | JetPens


I apologize for derailing the celebration thread.

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Please don’t do this to me. Think of my poor wallet.

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Thanks for sharing and congrats!

I would like to ask if you think this was a good idea and if you would do it again.

This is something I have considered. I have thought, maybe I should rush kanji, as having them started, decreases the missed opportunity chances. Kanji I am doing in WK stick out like crazy when reading and I’m likely maybe even insta-learn a word, or at least gain significant experience with the word.

Sometimes I think, ugh, maybe I should have started some new kanji instead of these baseball words(for example).

Let’s say 40-46 will take me 3 months. Maybe if I front load all the kanji, and see them for most of the whole 3 months(while I read/game etc) it will be better than spreading them out? It seems risky though maybe. Any thoughts?

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This is now my third attempt to write this reply because I keep changing my mind and deleting it. It’s just a very difficult question for me to answer. I’m tempted to argue that if I had stopped Wanikani around level 40 and only continued learning kanji and vocab by simply mining the content that I read, it probably wouldn’t have made a huge difference on my ability to read Japanese right now.

But I’m kind of a one-track-mind (一本気, I can’t believe I managed to remember this uncommon level 4 word first-try since I must have burned it a year ago) so I really wanted to actually complete WaniKani for the sake of it before moving on, which is why I decided to push that way.

Yeah that’s basically the way I did it: I rushed the radicals and kanji for levels 50 to 60, but I only kept doing 10 vocab lessons a day. By the time I reached level 60 I had over 600 vocab lessons in my backlog which I eventually completed over the course of two month (hence why I only make this post now since I did my last lesson last Tuesday).

If I had continued with my 2week/level pace it would have taken me 5 months to go through the last 10 levels, here it took me 5 weeks to cover all the remaining kanji.

I really don’t regret doing it that way, but I don’t know if I would recommend it either frankly. I don’t think you can go wrong either way, at worse you’ll speed up or slow down your kanji studies by a few months which feels significant when the target is so close but is quite insignificant in the long run. And again, the large majority of the level 50+ content I’ve learned has yet to come up in the stuff I read. Who knows if I’ll even remember it when I actually need it…

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Just curious, when you say you are level 60, does that mean you have burned all 60 levels of kanji? Or just that you made it there? In general, when people post about this accomplishment on the forum, which are they usually referring to? And I see in your case you waited until you had finished your review backlog, does that mean they are all burned or made it to guru or master or something?

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I guru’d everything but I’m only at 70% burned. Still doing my reviews for the foreseeable future.

I think that’s generally the standard for these posts.

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Ok, that seems reasonable. If people were rushing through at 50% or so I’d kinda lose respect for that, that’s much easier to do, but I question what is really being gained since basically half will be so quickly forgotten. On the other hand, burning everything seems extremely difficult, as that’s what I’ve been trying to do so far going for 100% each level, and I’m realizing its too slow just by level 5.

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At this point I can rely on just reading more Japanese to avoid forgetting. I think the main issue is people who rush to level 60 without doing anything else, because it means that after that you’re still months away from any practical Japanese use since you need to study grammar etc…

I’m at the point where I can read early-intermediate manga semi-comfortably and I try reading every day, so I’m not too worried about my kanji knowledge rusting away.

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Thanks for the writeup! I just had a question though on the speed you got through each level. I review until 0 everyday but it seemingly takes 15-18 days for each level. But your median was 7 days which to me is kind of crazy! I understand the point is to learn them and not speed them through, but can’t help but wonder if I’m doing something wrong like going too fast through the new vocab and not getting it into my head until a few reviews?? Thanks again!

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I used a reorder script to always do all my kanji and radical lessons as soon as they unlock, then you spread the remaining vocab lessons over the 7 days.

It’s pretty intense though, my schedule is pretty flexible and I generally have a lot of free time (no kids, no super intense job etc…) but frankly after 40 levels of this regimen I was burning out a bit.

Don’t feel bad for doing 15-18days a week, that’s a lot closer to what I would consider a reasonable pace for WaniKani.

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