I made it to level 60 about a month ago. I wanted to wait until I guru’d all my level 60 kanji before writing this post, and then I was procrastinating… But here it is.
Excluding level 1, which I apparently started a few months before really using WaniKani, it took me a little under two and a half years to reach level 60. Not nearly as fast as all those people finishing in a year, but this was the pace that worked for me. If you don’t read anything else from this post, I hope you take away that it’s okay to go at your own pace. As long as you’re consistent, you can finish too.
This post includes a lot of random stuff about my time before and during WaniKani. I wasn’t sure how much detail I’d get into, but before I knew it I had already written a ton. I put everything into collapsible sections, so you can easily skip the parts you don’t care about.
My Personal Experience
Why I Started Learning Japanese
The reasons I started learning Japanese are partially common and partially uncommon. I started watching a lot of anime in January 2015. I’ve always liked animation in general (Disney, Pixar, etc.), so it was long overdue that I started watching anime. At first I watched dubs, because I couldn’t be bothered reading subtitles. After several months though, I ran out of shows I wanted to watch that had dubs, so I “gave in” and started watching anime with subtitles. After a while I started to really like the sound of the language, so I started really considering learning Japanese.
With all that said, anime was never really a reason for me to learn Japanese. I also had no interest in manga (as I didn’t really like the graphic novel medium in general at the time). What really pushed me to learn the language was a study that showed that bilingual people had a multi-year long delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia compared to monolingual people. I’d already been considering learning the language for fun anyway, so I finally decided it would be good to challenge myself and keep my mind active.
Learning Japanese Before WaniKani
In January 2016 I finally took the leap and started using Japanese From Zero. I did the first three books, before deciding that I wasn’t getting much out of it anymore. The series was good for a while, but eventually it was teaching me stuff I had already learned from random google searches of things I heard when watching anime. Somewhere around then I also tried (and failed) to read よつばと！. I naively proclaimed to myself that my grammar was good enough to read よつばと！ and decided to focus on kanji (via WaniKani) and vocab (via WaniKani and iKnow).
WaniKani Timeline + Stats
Just looking at my lesson heat map and level up times, my time on WaniKani can be broken up as follows:
- Levels 2-24: Gotta go fast
- Other than a brief two week mental reset on levels 11 and 21, I basically went at max speed from levels 5 to 24. As you can see from my lesson heat map, I did this without a reorder script, doing nearly all lessons on the day I leveled up.
- Levels 25-43: Lesson Filter
- It was at this point that I got burned out from going too fast. So I built the Lesson Filter script, which allowed me to go at a steady pace, while learning a mix of kanji and vocab every single day. It worked a lot better for me than the reorder script would have since I tailored it to my specific needs.
- Levels 44-52: Racing @Naphthalene
- After a vacation that I had on level 43, I decided to try to go slightly faster than before. Partially I wanted to beat @Naphthalene to level 60. They were far behind me at the time, but going at a much faster pace. Coincidentally life also got busy around this time, so not surprisingly I burned out, didn’t do lessons for two months, and lost the race to @Naphthalene. Not that I ever stood much of a chance of winning.
- Levels 53: Home stretch
- I finally started lessons again in December of last year. I went at more or less the same pace I did when I first created Lesson Filter. This had me finally reach level 60 on April 6th, 2019. I finished my last lesson on April 24th.
The Most Important Thing I Did in Parallel With WaniKani
I did several things on and off while using WaniKani, including iKnow and Bunpro. But by far the most important thing I did was join the book clubs. From this I was able to tackle my first manga, よつばと！ and my first book, 魔女の宅急便. Specifically for 魔女の宅急便, I never would have made it through without the help I got from @Kyasurin and @LucasDesu. I’m really grateful to both of them for pushing my Japanese reading ability forward.
I encourage everyone to challenge themselves by joining one of the book clubs.
Where Do I Go From Here
I plan to keep doing WaniKani reviews for a while, but I’m not aiming to burn everything. Once I’ve burned 90-95% of the material, I’ll probably stop doing WaniKani altogether. But I’m sure you’ll still see me hanging around on the forums.
When doing WaniKani I did a lot a reading, but only a little grammar study. My grammar knowledge has been floating around N4 level for a while, plus some common N3 grammar points that I learned when reading. I recently used Shin Kanzen Master N4 to solidify my N4 grammar knowledge. In the next month or so, I plan to start using Tobira and Bunpro to learn more N3 grammar. After that, I plan to use Shin Kanzen Master N3 to solidify the grammar points I learned from Tobira.
Other than that, my plan is to keep reading. My goal is to finish 3-4 books this year. The first is キノの旅 with the intermediate book club. Next will be 涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱, also with the intermediate book club. I’m not sure what I’ll read after that, but probably one of the books I already own, such as 魔法少女育成計画 or 霧のむこうのふしぎな町. I also plan to finish my first full manga series. I’ve been reading 放浪息子, and I hope to finish that by end of year. While my goals with Japanese originally had nothing to do with reading, it’s now probably the biggest reason I continue learning the language.
Tips and Advice
For those interested, here are all the scripts I use.
- This script was essential for me to stay sane when doing WaniKani. I honestly don’t think I would have been able to finish WaniKani without it. I built it to let me precisely customize what lessons I wanted to do during each session.
- Being able to correct typos and mark accidentally correct answers wrong was really helpful. I found it to be much more useful than the Override script since you could also mark correct answers wrong.
Keisei Semantic-Phonetic Composition
- One of the reasons I’m much better with readings than meanings is because of phonetic components. I noticed many of the simpler phonetic components on my own, but this script has been essential for finding more complex or less common phonetic components.
- Being able to see your upcoming reviews is really important for scheduling. I have occasionally skipped lessons on a day because this script showed me that I had an unusually high review load coming in soon.
- This script randomizes the fonts that are used during reviews. It’s definitely helped me recognize kanji better. Even just reading manga has shown me how important it is to be able to recognize kanji in a variety of fonts.
- I don’t practice speaking much, but at least being aware of pitch accent is really important. Be warned that the script is a bit buggy, but it’s still useful enough that I keep it enabled.
Lesson User Synonyms
- This script allows you to add synonyms during lessons. Honestly, this should be available in WaniKani without a script. But since it’s not, this script is really nice.
Show Specific SRS Level in Reviews
- Being able to see whether an item is
Apprentice 3instead of just the generic
Apprenticeafter answering a review is super convenient.
- Being able to see whether an item is
Keep it Fun
What works for me won’t necessarily work for everyone. But in my case it was important to maintain a balance between WaniKani and other aspects of Japanese. I tend to burn out when something gets too serious, so I had to make sure to keep it fun. My way to keep it fun was by reading. To be able to read, I needed to have a decent foundation in several aspects on the language. Not just kanji, but also vocab and grammar. I think it was keeping this balance that has allowed me to enjoy reading, and enjoy learning Japanese, as much as I have.
If your motivation is related to reading, I strongly recommend you join one of the book clubs when you think you’re ready (or maybe a bit before you’re ready). It’s a great way to learn and have fun with this amazing community. Regardless of your motivation, find some way to have fun.