At what level can you read 90%? 95%?

The percentages are, of course, referring to normal Japanese texts, like a newspaper. Perhaps a better question might be, “How well does the level progression align with common use?” Are there very common words that are only taught in the upper levels?

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There’s no level, I’m afraid.

wkstats has this guide:

However this is just pointing out how many kanji you’ve been exposed to by wanikani. To actually read Japanese, you need to study more vocab and grammar. Both things that WK doesn’t teach

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Ah, thank you!! That chart is very helpful! As for your comment regarding studying more vocab, I thought that was one of the things that WaniKani teaches you. Top 5000 vocab, or so I thought. Is that still not enough?

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I was about to share that chart, nice. Pembo pretty much covered it, I’ll just add that WK kinda sorta lines up most common kanji at the lower level, but there are definitely some exceptions here and there later on. That said, if you start reading before the later WK levels (and you really should!) you’ll probably pick them up on your own.

It’s not “top” by any means, it’s 6000 or so words chosen primarily to reinforce the kanji. Some of them are questionable usage-wise. Either way the number you’re going to want is in the 10s of thousands, and there are a lot of words that don’t commonly use kanji that you’ll need to learn, too.

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All the vocab is there to reinforce the kanji you learned not to get you to any level of proficiency. And since the kanji is just taught in an arbitrary order (not in order of frequency), you aren’t really learning useful vocab.

Then there’s all the kana only vocab you don’t get taught on WK…

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Yikes, that’s scary! That must be something unique to Japanese compared to, say, Spanish. And regarding “common use,” I must just be thinking about the characters.

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It’s only unique in the fact that Japanese has 3 scripts. You will struggle to understand any language without thousands of vocab down (and also grammar, do not forget grammar)

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Gotcha. I thought there might be a loose correspondence, but I wasn’t sure. My suspicion is that simpler characters are used more often. The English equivalent here is called Zipf’s law (as I recall).

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Lvl 100.

It depends mostly on the topic and if you know the corresponding grammar and vocab. But some people are also better writers, the writing style can throw you off. That might be more related to opinion pieces or stories, rather than news articles, but still it is a factor.

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Right, I understand. But I’m talking about several thousand vs tens of thousands.

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I can’t really speak to Spanish; this is my first foreign language I’m learning, but the vocabulary grind is very long. I know I’ve seen estimates of natives knowing 40k+ words IIRC. How far that goes can depend on how well you want to be able to, for example, tackle difficult literature vs just getting by in conversations with Japanese people and reading basic signs and whatnot, but yeah.

I don’t intend to scare you! With the use of dictionaries on hand and other helpful tools you can get started using Japanese for real surprisingly early. But yes, it is truly a long, long grind if you set your sights high enough.

This IS true but I think the really big caveats are, one, that any given uncommon word might show up once every 5 books… but as a total class, there are potentially thousands of these low frequency words in any given book. The other one is that said words tend to hold a lot of specific meaning and often the whole point of the sentence hinges on those words. But to be fair when I tell you 10s of thousands I’m starting to drift into my own desires to know EVERY (within reason) word and not your stated 90 or 95 percent. I think my other point is just, like, even 95 can feel more difficult than you expect. But it is a great place to be for learning those words.

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Ah, gotcha. Thanks for taking the time to explain it. That makes perfect sense.

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And don’t forget about the habit and grammar studies. If you just do Wanikani and never expose yourself to anything you might be level 60 with all burned items but won’t be any better than someone who is, let’s say, level 30 but had a ton of exposure earlier on. Reading is an ability that needs to be put into practice, in parts because the writing system needs to be getting used to and also the grammar structure diff refs from western languages.

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I completely agree. I also do the top 10k vocab Anki deck daily. I feel that it provides really good reading and listening practice. I’m also doing Tae Kim’s grammar guide, which is excellent.

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This.

You’ll have long forgot you ever cared by the time you get there and you’ll barely realize when or how it happened.

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Edit: not deleting the post, but I actually think that frequency chart is for the kanji not vocab, oops.

@Daisoujou already mentioned WK isn’t the top 5k, but if you’re interested wkstats also has a chart for how many of the top 2.5k are covered by WK.

WKStats Frequency List

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the table which pembo posted from wkstats gives you a decent idea of when you’ll have learned that many kanji.

for when you’ll actually be able to read, that will depend very much on how much reading you do. WK teaches a lot of vocab, but there is a lot more vocab which WK never touches on. there’s plenty of vocab with kanji from WK which WK never teaches, there’s a ton of vocab with multiple meanings of which WK only teaches one. there’s so many set phrases. there’s the way writers will chose kanji or kana for purely stylistic reasons.

and i’ve not even mentioned grammar. or all the kana “only” vocab (much of which does have kanji, and you might well encounter much of that).

that said, it’s not actually as bad as it might seem. learning vocab in context is a pretty good way to make it stick. same goes for set phrases. grammar becomes something you kind of feel. and all the rest really comes with experience and exposure.

that said, you will probably be using a dictionary when reading for a long time still.

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It’s pretty common for users in the 30s and 40s to start tackling native material (e.g. children’s books). At that point, grammar is often a bigger challenge than vocab. Talking about coverage % is hard since it depends a lot on the specific content you’re reading.

WK generally puts more common kanji at lower levels, and generally picks useful-ish words. The selection isn’t exactly ordered by frequency, but it’s not arbitrary either.

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You can even start earlier if you’re up for a challenge and a bit of work. But I’d say it made the difference for me this time around.

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Yeah I wouldn’t really tie a WK level to it personally. At that early reading level, most of what you’re reading will have furigana or more kana forms anyway and it’s really a function of how much grammar and outside vocab study you’ve done (plus patience, as you said). By ~30 I was branching more into easier adult novels and videogames and whatnot, but it’s gonna vary a lot. Either way I agree with the main point, focus a lot on grammar early and try to read as soon as you can stand it!

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