4 years after creating my account on WaniKani, I’ve finally made it!
Time to spend a few hours on a long, rambling post.
- Wanikani Double-Check
- Wanikani Pitch Info
- Wanikani Show Specific SRS Level in Reviews
- Wanikani Heatmap
- Wanikani Ultimate Timeline
I created my WaniKani account in May 2017. At that point, I had already been studying Japanese for a few months, so I had the typical reaction: Why is it so slow? Why can’t I skip these easy levels? I ended up quitting before reaching level 1.
I kept taking Japanese classes, but our textbooks Genki I and Genki II only covered a total of only 317 kanji (that’s about 80 kanji per semester). I wanted to pick up the pace a bit, so after failing at some alternatives like RTK, I decided to give WaniKani another shot, hoping it would be worthwhile in the long run (which it was!)
There was some pain along the way, most notably that huge gap in 2019 you can see in my charts. After reaching level 27, I burned out. The material was getting less familiar, the vocabulary more abstract, and my motivation was running out. I stopped making any progress, and as my reviews got less consistent, the backlog started to pile up.
Here’s a screenshot from July 2019 when I decided to tackle some reviews.
Finally, February 2020, I decided to start consistently doing reviews again and built some momentum, reaching 0/0 in March. I started to lose steam again in the summer, but eventually got back on track. I built up my longest ever review streak (currently 184 days), and reached level 60 on 4/13/21!
I appreciated the WaniKani heatmaps script, especially since it comes with a widget that tells me my current streak (days of consecutive reviews)
Starting in November, I decided to try my best to never break this streak. I think building up this habit of consistency was key, even if some days I only had time for one review.
WaniKani does teach some useless words, but it also teaches tons of useful words.
The problem is, even if the word is useful, you might not know how or when to use it even after you’ve memorized the definition WaniKani provides.
For example, all these vocab are listed as “Condition”, and they’re all quite common.
Of course, these words are not synonyms. You can get some feel for what kind of “condition” they are by reading the context sentences (and I certainly appreciate those). But often, it’s still not enough context to start confidently/naturally using those words, and you might just forget the context sentence after the initial lesson anyway.
So with this in mind, I ended up viewing WaniKani vocab’s purpose as (1) mainly just to teach/reinforce how to read the kanji, and (2) to assist in understanding input (e.g. being able to recognize the word when you encounter it in the wild)
To elaborate on (2):
When you learn a word from WaniKani, even if you don’t precisely understand what it means, I’d say just knowing that the word exists is valuable. If you know the word exists, then when you hear it in the wild, you’ll be more likely to mentally parse it, instead of just hearing meaningless syllables. (Like when you learn a new vocab and then start hearing it everywhere)
And then when you start hearing/reading the word more and more, you’ll start to build up a mental image for the true meaning. The true meaning isn’t a Japanese → English mapping like WaniKani teaches, but more like Japanese → Mentalese where in your head, you know what it means and when to use it, even if you can’t quite describe it in words. (credit to this for the word “mentalese”)
So after learning a word in WaniKani, I generally don’t use the word in a conversation unless I’m somewhat confident in my “mental image” of what it means and when it should be used.
With this mindset, I’m a bit skeptical of the value of things like KameSame (which runs WaniKani in reverse from English → Japanese)
I think they’re pretty useful. At least they’re an improvement from what they used to be.
But I think it’s kinda silly when you need to learn a radical for a kanji you already know. Like how 下 is taught in level 59 as a radical. It would be nice that when you learn a kanji, it can automatically be used as a radical, without needing to study a duplicate item for it.
I type quickly and lazily during reviews and make plenty of typos.
Beyond typos, if WaniKani marks a kanji/vocab meaning wrong, but I think should be acceptable, I’ll override and add user synonyms. I’ll often check a dictionary to make sure my synonym is actually reasonable. Overall, I don’t want to get too hung up on the exact JP → EN mappings that WaniKani dictates and would prefer to give some wiggle room.
Also, occasionally I’ll know what the word means but forget how to properly say it in English, despite being a native English speaker (i.e. struggle to translate from the aforementioned “mentalese” to English). I remember one time a review for 二日酔い came up and I entered something like “when you drink a lot and then feel like trash the next day” because I couldn’t remember the English word “hangover”. I don’t mind overriding in this case.
There was no way I was gonna do those levels in 4 days! I’m happy about my decision, and managed to keep a manageable workload: In March, I had 3 days with >200 reviews, 16 days with 100 - 200 reviews, and 12 days with <100 reviews.
I did try to do level 59 as fast as possible, just to try it once. I managed to do it in 4 days 18 hours. I did all the kanji lessons at once (which I usually don’t do), and then self-studied them a bit after the lesson. Still, I’m human (unlike some of the legendary WaniKani speedrunners) and made a some mistakes, so I was a bit short of max speed.
Yes. WaniKani isn’t perfect, and I do feel like some time was wasted learning the meaning of vocab I’ll never use, but I don’t think I would have learned 2000 kanji without it.
I tried Remembering the Kanji (aka the Heisig method) and gave up quickly. I’d be willing to believe that this method is theoretically more efficient than WaniKani, but it requires much more discipline. In WaniKani, you get the instant gratification of being able to read stuff immediately after you learn the kanij/vocab, generally learning common things first. This is a great motivator because you get tangible feedback for the progress you’re making. But RTK doesn’t give you that instant gratification, because it’s not sorted with common things first, and because you learn only the meanings of the 2000+ kanji, and then can move onto learning the readings later.
I tried doing flashcards, but I didn’t have the discipline to pace myself and structure it well. WaniKani is already structured for you and tells you exactly what to study and when, with a somewhat gamified level-up system. This takes a lot of thinking out of the process and makes it easy to get into.
So I’d say WaniKani is the best way to learn kanji for lazy people who want instant gratification. Which is a good thing, because that’s most people, including me!
Will I burn everything? Hell no!
WaniKani was worth it, but it’s about time to say goodbye. I’ll at least get the level 60 kanji/vocab to Master or something, but then I’ll break my daily review streak and will likely end my subscription.
Beyond just the time spent, it will also be nice to not have that mental overhead of needing to remember to do my reviews every day. Instead, I’m going to devote that time and energy toward more immersion.
I have a stack of manga that’s been gathering dust. I’d like to replace my “WaniKani every day” habit with a “read something every day” habit. I’d also like to start watching more anime and whatnot and maybe continue SRS with sentence mining. Finally, I’d like to hunt for more opportunities to speak and have conversations in Japanese.
I don’t feel the need to study more grammar, since I already have a decent grasp of it from my 3 years of Japanese class (thanks Genki for the grammar foundation), and from the immersion/communication I’ve done thus far. I’ll just continue to refine my understanding of grammar through reading and listening.
I probably won’t take the JLPT. I guess the main purpose of JLPT for for me would be to have a tangible goal to work toward, but even then it seems like kind of a waste of time to go back to textbook studying.
The cake is a lie.
But the kanji I learned is not!