Do you recommend WK to a fluent but illiterate Japanese Speaker?

Title basically says it all. I have a friend who speaks Japanese fluently but can’t read anything but the basic kanji (hiragana and katakana are fine). My question is: do you think WK would get annoying/frustrating if you already knew all the vocab words you’re learning or perhaps it would be easier?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!


WaniKani’s sole purpose is to teach the kanji - the vocab items are included only as a means to hammer home the kanji readings. So yes, it does sound like it might neatly fill the gap in your friend’s knowledge.


I’m inclined to agree. I can’t help but wonder if one would get bogged down with the “repetitive” nature of the vocab, so to speak.


well, for him he would be repeating the kanji associated with them as a point of learning.

It would be a lot easier for him probably. Honestly, I would just learn through normal input means if I were him though.


It would go so much quicker if all the vocab were known so I don’t think so


Same. I think this would be akin to a Japanese kid learning how to read, because the vocab, phonetics and kana are there, but only kanji is missing.


Nope. SRS‘ing over 6000 words of which he’ll likely know most might be “good” practice, but let’s be honest, it’s anything but efficient.
If he went full speed, dedicating large amounts of time and money to WaniKani, he’d learn a little over 2000 kanji in a year. He’d be much better of just using some free Anki deck of something like RTK and reinforcing the Kanji by reading instead of “practicing” on WaniKani vocabulary items. Not even to mention it’s a lot more fun that way.


I guess it might depend - they clearly don’t know the kanji form of these words…


Yeah, that’s a really good point. It’s hard to get a decent perspective on it because I went through WK and benefited so greatly. But a large benefit was also the 6000 vocab words, which doesn’t really apply in this case. Perhaps it would be better to recommend an Anki deck or just reading. Then again, I do know that I have gained not only a much larger appreciation but also an intuition for kanji (guessing meanings and readings) from my time studying WK. But I suppose that could be gained anywhere, with enough reading.


Associating a word you already know with a kanji you can already recognize is fairly easy. We do it ourselves while immersing. You pick up a word through listening, having no idea about the kanji, but once you come across the written form while reading it sticks surprisingly easy.
There’s no need to go through the ordeal of SRS’ing 6000 items just to be able to recognize the written form of a specific word.


What about weighing the options, and lack thereof? How about that 3DS Kanji game?

WaniKani is relatively well structured, and can be used as a series of lesson as well; but to properly use the app, you will have to put up with English - clumsy typo correction that is pretty much “won’t fix”, and rarer English vocabularies to non-English natives.

Will they review on mobile? What about installing UserScripts? (which are unofficial, and WaniKani team doesn’t really care)


I’d say Wanikani is a good idea to familiarize themselves with kanji and how to break them down - if they really have next to no kanji exposure. They won’t necessarily need to reach level 60, but completing a few levels (up to them how many) would probably build a good foundation for them to then learn through immersion or anki or whatever. I’m nowhere near fluent, but I did already know quite a lot of words Wanikani taught, and I was always glad to see them. It was even easier to internalize the unknown kanji when I kept seeing them in words I already knew by sound.


I would unless there’s a clear other alternative that your friend prefers. For my first 15 or so levels I already knew probably at minimum 50% of the vocabulary? That’s not the same as being fluent (obviously), but already knowing the vocab didn’t bother me at all. It made those cards a breeze, and it was exciting to find out what kanji were connected with the words I knew.

I would 100% recommend that they install that script that lets you correct a wrong answer though. It would be extremely frustrating to not be able to mark cards correct when you know the answer but just picked a translation that wasn’t in the official list. And also when the radicals are useless I “cheat” on those so that I can burn them asap.

Same! I often try to find a word I know using the kanji in order to help me remember the reading.


My two cents: the English meanings would probably feel like a huge waste of time. Your friend would probably only need the reading reviews. (I’m assuming, of course, that your friend’s knowledge of meaning and nuance in Japanese is at least on par with what WK presents.)

WK isn’t necessarily going to be useless though: I have a friend who’s a native Chinese speaker, but he can’t read at all, and I can see how much trouble he has with characters. Having something like WK to encourage structured, regular practice is probably going to be helpful. However, I don’t think it’ll be very useful beyond the intermediate level, unless your friend doesn’t intend to do much reading. The reason is that I think that someone who’s fluent will be able to make guesses and fill in the gaps from context once they’re able to read enough to understand most of a sentence.

(For what it’s worth, one of my favourite VTubers is kinda like your friend – very fluent verbally, even sounds native, but not that great with kanji. From how she approaches reading text with unfamiliar kanji and compounds though… well, it definitely feels like she defaults to words and readings that she’s familiar with, and she only really gets stuck when she sees kanji she doesn’t know anything about at all. She can easily read scary-looking kanji in words like 響いている, probably because the word is common, but she gets stuck on rarer words containing simpler kanji. I’m expecting it’ll be the same thing for your friend: with roughly intermediate kanji knowledge and fairly regular reading, recognising common words in their kanji forms should become easy for your friend, but rarer words will require further study. If your friend intends to read a lot, those words should be acquired in due course; if your friend tends to do much more listening and speaking, then maybe WK will make up for the lack of visual practice.)


Yeah, that’s a fair point. I’m always advertising for WK, but this is such a highly specific case, it gave me pause. I would definitely advise her to install some scripts (I used quite a few during my run) but it could be a harder sell with all the extra steps. I think everything put together, it might honestly just be better to just advise her to read more and maybe pair it with an Anki deck.

Thanks for the input, it’s been super helpful!


Yeah, maybe starting with an Anki (or Quizlet/Memrise? Whatever she’s comfortable with, I guess) deck would be less frustrating than going through things containing only kanji she can read, because those things are likely to be much simpler than she’s used to. Afterwards though, reading will probably become much easier and more fulfilling. It depends on what she’ll be willing to do and will find pleasant: I know some people who don’t mind reading children’s books to learn Japanese, after all. The issue is that I’ve never heard of someone doing that to learn kanji only.

Speaking of resources, maybe looking into the Tadoku site might be worthwhile?

I think the good thing about these books is that they’re mostly quite short, even if some of them are children’s books (e.g. Peter Rabbit), so they probably won’t be too tedious for someone fluent in Japanese just looking for kanji practice. Plus, they’re progressive, so it should be easy for your friend to move on to books with harder kanji when she’s ready. :slight_smile:


Yes definitely easier. It will fill in many gaps and he’ll have a big head start. I have been speaking Japanese daily for 25 years. Although I technically learned 1000 kanji at one point getting to the point of barely failing N2, I settled into a steady state this past 20 years. But I discovered WK this year and thought maybe now is my chance to get beyond an elementary school reading level. Honestly I’m somewhat awed (and perplexed) by the people who know nothing about Japanese and head on tackle the language in this way first and then think about grammar as an afterthought. I know most of the vocabulary that have come up so far which has made it much easier. It’s not frustrating at all because I’m still learning or relearning the kanji. Even the really easy stuff like 二月 南米 河豚 etc is not annoying. I still get the serotonin blip when I can fly through and get words correct. Anyway knowing vocab already helps a lot because you can rely less on the WK mnemonics and plug-in words you already know.


One benefit of WK’s system is the use of radicals to teach kanji. Since the radicals appear in several different kanji (usually), it can provide extra ‘structure’ to learning kanji, like a ‘scaffolding’ which is constructed alongside a house/building to help during the construction of the actual building itself, but which is not really needed after that (and so can be torn down or anyways discarded).

Maybe modern Japanese education uses a similar teaching method using radicals as a basis? I have no clue. But if they don’t, then maybe WK could be useful/helpful in that way, beyond what standard Japanese education provides?

Also depends how fluent they are in English itself, I guess! If quite fluent, then having an English-based system/tool, as well as a large English-speaking userbase/community, could also be a potentially big benefit for someone who feels ‘illiterate’ (perhaps with a stigma to that notion?) to get over the ‘hump’ of beginning to learn kanji literacy where before they felt demotivated to start such a ‘hard’ learning task?


In terms of repetitiveness, really the SRS system kinda handles that automatically. Admittedly, it doesn’t reduce repetitiveness to zero! But my point is simply that if something is easy, then you can answer it quickly and move on quickly, and the interval between gets roughly doubled. Only takes a few repetitions before you get to intervals of a week, two weeks, a month, whatever.

For someone who already knew all the kanji and could answer them all without any mental effort, then they could complete all 60 levels without any mental effort, and it would all be ‘repetition’. That’s the worst case scenario.

But for someone who is ‘illiterate’, surely (by definition) there will be kanji they don’t know, and after they get through the first few (or maybe several) levels, they will surely begin to run into kanji they don’t know at all, and having a systematic, organized tool/site to keep track of their progress, help guide them through a ‘plan’ (order of which kanji to learn first, second, etc.) that is geared towards adults (young and old) rather than young children might be useful just to keep them motivated and on track. They will quickly ‘find their level’, and from there they can proceed at their own pace, whether that be banging on through to level 60 at top speed, or maybe taking a more relaxed pace Durtling the Scenic Route :turtle:.

I’ll give an example: I’ve recently taken to revisiting old friends on my scenic journey learning Japanese. Essentially that means resurrecting previously ‘burned’ items from earlier levels that I don’t mind ‘repeating’, 1) because they are pretty common words, yet I still couldn’t recall even after ‘burning’, 2) because I sometimes want to fill in ‘gaps’ or ‘holes’ in my Review Forecast, but I don’t want to ‘rush’ the current level by filling it with new lessons. In other words, sometimes even ‘repetitiveness’ can be a soothing/comforting thing rather than always being an annoying/frustrating thing. It all really depends on one’s perspective, goals, and desires.

If this is someone who is currently getting along mostly-just-fine with being verbally fluent in daily life, but wants to learn Kanji as a personal goal (rather than, say, in a hurry to learn it for school or work purposes), then maybe they would actually appreciate a ‘gentle’ slope to the ‘learning curve’, and maybe ‘repetitiveness’ is actually something they might even enjoy, in the same way that many hobbies can have repetitive elements to them (practicing a sport, knitting, sewing, crafts, woodworking, even many arts, even something like reading can have repetitive aspects to it!).

I’m not saying that repetition is always ‘good’ (not at all!). Just saying that it’s not always ‘bad’. It really depends on the person and their personal goals, IMHO.


Maybe it’s better for such a person to follow the 教育漢字 list, as much of it assumes one is already familiar with many words, and it’s taught more by the simplicity of kanji structures building upon one another than by frequency of usage. And it’s not like the person has to strictly follow the list either.