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

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.


Well, that’s kinda what I did (except I knew a lot of the kanji in here, but I still liked to go over them again).
I wrote about my experience in more details in my level 60 thread.

I’d say it’s really good if they need the structure. If they can manage on their own, well, free options do exist, as mentioned already. That being said, if they haven’t done it so already, I feel like structure might indeed be their problem.


you could start them on Renshuu, as it allows you to say if you already know the term while you do the reveiws/lessons

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Good heavens YES!

I’m far from fluent but had a fairly large vocabulary from speaking the language (poorly) since the seventies. Learning to read and Wanikani specifically were life-changing.

To be honest: “fluent” is an opinion. I’d argue that it’s hard to be fluent in Japanese if you can’t read kanji.

Someone mentioned kids learning in Japan that already have all the vocabulary. They start learning to read at the same time they start building vocabulary. 国語 involves both, it’s not separable.

I know a smaller fraction of the vocabulary words I’m learning now, but I assure you I don’t mind AT ALL seeing vocabulary words I already “know” but can’t read. They are definitely easier but it still takes time to memorize the readings (and I miss the meanings more often than you might think due to misreading).

The only argument against WK I can imagine are the way radicals are taught. They are utterly different than how Japanese learn to read in primary school. It will make it weird and difficult talking to natives ABOUT learning, but otherwise I don’t think it’s much of a problem.

How “fluent” are they? If English is their first language, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend WK. if their first language is Japanese or Chinese then maybe not.


For me, WK is the most fun when I already know the word and learn to read it. It might be the same for your friend. Or they might hate it. Who knows. Only one way to find out…


I’d second this, why go backwards to introduce an unnecessary English component when they already speak on a native level? I’m sure there are native materials out there as well on literacy building. Additionally, it isn’t really built to filter layouts or content either so add another time inefficiency. I see the system as something that rewards beginners more with a stress on collocations which is great because you can build a lot of confidence with a jump in progress in a rather short period of time (plus they made it fun too so you are not completely defeated in studying).

On the other hand, for similar looking kanji and meaning, I don’t think the system has a great way to address this other than collecting and grinding leech piles or some assorted scripts as a heads up…but that’s it and then go stumble into reading practice. I presume this will be a major issue given they already have a high vocabulary but probably alot mixed up kanji. The only way I’ve been able to address this efficiently is actually through some handwriting practice and just building the muscle memory on the stroke order. Think this would be time better spent + finding or making mnemonic isn’t hard if preferred. And since their ears are faster than their eyes, they probably can close a faster gap listening while reading along JP subtitles on alot of content…this would probably be time better spent.


I would think it would certainly work for him, think of it like this, the vocabulary, he may know, but does he know how it looks like in kanji form? Based on what you say, clearly not. If he wants to be literate and read in Japanese he needs to know these vocabulary in their kanji form.


Yeah, that’s the thing. She knows the words when heard, but doesn’t recognize the kanji with the exception of very basic ones. I think I’m going to recommend that she tries it out, at least for the first few levels, and if it gets frustrating, well then okay. But if it’s doable, then awesome. And I feel like the first few levels would be the biggest test, since you’re learning more common kanji (for a native English speaker, that is).


I spoke Japanese to a decent level before starting Wanikani. I’d say around 75% of the vocab I have covered in Wanikani, I already knew.

It’s actually really fun learning the characters of words you already have in your vocabulary. Connecting the dots between reading and meaning is immensely satisfying.

It’s definitely easier as well. Especially for common words that have unusual readings. I always think when I get to words like 欠伸 (あくび - yawn) what a pain it must be for most people to remember those readings, but its such a commonly used word that I didn’t have to make any effort at all.

I can pretty much guarantee that she will learn a few new words as well (especially useless baseball terminology that for some reason has been cropping up in the late level 30s :unamused: My Japanese wife has never heard of these terms!)

I highly recommend it!


With a reorder script to do kanji first, and then vocab at whatever pace you feel like? It’s probably not a bad call. It will still have a nice structure and order, and the option to run through some vocab for context and reinforcement.
Of course, I see I’m pretty late to the discussion. Just my take though.

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Oh, very.

Think the last time I had that happen was when I came across 連盟 in level 36 - as in, 灰羽連盟

Though to a lesser extent, there’s also the time I worked out the 覇 in 覇権 from level 52 is also in 那覇, the capital of Okinawa.


If your friend does decide to try WK, I’d recommend she download the keisei semantic-phonetic composition script. I think that script used in conjunction with WK adds a lot of value that most other kanji teaching tools don’t offer.


Sacrilege! :stuck_out_tongue:


That reminds me of another surprising thing thing happened to me more than a few times: I learned a “new” vocabulary word and only several reviews later did it actually click that it was a word I’ve heard and used multiple times! You can almost feel things shifting around in your head when that happens.

This is precisely why I believe it’s difficult to truly be fluent in the language if you can’t read it. There are connections and subtle nuances of the words that are immensely easier to understand once you can read.

欠伸(あくび) surprised me too, but almost daily I come across others. I was recently taken aback by 可哀想(かわいそう) — those characters made a lot more sense than what I ignorantly assumed was involved before I could read! (Mangling cute to mean pitiful didn’t make sense to me but you grow accustomed to weirdness!)

It’s hard to describe, but illiteracy is an impediment to understanding. Who knew?