Frustrations & doubts about my wanikani progress so far

Having a little more time now to write out a proper reply:

What kind of material are you trying that you find is too easy? Graded readers? Example sentences in learning material? News articles?

I ask because it’s worth comparing that with:

What kind of material are you finding too difficult?

Is it print material that lacks furigana?

You can find print material that may be interesting that also has furigana?

If it’s electronic, can you use a free browser extension such as Yomichan or a subscription service such as Migaku to streamline looking up unknown words, so that unknown kanji will not get in your way?

Are you able to quantify how much grammar you know? If you’ve been using Bunpro, that can help you gauge it a bit.

There’s knowing grammar in theory (which I would include Bunpro’s SRS to include, as its sentences don’t exist within a greater context).

Then there’s knowing grammar in practice, where you recognize and understand it when encountering it in native material.

It’s the difference between reading about chess and actually playing chess. You need to play it in order to actually get good at it.

Likewise, you need to read to get good at reading.

For your situation, this is either finding material that interests you that has furigana or finding material that interests you where you can use technology to do quick lookups of words with unknown kanji.

Actually, people saying to just learn 10,000 words (I’ve seen them out there) are probably doing you a disservice. Some people can learn that way, but it’s better to jump into reading.

By starting reading rather than piling on more words, you are:

  1. Getting to know grammar better.
  2. Developing a deeper understanding of the words (beyond “this Japanese word = this English word”).
  3. In a position to better retain the words you encounter while reading.
  4. Not waiting time learning words that probably won’t come up in the kind of material you want to read.

While I enjoy watching my known kanji and vocabulary numbers go up as much as the next person who enjoys it, I find that data either informative or not compelling when it comes to progress.

I can start reading a slice-of-life manga and complete a whole 150-page volume in one sitting without realizing I’d already reached the end.

I can start a book on medical science and give up after one hour and three paragraphs of seemingly endless struggle.

My sense of accomplishment comes from two places:

  1. Being able to read and understand something.
  2. Not being able to understand something, then working through learning the grammar and vocabulary until I do understand it.

Is it because the material isn’t as interesting?

Or is the material interesting, but you just don’t return to it?

Have you tried scheduling a set time for you to sit down to read every day, and sticking to it with discipline?

What kind of deck or decks are you using on Kitsun? Are you blindly learning words from a “x,000 most common words” deck?

What interests you?

What medium (novel, light novel, manga, visual novel, video game, etc)?

What genre (slice-of-life, action, comedy, drama, adventure, mystery, etc)?

Pick something that is interesting but not clearly too difficult. Take it one page at a time, and look up any unknown grammar and vocabulary.

For grammar, you want to learn it well enough to give the idea of it, but you don’t need to memorize it or even fully understand it. Not yet.

For vocabulary, it’s fine to look it up, understand the sentence, then forget the word. For now.

Over time, you’ll find you’re looking up the same grammar over and over. This is when you want to get to know the grammar better.

Over time, you’ll find you’re seeing the same vocabulary words over and over. If you need to look them up every time, consider adding them to a Kitsun deck. Or if you recognize them without looking them up, then you’re good.

To add to this point, consider the manga 「レンタルおにいちゃん」 (picked at semi-random as I already have stats on it for this point).

It’s a four-volume manga series.

If someone completes the common “core 2K” deck, they will have learned 2,000 words and will recognize 57% of the total words appearing in this manga series.

If they further complete the next 4,000 words (the “core 6K” deck), they will have learned 6,000 words and will recognize 73% of the total words appearing in this series.

On the other hand, someone who targets learning the most common words used in this series can hit recognition of 75% of the total words used by learning only 245 words.

Said again: you can learn 6,000 words for 73% coverage, or you can learn 245 words for 75% coverage.

90% comes in at about 600 words.

And you reach 96–97% around 1,000 words.

Disclaimer: I used the “core 2K” deck and then forgot most of it before I started reading.

Book clubs totally are the catch-all answer!

Well, I mention book clubs often.

But I agree that they won’t work for everyone.

That said, I think it’s always worth a try. “What have you got to lose?” Especially the longer one has been learning Japanese without feeling they’re making impactful progress, the more willing one should be to give it a try.

We’re starting ルリドラゴン in just under two weeks, then ちいさな森のオオカミちゃん maybe a few months after that. Joining in gives you a schedule to follow and a community to be a part of while reading.

There are also many manga and easy books that have been previously read in the Absolute Beginner Book Club. You lack the real-time schedule going this route, but you have a higher chance of finding something of interest. (Or, you can check out the Beginner Book Club thread for some slightly more difficult material.)

I’d take it a bit further and adjust this from goals to systems.

A system is to read every day.

Even if you don’t feel like it.

Sometimes, all you need is to start doing something to get yourself into the mood to do it.

Other times, you go to do something, and you find you can’t focus on it.

In both cases, simply sitting out to read is your victory.

Did you sit down to read and ended up reading a whole chapter?


Did you sit down to read and you were too distracted to the point you didn’t actually read anything?


This lets you put weight on discipline (schedule) over motivation (mood).

But more importantly, it reduces the failure case to “I didn’t sit down to read even though I should have.”

Notable also is that if you are using reading native material as a platform for learning more grammar, simply being familiar with N5 and having limited exposure to N4 is enough. This happens a lot for people in the Absolute Beginner Book Club, and while many people drop off, those who are serious about learning Japanese often excel in this environment. (Keeping in mind that this method is not for everyone.)