Going from Wanikani/self taught to formal classes in Japan. Advice? Experience?

Hey friends!

So I will be relocating to Japan for work in the next couple months, and in doing so my employer requires part time formal language learning. Up to this point, I’ve been entirely self-taught and living in the US, where there is little opportunity to practice conversation, but I’ve definitely come a long way in my reading and grammar studies, and of course dabbled in listening practice via anime, YouTube, and a 1 month trial of jpod101. Mostly I’m curious what to expect transitioning to Japan and a classroom environment with this background.

  • How quickly will my conversation abilities be able to catch up to my reading level?
  • For those with experience transitioning into a class room environment, how did Wanikani help you? Did you discover you needed to learn to write a lot of kanji? Were you bored at the beginning? Or were you too challenged because you tested ahead based on reading knowledge, but couldn’t keep up with writing, speaking, listening, etc.

There is some flexibility for me in choosing where I study Japanese. For instance, my supervisor mentioned a school that has a lot of Chinese students and so goes a little faster (since the Chinese also use kanji). Any tips on things we should look for or avoid, coming from a Wanikani curriculum?


As a chat room ninja, I try to avoid posting in forums myself but I couldn’t find one that dealt with this topic well enough. So hello everyone! :wink:

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Try to find a program that teaches Japanese in 100% Japanese language instruction from the very beginning. I studied at Kansai Gaidai for two semesters in a mixed language environment and saw very little improvement. I then attended The Yamasa Institute in Okazakishi for the same amount of time – six months – and from beginning in intermediate 中級, along with some genki review, I was able to pass 2 kyuu by the end of 2007. I would say go to Yamasa or try to find a school that teaches in 100% Japanese and that also utilizes the blue and red new approach books. Listen to the cds. Expose yourself to as much Japanese as possible. Exposure is key. I can’t say how fast you’ll improve because it is linked to your effort and to your understanding grammar, but you should be able to hold a good conversation within a year. With real effort you might even pass a high level of the jlpt. It’s entirely based on what you put into it.

New Approach Japanese: Intermediate Course https://www.amazon.com/dp/4931315151/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_USpFzbAJZ4WBP

Additionally, it might take a few years to achieve a professional level of conversation. There is no set amount of time that you should achieve proficiency. You’ll improve just by being there. Don’t fret if it takes a while.

Awesome advice! I guess you had previous Japanese experience before starting these courses? I’ll check out that textbook too.

Makes sense to choose a course all in Japanese. It sounds intimidating, but I think it will be more manageable than I think. Exposure is indeed key, and incredible for accountability.

As for what level I am in Japanese overall it’s really hard to say as I’ve not taken any formal tests up to now; I just compare with Wanikani data on how far my vocab is and as for grammar, idk what is covered when for jlpt levels. So I’m going in with low expectations just in case, but I do still expect I’ve gained some knowledge over the past couple years, lol. But yeah, not knowing what to expect is the reason I started this thread. I hope to learn from others’ experiences.

Being able to read kanji will certainly be an asset for placement in a class. Having said that, conversational and listening skills as well as an understanding of grammar will also be critical for placement. Thus, don’t be frustrated if you have to start from the beginning even though you know how to read a good bit of kanji. I think wanikani will help you remember words a bit more quickly because you can associate the kanji with the word.

As for textbooks, I think at Yamasa the texts began with minna no nihongo I and then II. They will be comparable to Genki I and II. Following that, the school used new approach blue and red for intermediate levels. I can’t say enough good things about the new approach series. Each book comes with a cd that includes a reading of each chapter that you can listen to repeatedly. The readings help immensely with listening comprehension.

I finished Genki I and II before I went to Japan. When I arrived in Japan I could not speak at all. At Yamasa they wanted to place me in a review class for Genki II, but I requested to try the intermediate class. They let me audit the course, and because I received an A on the first exam, I stayed in the intermediate class. My speaking eventually improved after a few weeks. I didn’t learn much from Kansai Gaidai though it was fun.

I haven’t gone through a hard copy textbook for grammar. I just did Tae Kim and some Imabi, and I still reference both. I did skim through the Genki 1 textbook once though and it all looked SO basic. Like you when you first arrived, right now I feel like a deer in the headlights when it comes to speaking, but it sounds like with immersion you were able to catch up on that pretty quickly, which is good news. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to get in at an intermediate level.

Yamasa sounds really neat, but I don’t think it’s in Kagawa prefecture. I’ll mention those textbooks to my supervisor who’s helping research different schools. Once I’m in language school I doubt I’ll have the time to do much language study outside of that, so I’ll probably just end up going with whatever textbook they use. I wonder, Wanikani probably isn’t utilized in language schools? Just a guess, but I wouldn’t be one to know! Even so, I hope I can continue with Wanikani once in Japan.

Wanikani is great for familiarizing yourself with kanji and their readings, but a lot of the words you’ll be using in school or society are not covered here. Assuredly you will learn words like 地球温暖化 (global warming) or 少子化 (declining birth rates) or 不景気 (recession) or some other topical words from class and not from wanikani. I don’t think wanikani even has the word for concrete (具体的). Basically, wanikani is just the start of your education. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. Just be prepared to encounter a lot of 語彙 that you won’t find here.

You’ll probably be able to use wanikani on the great public transportation in Japan!

I’d recommend watching something like these before you start a class. This guy recorded some online sessions with Japanese teachers and the videos feature a lot of what you’ll no doubt be discussing in classes. Mostly very simple, but great to get a bit of exposure to typical classroom questions before hearing / replying for real.

About the option of a class with Chinese students: that’s a double-edged sword. It may well move faster but there may also be too heavy a focus on kanji. A lot of Chinese students have hideous pronunciation and poor grammar but get placed in higher classes because of their comprehension abilities. Also - and this is purely from personal experience - they may well speak a lot of Chinese in class.


I agree with the above poster.

I’d recommend watching something like these3 before you start a class. This guy recorded some online sessions with Japanese teachers and the videos feature a lot of what you’ll no doubt be discussing in classes. Mostly very simple, but great to get a bit of exposure to typical classroom questions before hearing / replying for real.

Just watched one of those videos. Awesome resource for listening!

I’m glad you addressed this. It was another thing I was curious about. From what you are saying it sounds like a Chinese class can also move slower, but for all the wrong reasons from an American learner’s perspective. Or maybe it’s just dependent on the group? Hopefully if the class is in Japanese I won’t have to worry so much about everyone else speaking a lot of Chinese. What do you mean by comprehension? Just reading comprehension? In that case I feel like I’m at least on a similar playing field coming in…surely they couldn’t come in to higher levels with no previous grammar study…

Jisho.org has a list of the vocabulary for each JLPT level, if you go to the search and type in #jlpt-n5 (or whichever level), it’ll pull up all the words that you want to know by the time you take the tests. As for grammar, I’m not entirely sure, but there are practice tests on the JLPT site for each level, so that way you can get a taste of what you need to study.
Here’s the link for the sample questions: http://www.jlpt.jp/e/samples/forlearners.html

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Well, my experience has been that Chinese students will talk to each other in Chinese - often instead of or even over the top of the Japanese teacher. Again, just personal experience, but I’ve seen it happen a lot.

I mean they can understand the gist of a written passage if it contains kanji they know more easily than other language learners. Their kanji knowledge can also be helpful for listening comprehension. It doesn’t help with grammar in any significant way, but a sentence with a difficult grammar structure is a lot easier to parse if you don’t have to think about the vocab it contains.

I don’t know enough about your level outside WK to comment accurately, but I would suggest you’re probably not. Chinese speaking students (especially Taiwanese) have a massive advantage over students from almost any other country.

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Personal experience: my Taiwanese classmate passed JLPT level 1 while everyone else struggled with level 2. His grammar and spoken Japanese were no better than anyone else’s. His knowledge of written Mandarin, however, helped him infer the meaning of sentences.

Wow! That’s incredible!!!

And @riccyjay, you’re totally right in that their kanji understanding will be far beyond mine, I’m sure! I guess I meant that we might be coming from a similar perspective, me at least understanding some of the kanji. Thanks for all the explanations. I think I understand better the situation. Still not sure what the best choice might be, but you actually have me leaning away from a class with Chinese students. After talking I think a course that’s all in Japanese would be really good though.

Thanks all!

The link is very useful! thank you for that!

I dont really have an opportunity to listen/speak in basic conversation yet, and this had been tremendously helpful!

I’m also surprised that there are a lot of stuff that i didnt think that i would understand but now i do and i pretty much can understand what they are talking about :smiley:

Not saying that i’m already good, just surprised the effort that i’ve made is totally worth it!


Hi! I’m in a similar situation, only I don’t think I’ve studied as much as you have, but I’ll study in Japan for a semester and get obligatory Japanese language classes. I’m also worried about the transition, since some of my skills are very lacking. I have to take a placement exam, and I’m afraid I won’t be placed in the appropriate level because of this.

I’ll definitely use the tips others have given to improve on all fields of Japanese :slight_smile:

Thanks for this topic!

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