Since I’ve just officially done my last lessons on WaniKani and there’s nothing new for me to learn anymore, I thought it’s finally time for one of those ‘reached level 60!’ posts. To give myself proper closure (even though I’ll be on here for a while trying to burn everything! xp), but, most of all, to thank the WaniKani team for making such a wonderful application that boosted my Japanese in a way none other could have done probably. And maybe also a little bit in case a newcomer to Japanese might pick up something from my story they haven’t already from the countless other posts xp.
How I got into Japan(ese)
I Love telling this story very dramatically whenever someone asks me this, haha XD So, I’ve been a huge David Bowie fan since I was 14. And of course, I wanted to see all of his films (still do, because I still haven’t seen them all xp) and Faith arranged it so that right in the summer between junior and senior year of high school (I hope I used the terms correctly, ‘cause I still find them confusing, but it was between the final two years), I watched a certain film, when I was thinking about what to go study in university after my senior year. (Luckily for me, I live in a country that charges very little compared to other countries’ universities, so it wasn’t even a question of WHETHER I’d go: my grades and motivation were good, so then it was almost natural I’d go to university.) And well I was interested in languages, literature, history, but no major had really struck my fancy yet (actually it doesn’t really work here with majors and stuff but I’ll just use the standard English vocabulary). But so then I watched Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, a Japanese-British co-production directed by the great Oshima Nagisa and featuring legends Bowie, Sakamoto Ryuichi (who also wrote the soundtrack), Takeshi and Tom Conti. And would you know, it almost instantly became my favourite film of all time! The day after I watched it I spent about the entire day researching Japan in order to understand all that was going on better, while listening to the soundtrack that had captivated me like no other. Through that soundtrack, I also became a fan of Sakamoto himself, then of YMO and then a myriad of other Japanese bands. So here I was, listening to Japanese music, reading about Japan’s everything and suddenly every news item, every commercial, every whatever seemed to go about Japan. It was as if the Universe was calling me xp. And surely, somewhere in September 2016 (gosh, has it been so long???), a light bulb went on above my head, and I reailsed: ‘OH! I should just go study Japanese at uni!’ Japanese, here, is called ‘Japanology’ and is not just the language but also history, literature, society, you name it. They try to mold you into real ‘Japan-experts’ xp So it basically consisted of everything I’m interested in, plus there was no class related to maths at all, unlike most other majors. (So yeah you choose a ‘major’ here and you have to complete a set list of classes before you can graduate). In other words, it was perfect. I’m in my 3rd year at uni now and I still think there couldn’t have been anything more suited for me. If there’s anything I want to be known as, it’s as a Japanologist. BUT, before we get there
My study method
I was very fortunate to stumble upon Tofugu by accident almost immediately when I decided I couldn’t wait to learn at least a little bit of Japanese before university (in other words: kana and kanji because there’s so many anyway but no grammar so the classes’ll remain interesting). I read everything to wrote on ‘How to Study’ (I’m the kind of person who likes to read up on stuff) and then basically followed their steps into the path of Japanese learning: Tofugu’s Hiragana and Katana guide and then, naturally, WaniKani. I use mnemonics and spaced repetition for all kinds of stuff at this point, so I’d say they’ve very much succeeded in indoctrinating me xp. I fondly remember those science classes where, instead of paying attention, I was writing all the kana on my paper… Oh, and I also did that on exam scrap paper when I finished early, and I remember one time my teacher asking whether that was a secret message for him XD. Anyway, back to study method. I stuck to WaniKani whenever I had free time during my senior year, it was somehow like a hobby, my relax time when I was not studying xp (Though I must admit, sometimes I stumbled upon something grammatical in the wild that I wanted to understand and looked it up in Tae Kim’s Guide. I know, the mind is weak). When finally the day came I went to university, I was of course luckier than most of you, in that Japanese had become my ‘day job’ and I had to study it anyway, with guidance. We used Genki I and II and half into the 2nd year finished those and switched to Intermediate Japanese, which we just finished as well. For listening, we used Minna No Nihongo, which I found really silly and irritating at times, but to be fair, it was incredibly easy, unlike the 日本語のニュース that we use since September. But I guess that’s good, as Tofugu says, you learn the most when you try to take on things that are 1 above your current level. Because of WaniKani, I already had a big advantage on kanji, so I could focus on grammar and skills like writing, listening and speaking. The feeling when you have to learn a list of vocabulary to learn and you already know most of them is really great… (Though that lasted only through Genki, unfortunately). I try to take on new things as soon as I can, always push my limits, because if I wait until I feel I’m ready for it, it probably won’t happen. What also really helps grammar wise, is that I have to take a class on 文語, “classical Japanese”, and though in the beginning it was quite difficult, I’m now starting to see more and more likeliness to “Modern Japanese” or 口語, and it’s handy to know where certain grammatical structures come from originally. Of course, I’m not gonna ask anyone to take a 文語 class if they want to learn Japanese, but it’s proven something nice and handy for me. I’ll now break my method down into skills, for clarity.
Speaking: So, already from my first class, I tried to speak to myself in Japanese and use whatever we learned that day. I looked around and tried to describe things, tried to describe how I feel (and it’s gotten to the point of giving imaginary interviews in the shower xp). It’s much easier to speak to yourself because you’re not stressing as much about making mistakes. Of course, you can’t ONLY talk to yourself because you need to have your mistakes corrected eventually, so it helps that my friends and I also casually switch to Japanese from time to time, which is still not as scary as talking to a native or something. Unfortunately (or luckily?) I did have to try my speaking skills, on fellow students in class, and worst of all, on my native Japanese teacher during exams XC My Japanese level really goes down under stress. My first exam was basically ‘sou…sou…hai…’ But I guess it was still good enough xp As for pronunciation, I mimic the Japanese I hear from natives. I happen to be someone who picks up on accents quickly, so I don’t really have any advice for what else you can do when you need more than the hearing and mimicking thing…
Listening: My fellow students quickly introduced me to anime, haha. Well, there are some I think incredible and they make good listening practice, even if most of what they use is vulgar language. Aside from the listening classes I have, one thing I Love to do is listen to music and figure out the lyrics. It’s a big combo boost for your Japanese if you look up the lyrics of a song, look up any new words and put them in an srs system (I use Anki, which many people don’t like for various reasons, but for me it’s fine), and then listen again to realise you understand everything! But of course, I’m of the opinion you don’t have to necessarily understand everything, I think even just watching a drama with subs can be a form of listening practice, and it’s a great motivation when you start to pick out words here and there, followed by entire sentences, followed by :o ENTIRE PARTS! Small victories like that are great. I’m the kind of person who sets a lot of small goals and feels the victory every time one is reached. I quickly tried my luck at listening to interviews with my favourite Japanese artists as well (that’s a thing that helped me a lot with English back in the day, thank you Depeche Mode and Bowie <3), but I’m only just getting to the point where I can understand what they’re about somewhat, to be honest. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try.
Writing: From second year on, we had to write little essays in Japanese every week. Such things are great practice, even if it’s about something silly. But even if you are just a beginner, I think it’s great to come up with small stories here and there beyond your textbook exercises, about subjects that interest you. As for kanji, I have to know more and more actively each year, but I don’t learn all of the WK kanji actively, it would be too much extra work. I do notice though, that the more kanji you know, the easier it is to remember how to write them from having seen them before and simply remembering. And well, if you don’t remember how to write a kanji, these days you can simply look it up in no time. I’m the kind of old fashioned person who still writes a lot on paper apart from tests at uni, so I think it’s useful to practice handwriting, but if you never write anything by hand, I can totally understand not practicing your Japanese handwriting either. Another good thing for writing practice I think are things like keeping a diary or a blog or writing often to Japanese friends online, stuff like that. I’m also in a band and sometimes write songs in Japanese, so I even practice creative writing, but that’s only for people who are interested in acquiring that specific skill of course. Most importantly, I think one of the best ways to practice writing is actually to read whatever you want to be able to write. Just as they say of novelists, you have to read to be able to write, I think that counts for everyone.
Reading: I Love reading. I read any kind of text that comes within eyesight. So naturally, I do the same for Japanese text. I see a Japanese advertisement popping up in the corner of my screen, I read it. I bought a product from Japan and there’s Japanese on the box, I read it. It doesn’t even matter if I understand everything or not (in the beginning it was more not than anything else). I also tried my luck at the simplified NHK News website pretty early on, but news articles are rather difficult Japanese because of all the abbreviations and I’ve only recently graduated to the normal news website (or, well, I quit looking at the simplified one after a year or so, but the normal one remained pretty incomprehensible ‘till recently). Manga are great to start reading I think, they’re fairly easy and I already started reading them after about a year of studying, plus my extra year with only WK, which meant I could understand practically all of it (kanji are the main difficulty, and I think I was about level 30 on WK then. I hardly had to look up a kanji). I’m now already reading novels, though I look for authors like Murakami who are said to write ‘easier’ Japanese because of their ‘American’ way of writing. The song lyric thing I mentioned above is also good for reading practice. Reading, I think, is a very good base to build other skills like writing and even speaking on: when you see patterns turn up, you can recreate them, after all.
Now, I will specifically talk about
My WaniKani journey
I read everything there was to read about WK before I started, FAQ, Guide, you name it, so I was prepared for everything like the ‘slow’ start and stuff (it didn’t slow to me actually, perhaps because I was too excited with every radical even I learned. And I also had school so it wasn’t like I was waiting all day for reviews to pop up). Except, I wasn’t prepared for everything. I started doing ALL the lessons when they came up EVERY TIME and soon that became untenable. It was somewhere in Painful that I came up with a study regime I held onto for the rest of my journey:
- I’m not good with numbers, so it’s not a system like ‘this many days for leveling up’ and stuff
- I do all reviews as soon as they come up (when you have over 200 that’s very sad, but that almost never happened to me). I do reviews every morning and every evening before I go to sleep and whenever I have time and feel like it during the day (which often meant only in the morning and evening xp)
- I did all kanji lessons at once, so once per level about 40 items, because there’s always some extra voc if you keep your ‘lessons per time’ setting at 5.
- When there were no new kanji, I did 20 vocab lessons per day.
- I kept my apprentice count under 100, which meant, if I just did a bunch of new vocab and stumbled upon the kanji for the next level, I didn’t do any new lessons until most of the vocab would be guru and there would be about 10 apprentice items left. Then my apprentice count usually wouldn’t even surpass 80, which meant my review count usually didn’t surpass 80 either, except when I had to skip a day for some reason, then it would always surpass 100 and I’d have to sit through a flaming session where I would get a lot more wrong than usual because of fatigue
- When I know I’ll have to skip more than a day, I use vacation made. Once, I went to my room at university and when I got there, I noticed the internet was broken. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do WK for a week without internet (side note, I don’t have a smartphone, so I only have my laptop to do it on, which I don’t like to carry along with me everywhere I go), so I called my mom, gave her my login credentials and asked her to put it on vacation mode for me. It’s handy of course if you have a person you can trust with your credentials like that
- I celebrated each new kanji, because that’s just what I do, and it keeps you motivated
- I read all the example sentences, because the more you understand, the more you notice your own progress, and there were always cute words I didn’t understand and would look up on Jisho and notice they weren’t on WK so I would put them in Anki instead
- Sometimes, it happened that I stumbled upon a kanji in the wild that I had already burned on WK, yet couldn’t remember the meaning/reading/both :o off. I made a separate folder on Anki for those.
- Since I’m not good with technology, my WK experience was completely vanilla One script that would have been useful for me, however, would have been the ignore button script, because I long stopped counting the typo-mistakes and many frustrating moments where I would give a synonym of what they really wanted… For non-native English speakers, it’s especially difficult sometimes. Also, those moments when you learn an English word you didn’t know…
- I used KaniWani for the ‘reverse review’, which was a GREAT help! Usually, when I learned new vocab, after I learned them on KW for the first time was when they would really stick. I recommend it to everyone.
- I browsed the forums, because there is so much gold there, so many great tips and friends and what not. It’s one of WKs best features. Even though I didn’t make many friends like some, I’m grateful for the Author’s thread and the Dutch speaker’s thread in particular, which I’ll be frequenting still.
And now, I will take a look at the notorious ‘WaniKani Stats’ site for the first time… Drums
Seems fairly consistent. Great! I never wanted to go fast, just steady, at my own pace. It took me 3 years all in all. The longer levels are when I put it on vacation mode for, well, actual vacations, and level 4 was when I was scraping together the means to get a subscription, which seemed awfully long to me XP (and it was!). I was so happy when I got that little WK stickers gift you get after completing level 3… Woah, really makes you think about how far you’ve come in 3 years. The site also says I should have everything burned by June 13th 2020, whelp. That would be another one of
My accomplishments so far
In my +/- 3 years of studying Japanese, I’ve already had a few milestones, though there are still many left to come yet. For example, the first coherent Japanese sentence I made (probably はじめまして、[…]です。よろしくおねがいします。), the first manga I read (坂本ですが？I believe), the first Japanese novel I read (Murakami’s 神の子どもたちはみな踊る), my first trip to Japan (April this year) where I had many firsts… But for now, my most cherished accomplishment is that I won the national annual Japanese Speech Contest of my country in the beginning of this month. I think that even for that, I should also thank WaniKani. I simply wouldn’t have known as many words without it!
Oh, and reaching level 60 of course xp
Next year, I’m going to study from April to August during the spring semester at Tohoku University in Sendai, which will no doubt be a very enriching experience for me. My Japanese will probably improve by miles, but I’m glad I’ve already got 60 levels of WaniKani under my belt for a start… I know that the road to fluency is still long, but I have faith I will one day be able to understand and produce Japanese like I do English and my native tongue, and I’m enjoying every step along the way! If there’s one thing you should do with your life, I think it’s to follow your passion. Become who you want to become. Sometimes, becoming someone who knows a lot about a certain culture or who speaks a certain language well is the best goal you can set for yourself. So never lose eye on why you started Japanese in the first place, you should really try to integrate it in your studies as soon as you can! As for me, I’m becoming a ‘Japanologist’ ^^
I know I’m probably forgetting thousands of things I still wanted to say, but I’m going to wrap it up here. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them! Lastly:
WaniKani team, Community, everyone who helped me get to this point where I am now:
(also props for everyone who recognises the reference in the title, you’re great. Well, everyone’s great, or most people. But still. Love and peace everyone).