For some reason, I feel like this is an important milestone for me, so I’ll talk about it here. Feel free to walk away if you don’t care, I won’t hold a grudge.
I’ve been dedicating my life to the Crabigator since August 9, 2017, and 5 months and 9 days later, I hit level 16, which means I’ve been through the first quarter of WaniKani.
How it all started
I can’t find the words to tell how satisfied I am with WaniKani. For a few years, I’ve been trying to get started with Japanese, but I always gave up after a few days/weeks. For some reason, this summer, I gave it another try, and came across WaniKani. While doing the free levels, I realized it was already working: I wanted to progress and learn more than the last times. I searched for additional resources online and even bought a grammar textbook. Naturally, when done with the free levels, I subscribed and kept on going.
How it’s been like
Pretty smoothly, I must say. I’ve been maintaining a steady rate since the beginning, and I hope it will stay that way. See the diagrams below.
Items per SRS level
Note: The “Enlightened” line is pretty inaccurate in the beginning: I didn’t start enlightening items right off the bat.
I don’t use a reorder script, partly because I’m afraid of getting flooded by lessons, and partly because I want to take my time with the vocabulary, since WaniKani is my main source of learning new words for now.
I usually do 10 to 25 lessons per day, depending on the kind of lessons, which means that I usually have 40 to 100 items in Apprentice at all times. I also keep an eye on my leech count, thanks to the awesome SRS levels script.
Oh, and first burns are coming up for review on February 1, so there is that too. I don’t know if I’m excited about it or if I’m worried about the additional work load. I guess I’ll see as I keep going.
Hopes and worries
One thing that has been bothering me a bit lately is that I spend too much time on kanji and not enough on grammar. According to WK Stats, I am halfway through JLPT N3 kanji-wise, but I still struggle with very basic grammar. I don’t think I’d pass JLPT N5 grammar-wise.
However, Koichi’s new year e-mail made me feel better about this situation. Below is what I’m talking about.
Okay, let’s learn how to do this.
(WaniKani) Level 10:
I tend to recommend that people reach at least Level 10 (preferably level 20) before picking up a Japanese textbook. That way, in terms of kanji and vocabulary, you’ll be able to read pretty much everything in any beginner textbook you use. Then you can focus on the grammar instead of looking up the meanings of every other word and kanji. Having to context switch so many times makes it a) so hard to learn grammar, and b) very demoralizing. Students I’ve talked to who do the kanji/vocab first method tend to have a much more positive experience, develop at a faster pace (in the medium and long term), and are way less likely to quit from frustration.
On WaniKani, Level 10 means you know around 89% of the kanji that Japanese second graders know, as well as ~99% of the JLPT N5 kanji and ~75% of the JLPT N4 kanji.
If you’re moving at a moderately-fast speed, getting to Level 10 in three months is quite doable.
Ideally, this is where you pick up your first Japanese textbook. And actually, because of your kanji and vocabulary knowledge, it’s going to matter less which textbook you end up choosing. Without the distraction and difficulty that not knowing kanji/vocabulary creates, you should find that learning grammar is quite a bit easier! Don’t let up on your WaniKani studies, but between Levels 20 and 30 see if you can get all the way through a beginner level textbook of Japanese so you can start intermediate level grammar on Level 30.
By Level 20, you will actually be able to read ~75% of the kanji that appears in Japanese news websites! Not all kanji are created equal, after all. The kanji you’re learning in the early levels are the kanji you’re going to see the most of.
Once again, moving at a moderately-fast you can finish levels 10-20 in about three months.
You’re halfway there. At this point, you’ve finished your beginner’s Japanese textbook. And, you’ve learned a lot of kanji/vocabulary. You know ~89% of the JLPT N3 kanji. You can read ~86.5% of the kanji in Japanese Wikipedia articles. And, at least when it comes to kanji, you’re finishing up with Japanese fourth grade. It took those dumb kids four years to get here, but you can do it just this year, if you want to.
Between Levels 30-40, you should pick up an intermediate level textbook and try to work all the way through it. Once again, you’re going to know almost all of the kanji already because of your WaniKani level. Go ahead and focus in on the grammar.
I think you’ve figured out the pattern by now. You can get these levels done in about three months.
Okay, now you’re getting pretty good at Japanese. At this point, textbooks aren’t going to help you a lot. It’s just you, the open road, and some reference books to help you out. You need to go out and find materials for yourself, and see a lot of Japanese. Your goal is to find things that you already know 80%, then teach yourself that last 20%. Repeat. Over and over again.
One way to do this is to study with Japanese sentences. In this article we make some suggestions on where you can get sentences as well as how to go about this study method. One of those sentence resources, the 4,500 Sentences ebook, is currently 75% off in the Tofugu Store for New Years, fyi. Just like WaniKani, you need to figure out how to make this kind of study part of your daily ritual. If you do, you’ll notice your Japanese doing a sudden level up (it will feel this way, anyways) every three months or so.
When you reach Level 40, you will know around 83% of the JLPT N2 kanji, around 87% of the kanji found in a Japanese novel, and you will be near the end of your sixth grade school year in Japan.
If you started at Level 1 at the beginning of this year, it’s possible for you to end up here, even not at the fastest-ffastest pace. If you started at a later level, or you’re moving at a fast speed, there’s more for you to do before 2018 is over!
At this point, you’re going to be quite proficient in Japanese. You will be able to read 98% of the kanji found on Japanese news sites and 96% of the kanji found on Japanese Twitter, and know a bit more than half the kanji required for JLPT N1, the highest JLPT level! Getting N1 or N2 is often a requirement for working or going to school in Japan.
In terms of your other reading studies, keep studying with sentences on a daily basis. As you get better, your definition for “knowing 80% of the sentence on your first read” will include more and more difficult sentences, though it shouldn’t feel more difficult to you. You still know 80%.
As sentences become easier, consider integrating articles, books, manga, news, etc., into your studies. Same rule applies, though. You should be able to understand about 80% of anything you use on your first read through. Otherwise, it’s too far above your level, and using another resource that matches the 80% rule will be more efficient for your overall speed.
For someone who puts in a lot of effort this year, reaching Level 50 is not impossible. It’s a good goal for those of you who are feeling extra ambitious.
You’re at about a Japanese 9th grader’s level in terms of kanji now. The best thing you can do for your Japanese is to read. Like, a lot more. Good news, though. You should be able to read 99.21% of the kanji found in Japanese novels. That last 0.79% actually contains a lot of kanji, but at this point you should be really good at learning kanji, right? You don’t need ol’ WaniKani anymore.
Speaking of which, go ahead and keep doing your WaniKani reviews so you can burn those last items, but it’s really time for you to spread your wings and I push you out of the next, whoops. Get out of here. Go read.
If you’re working towards JLPT N1, you’re about 79% of the way there in terms of kanji. But it’s a tough test, so I hope you’ve been reading your fair share of Japanese books, articles, etc. Those are going to give your brain a sort of statistical framework it can work from. Your brain will identify patterns and connections. But, it needs you to input an insane amount of data. Reading will do this, and much more. Although we haven’t talked about it much, reading is a necessary part of advancing your speaking and listening abilities to and beyond fluency, too.
So, my hopes for the near future are:
- Keep going on WK, as fast as I can without burning myself out;
- Tackle grammar more seriously, even if it means slowing down a bit on WK.
And, to really feel my progress, keep trying to read NHK Web Easy and other not-too-hard resources once in a while to see whether I git gud or not.
Alright, back to it!