In the spirit of giving feedback (and flaunting level 60) I thought I would discuss what it’s like to push Wanikani at ludicrous speed as a novice to Japanese.
I started Wanikani in mid-February 2021 after finally deciding to take the plunge and learn Japanese. The only prior knowledge of Japanese I had going into this was having taught myself hiragana and katakana. I did study Mandarin several years ago in high school, so some of the very early kanji I already knew the meaning (at least from the original Chinese character). As part of having studied Mandarin I also had prior exposure to learning characters through a radical-based system.
My accuracy here is due to two things: a rather extreme amount of time I would dedicate on the days I would get new lessons (more on this later); and I discovered early on that, in the event of a typo, I could close the review and reopen it to avoid taking the penalty. (Yes, there’s scripts for this but I purposefully avoided such scripts, closing the review tab meant abandoning progress made on other items in the review that hadn’t been completely reviewed; I felt there should be some punishment for typos, and I do feel this has greatly improved my typing accuracy with Japanese.)
This is what a heat map looks like for someone crazy enough to push a 0/0 streak since basically level 3. I want to emphasize that this is NOT a healthy way to use Wanikani unless you have nothing but free time. Maintaining this schedule as well as additional study outside of Wanikani while still maintaining a full-time job has pushed me to my absolute limits. I am glad I am through the levels now because I do not know how many more weeks I could have maintained this pacing. I had to make significant sacrifices to both social commitments (thanks covid for making that easy, I guess) and my sleep schedule to facilitate this. Had I gotten sick or an emergency occurred, this would’ve fallen apart very quickly and I would have likely been looking at a reset.
This is my final level-up times:
Wanikani truly is a great system, I’ve never tried SRS before–I was always the type to just cram flashcards as frequently as possible. My ability to read things in Japanese has skyrocketed in this past year. I still remember how excited I was the first time I was able to read an entire article on the NHK easy news without referencing jisho.com.
I definitely felt my progress hit something a plateau at around level 35-40. However, I feel this is mostly because my grammar studies have suffered due to the amount of time the Crabigator demanded from me to keep this pace going. I plan to allocate a large chunk of the time previously going towards Wanikani to grammar studies once my daily reviews even out in a week or so.
- Reorder Script
For the first 42 levels, I used no scripts. Once the “fast levels” started at 43 I installed the reorder script. I did not use this script to skip vocabulary lessons and I heavily recommend against skipping vocabulary lessons for anyone looking for long-time retention of what they learn from Wanikani.
I had to use it so that lessons would unlock early enough on Thursdays for me to be able to complete them before heading off to work in the morning. I would routinely wake-up to 300-plus reviews on Thursday mornings, attempting to fish through it fast enough to fully unlock all lessons quickly enough without the script was simply not feasible in the fast levels. Again, this pacing is not healthy.
- More nuance described in the meaning section
- “Reading Origins”
- An optional 1x1 “Practice” session offered between completion of a lesson and the first review
Especially in the higher levels, there are a number of vocabulary items that are given as having similar, if not the same, meaning. I feel it would be really useful to have the description give a feel for these nuances that separate vocab items from each other. Of course, some are just completely the same, and some vocab items already do have this in their description.
Some of the exceptional readings we learn in our course of Wanikani actually have origins. One such example is 火傷 (burn/scald) which is a combination of 焼く(to burn)→やけ and 所(place)→ど. The historical reading is thus 焼け所 (lit. “burned place”) which later was changed to the modern form.
I often found myself researching the etymology of the exceptional readings and found that doing so helped to cement the meaning more solidly as the historical origin of the exceptional readings is often logical. The best example of this for me is 曙(dawn). This kanji was a nightmare for me as the mnemonic for it uses a sumo wrestler I’ve never heard of. the origin of the reading, however, is 明け(dawn)→あけ and 仄(dim)→ぼの, which also perfectly explains why 曙 specifically refers to the moment of dawn where the sky has begun to brighten but the sun itself hasn’t yet risen.
The 1x1 “guilt-free” practice session is more personal and probably won’t help everyone equally as everyone learns in their own way. As the levels got higher and harder I found my accuracy slipping in reviews for the material I had just learned. I had previously avoided study outside the SRS stages, aside from whatever happened to appear in reading practices, as I felt it wasn’t in the spirit of the SRS system.
However, I found that by giving myself 1-2, self-administered, 1x1 quizzes, on material I had just covered in lessons, my accuracy in both the short and long term increased. To do this I would open the lessons page (I do all lessons when they unlock in one giant session) and just go down the list. If I couldn’t recall the meanings/readings, I would open that item in a new tab and review it. I tried to do this roughly 2 hours after the lesson, which would put this right between the lesson and first SRS review. I believe that future learners may benefit from a practice system where items are quizzed, with no consequences, 1x1-style (to see if they can immediately recall both the reading and meaning) after the lesson but before the very first review.
Don’t be me. I do not wish to discourage anyone from learning a language. Educating yourself, bettering yourself, and learning a new language are all noble things and should be encouraged. However, going this fast at Wanikani is rough. I have paid tribute to the Crabigator with my sanity. I can joke about it now but it was truly rough to push this hard.
There were many times I wanted to “take a day for myself.” However, taking a day for yourself, going at this pace, will cause an immediate and swift snowball that will run away. If you are truly dedicated, willing to sacrifice essentially all free time then you can give it a shot. I simply want to impress upon any would be Japanese novices that want to try speeding through this, just how hard it is.
I woke up today, the day I reached level 60, 4.5 hours before I normally would. So that I could spend 4.5 hours doing reviews (roughly 450 reviews) and new lessons (roughly 120 lessons) before even going to work. I then sacrificed my 1-hour lunch and all breaks to do reviews so that I can do another batch of reviews tonight. My review and lesson sessions on Sundays start at noon and run until 10:30 PM. Going at this pace, once you reach the fast levels, is an extreme commitment. It does not afford much in the way of free time outside of Wanikani, especially if you’re also using other resources to learn Japanese. That is my word of caution. Do not be me. Go at a pace that is comfortable for you.
This is not the end of my time serving the Crabigator. I plan to burn the world before I finish with Wanikani. However, this marks the winding down of all my free time being consumed by it. While very tired, and looking forward to getting more sleep in a week or so, my will to continue learning Japanese is only strong now. Armed with this arsenal I plan to redouble my grammar learning and learn how Anki works so that I can employ the systems I’ve learned here to my future Japanese endeavors.