I'm giving up on WK, and here's some feedback after making it to level 20 in three-ish years

I’m done with Wanikani, but I thought I’d post some feedback here for anyone who might read it, in case it’s of use to a dev, or more likely, a fellow frustrated learner.

I have reached a saturation point with my frustration with this app twice now, at level 24 and then at level 27. Both times I’ve become so viscerally angry while doing WK reviews that I’ve reset to level 20 just to make my review queue go away. I don’t think I’ll recover this time.

Levels 20-29 is called ‘death’ in the Wanikani categorisation - and it feels like a stark jump up from Levels 1-19. It’s full of really, really irritating kanji - things like 突, ‘stab’, pronounced ‘totsu’, which for some reason shares nothing at all except its shape with 空, ‘sky’, ‘kuu’, and 究, ‘research’, ‘kyuu’. This ten-level block seems packed with kanji that are complex, not terribly easy to distinguish from other kanji, and with wildly different, non-phonetic readings. It’s also packed with gems like 触る and 触れる, which have different, unrelated readings but almost identical meanings (‘to touch’), and the latter looks like potential or passive to boot (which it is not). Quite frankly, I hate this.

This is clearly not entirely Wanikani’s fault - Japanese is hopelessly complex, even for native speakers, and notoriously very, very difficult for native English speakers to learn. The rage I feel when doing WK reviews is not rage at the app, but at myself; it’s at my perceived lack of progress. My deep resentment of the kanji might in fact mean Japanese is not for me. But I don’t experience the same bursts of rage when using my other learning apps, which suggests they make me feel like I’m actually learning in a way WK doesn’t. After three-odd years, I feel like Wanikani has made a range of choices in app and curriculum design that are more of an impediment than an accelerant in my learning.

My personal ‘dealbreakers’ for Wanikani

  1. Lack of integration of context sentences: Context sentences in Wanikani are buried down the bottom of the page, and play no part in learning or reviewing vocab. They are also presented in a way that doesn’t call attention to the word being learned, and are often too long and complex for the level of the learner. Worse, they use multiple different translations, and the sentences are often chosen for their ‘funny’ translations rather than their utility to the learner. I found in the early days I just had no hope of understanding them, so I gave up. Three years in, revisiting them for this post, I can actually read them now, and some of them seem kind of useful - but they are still buried at the bottom of the page, and are often too long for what they are trying to achieve. Regardless, for me the ship had already sailed - I tried a few times int he first few weeks and then wrote them off permanently. I know Wanikani is not a vocab-learning app but all language learning is done through context. I think having a very simple, single-clause or at most two-clause sentence for each word that clearly demonstrates its most simple usage would be a huge benefit for learning vocab. Better yet, instead of making me enter the reading on an error-prone keyboard with no ‘whoops’ button (#2 below), let me just read the kanji/vocab in context as a review - I’ve come around to the input hypothesis that comprehensible input is way more important than output, and at the intermediate plateau, comprehensible input is really hard to come by.

  2. Poor error management: It’s been talked about ad nauseam on this forum, but the app needs a ‘whoops’ button. It also needs to engage in a positive, encouraging way with your ‘near misses’, for example where you type ‘せつ’ instead of ‘さつ’. At the moment it treats a serious but wrong attempt the same way as it treats me inputting ‘お’ in frustration because it’s the closest key to the enter key and I want to skip to the screen that tells me the answer. On that note, why do I have to manually open the info screen after an error, and then individually open reading and meaning tabs to review the item? There’s not even an option to fix this, it just assumes you enjoy beating your head against a brick wall. For me, I’d rather see near-misses bounced back with targeted guidance on what I’m getting wrong (maybe highlight the ‘せ’ so I know it’s meant to be ‘さ’?), or if I put a valid but wrong reading for the kanji in, a hint that it’s a different reading. I’d also like a setting that shows me the meaning and reading instantly on a wrong answer so I can refresh myself on it.

  3. Inflexible SRS and poor leech management: If a Kanji or vocab word is still bouncing between Guru and Apprentice after ten levels, let me unlearn it and come back later, or just abandon learning it until I encounter it in the wild. It’s clearly not sticking, and just showing it to me on repeat for months doesn’t feel great. In fact, it feels like I’m not learning anything - which, it turns out, is pedagogically and psychologically a sure-fire way to not learn anything. I’ve also never got used to, and always hated, the insurmountable-feeling and disheartening flood of end-of-level vocab. I want an ‘unlearn’ button that makes the item just go away until I’m ready to come back and try learning it fresh later, and an ‘I know this’ button that keeps basic stuff they added later out of my already ridiculously large review queue. And more than anything else, I want a mode where you learn one kanji, its reading, and all its associated vocab, so you can avoid the enormous, morale-sapping flood of lessons at the end of every level.

  4. Flippant attitude to difficulty: I don’t need pass-agg notes that I ‘should be able to read this already’ on my vocab cards, especially not in a language where there are multiple irregular readings for an enormous number of Kanji. I need the bloody pronunciation of the word. See also - overly complex context sentences (#1), minimal support for ‘near misses’ (#3), assumption of insane grind as a precondition of learning (#5). The app is built around ‘number of reviews/lessons goes down’ as a philosophy of language learning - in other words, it’s made a fundamentally qualitative exercise of learning through context into a quantitative, gamified process of rote memorisation. It sets up an expectation you’ll learn all the kanji in a year (delete this slogan NOW), offers a mathy path to achieving it (so many lessons, so many reviews, such and such an accuracy %), and yet, the app doesn’t really do anything to help number go down, and seems to gloat at you when number in fact goes up.

  5. Tendency to overwhelm time-poor learners: I read one ‘level 60 in a year’ post that said this required 400 reviews a day - and knowing what I know about WK, that number assumes you’re getting 80%+ right. This program needs to make space for the 50% and 60% accuracy crowd, It needs to be honest that it’s likely a 5-year undertaking for mere mortals. It needs to be upfront that you’ll have enormous review queue and an exhausting lesson queue at almost all times unless you optimise the hell out of it. OR, and this is my preferred method of dealing with this problem - it needs to eliminate the numbers from the game as much as possible, because there are people who find numbers incredibly demotivating. Don’t show total lessons in the queue, for example, or hide the panel of on-level kanji that lets me ‘game’ the level-up system. In Bunpro I never feel the need to grind out to N3, I just plod along doing my lessons and reviews. Bunpro doesn’t seem to want to rub my face in how slow I’m going, WK really does. I don’t know why, but it feels like a UX/UI problem, given the similarities in the apps.

  6. Reliance on scripts to fix the programs’ most egregious flaws: Every problem above - or, almost every one, given there’s no fix to the rigid SRS - can be fixed by scripts. For some of the more esoteric stuff above, that’s fine. But for basic things like a ‘whoops’ button, kicking your users to a script database is pretty egregious. WK isn’t Anki - be flexible, or be prescriptive. Don’t try and be both at once. And if you are going to be prescriptive, be honest.

So that’s it - that’s my beef with WK. I think I’m done. I’ll likely burn what’s left and finish up at level 20, then I might try and get the Anki WK deck and pick up where I left off, trying some of the fixes I talk about above. I’m really annoyed right now, but despite my frustrations, Wanikani has worked really well for the kanji it has managed to teach me. Well enough I don’t regret the lifetime membership I bought only last year after paying a yearly fee for two years.

Obviously none of this means that WK is a bad program - it just means it’s a bad one for me. Luckily I’ve found one that’s excellent for me - Bunpro fixes most of the flaws of WK’s SRS, mainly by offering a really powerful set of tuning options and a much more flexible SRS. The only downside is it’s not so crash hot for Kanji, but then, it’s not meant to be. But I’ll figure something out. Best of luck to those of you struggling the way I have.

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I’ve always found them weird as well. I can read them better now, but in the very beginning these sentences were really not helpful. And even now I still think they are too long for their purpose.

This is so annoying ! I’m glad I’m not the only one to feel this because it really gets lame to always have to open manually the window.

You raised a lot of good points, I agree with a lot of them, personally I think I still like WK and will continue to try to get to level 60 (it feels a little bit like a game I guess) but I can totally understand how it could not be a good option for some. Can I suggest you an alternative ? Kitsun.io, it’s a really great SRS where you can upload your own decks, download already-made decks (a lot of them are very well made), there is a leech manager, it forgives the typo mistakes, you can learn an item in the japanese → english sense but also in english → japanese, it’s really great. Right now I’m still on a free trial, I use it for creating a deck on a manga that I want to read. But once I finish WK I will definitely use it more.

It’s a paying app though, it’s logical if you prefer to continue to use Anki (I tried but I just couldn’t get myself to like the app, the interface and design are just too uncomfortable and bland for me).

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If you are referring to what is expanded automatically when you go to the page during a review, I believe that the design is intentional, and IMO, a good thing.

WK is testing me on the meaning AND the reading of a kanji, and these are INDEPDENDENT. If I am doing a review and get the reading wrong for a kanji item and go the info page and both the reading and the meaning are shown to me, then a few minutes later when I am tested on the meaning of the kanji, this test is essentially useless. Of course I am going to “know” it, I was just shown what it was 2 minutes ago. Would I have answered correctly if I had not just been shown the answer right before I was tested? If I did not know it at this particular point in the SRS time line, I want it to drop back so I can make sure I do learn it.

Fully expanding the info page (should I want to see everything) is super easy to accomplish and literally takes just a second. Just enter E, the shortcut for “expand all”. On the other hand, having each section such that I can expand just the other ones I want is a useful feature. In the scenario from above, I can look at other sections if I want and still make sure I do not reveal the meaning, which I have not been tested on and should not and do not want to see.

Edit: Looking at your question again, I think I missed the main point. What I said above still holds in terms of response to the original message and having to expand things within the page, but I think that what you were referring to was having to explicitly open the info page to start with if you get something wrong. On that point I agree, it would be useful and nice if the info page was opened automatically when a wrong answer is input.

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I agree with a lot of the points raised, except the one about example sentence. Solely on the basis that this is not a comprehensive language learning website, and no matter what Tofugu says about when to learn vocab through the emails, you probably should have a bit of a basis before setting your foot in the door here.

That said, I think the context sentences fail spectacularly in another direction. Around level 20 the amount of context sentences drops pretty hard. The average before 20 is three sentences per piece of vocabulary. Now if you get a big set of words beyond 20, I’m lucky if a single one has more than one single context sentence. And you best believe the one that is there is of no value to learning in what context this word is used even if you have no trouble reading it.

People complain about the diminishing returns when it comes to JLPT/Joyo/online usage of kanji once you get to 30, but honestly, it feels like 25 is the real cutoff point where I stopped feeling like I’m learning a lot through here. What is taught is more confusing and complex in a lot of cases, and I’m not going to say it is useless or anything like that. But it feels like the quality of the material takes a sharp decline when you get to the halfway point.

I’m still learning and improving, but most of that is due to efforts outside of Wanikani and has been that way for me for a while now. You’re at around the same level as me, so I can’t help but feel that a lot of the frustrations are shared, if maybe from different perspectives.

For myself, I was planning to stop when my one year subscription ended. That’s in a little over a month from now, having recently checked to make sure. But I’ve decided that I’ll stop doing new lessons when I finish level 30 and move my efforts elsewhere because I think at the very least, my experiences with WK have taught me enough of what works and doesn’t for me to find more effective ways on my own. That’s basically in a little under two weeks from now.

I’m not really bitter or angry at the site itself. Or the language. It got me to my level that I am in a year. Basically hovering around JLPT N2 or so. And most of my experiences talking with natives, experience media in its original language have all been extremely rewarding and positive. But I find it a bit hard to recommend Wanikani to people with the frustrations I have with it.

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I wasn’t intending that, I was thinking about the info page only related to the question. For example if I have the reading wrong, the reading-window only opens automatically, instead of having to open it manually (I know it just takes a second but when mistakes accumulate it’s frustrating). But it’s true that sometimes the meaning or reading is also indicated in both mnemonics.

That’s useful to know, thanks

Yeah, I got that on further reflection of your comment and was editing my response as the same time as you were replying. I agree with you, would love to have the info page automatically opened when I wrong answer is input.

Also, for opening the info page itself, F will get you there. The other one I use a lot is J, which for vocab is the shortcut key to replay the audio. Much quicker and easier than having to take one hand off the keyboard and to move over the mouse and then move the mouse point to correct place. Once I start a review, my hands are both on the keyboard and I do not touch the mouse at all.

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People complain about the diminishing returns when it comes to JLPT/Joyo/online usage of kanji once you get to 30, but honestly, it feels like 25 is the real cutoff point where I stopped feeling like I’m learning a lot through here. What is taught is more confusing and complex in a lot of cases, and I’m not going to say it is useless or anything like that. But it feels like the quality of the material takes a sharp decline when you get to the halfway point.

I think this is ultimately it - I’ve been finding it far more confusing than useful, and I’m just absolutely hankering to be reading, and picking up the language naturally and meaningfully that way. But for whatever reason (likely the large time investment and the need to properly self-direct learning) I really struggle to find material I can read beyond the graded readers on Tadoku, which are kind of boring once the excitement of reading without a dictionary wears off.

I’ve tried manga but it’s pretty dispiriting. It takes about an hour a page with a dictionary permanently in hand. I have no idea how the ‘beginner’ book club threads do it. I’m so exhausted after a page that I can’t keep going.

It’s really frustrating to be at around 80% kanji but have such a tiny, tiny vocabulary, so much so that I can’t reasonably comprehend anything at all. Not really WK’s problem or fault, but a frustration.

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There’s two ways to go around that. One way is to use the Vocab Sheet that the book club puts up together, then all the words you need to look up are there in front of you.
The other way is to read on a browser and to have technology assist you. If you look up Mokuro you can find more information on that, it can transform the image into selectable text, and you can have a dictionary plugin just show the definition when you press Shift on a word.

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I’d suggest giving Satori Reader a try. You can even give it your WK API and it will not show furigana for those kanji. Then for additional kanji you learn you can add them to a custom list. See the link - that goes to the thread a few of us made on here for it because we love this app so much!

I’d say try it free for a month or whatever the trial period is, then if you like it try a month subscription, and if you really like it after that, consider just getting a year and read as regularly as you can. Use the grammar series from whereever you are and follow a story you’re interested in all the way through to the end. I started with taking a few days per episode, and gradually worked up to an episode per day. Getting through a couple of series on there definitely got me good enough to break into the ABBC and BBC club level here. Two years later I still get a lot out of doing 2 episodes a day even though I’m reading manga and novels at an intermediate level.

When you’re read, I’d recommend joining the ABBC live at least once.

I’ve written on this on my log recently (buried in this post) where I did a text analysis (of 700 characters from a novel, but it’s pretty representative of a lot of native text you’ll come across). I hand counted the words in that passage and found this:

Of the 305 words:

  • 59% kana only words and particles
  • 36% kanji containing words
  • 6% names

I think this shows something not appreciated or much discussed: about 60% of most Japanese text is wrapped up in kana words and grammar constructions. So even if you know 100% of all kanji, that’s still only about a third of what’s on the page. And even those kanji words will often be verbs and have kana hanging off of them (that would have still counted in the 36% kanji words above) that you need grammar to understand. It aligns well with my experience. I think what you’re going through is the pain of learning that 60% - the good news is that learning grammar and reading every day on Satori or otherwise can get you through that if you keep at it.

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These are some very weird complaints. Wanikandi definitely has issues, but you complain mostly about the Japanese language. That you think these Kanji are weird is not WKs fault. 仕方がない。

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Flaming/smouldering durtles, a free WaniKani app made by volunteers, will automatically hide meaning or reading information respectively when showing the info after a partial review. Here’s what it looks like after a reading review:

Sure sometimes the reading mnemonic does often spoil the meaning but in my experience the trade-off is absolutely worth it after a mistake. Having to manually open the fold after a review also frustrates me on the website (a userscript I use allows doing it automatically but it’s buggy for me).

As always the core issue with WaniKani is their unwillingness to let users customize their learning experience without having to resort to third party unsupported scripts and apps.

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Sorry if I missed this in your post, but how do you feel WK rubs your slowness in your face? I’m curious because I’m pretty slow (max 10 lessons a day) and have never felt any sense of being judged for my pace. I think the recent change from showing you the total number of lessons remaining in the level to just the number for today really took the pressure off.

Edited to add:

I’ve always thought this was to give you a chance to have another think. When I get something wrong, I don’t automatically look to see what the correct answer was; I sit for a moment and see if I can pull it out of my brain. I imagine it’s the benefit of doing this that WK are trying to encourage. If they did introduce a function where it automatically showed you the correct answer, I’d want it to be optional.

WK don’t push you to complete it in one year though, right? They say it’s possible but that that’s a breakneck speed, and that you should go at your own pace. I might be missing something but to me it sounds like you’re mainly just frustrated at your own progress, especially when you say WK needs to make space for the people who are getting half of their reviews wrong. I don’t think those people are being excluded, they’re just not in the majority. Getting those levels of accuracy just means you need to slow down, and stop paying attention to the outliers who speedran the whole thing.

EDIT: Okay, having seen @northpilot’s post I agree that leading with the idea of completing WK in close to a year is a bit misleading and unrealistic.

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I think WK is just a tool… A resource to learn kanji, there is. For that specifically, it is extremely helpful IMHO.

To view WK as a mean to learn “Japanese” is a big mistake: A direct road to enter in despair and frustration.

Almost everyone who has been learning Japanese for a while (and believe me… 'cuz my while is 20 years nonetheless :rofl:) will suggest you to start with some formal course like Bunpro (by internet) or Minna no nihongo (if you prefer books).

Learning is supposed to give you happiness… Not anxiety :face_holding_back_tears:

Just my two cents.

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When I first started, I naïvely thought it would only take a year. The very first thing you see when you visit WaniKani is

2,000 kanji.
6,000 vocabulary words.
In just over a year.

I think this a valid criticism. I guess it’s not good marketing to say “it might take you a few years” on the homepage, but I think there is an expectation among new users that it’ll take around a year when that’s really not the case for most.


I’ve definitely noticed this in a few places, too. It starts pretty early. One of the hints for 犬, for example, is

There’s a good chance you know the word for dog in Japanese already too. If so, you’re ahead of the game. If not, do your best to learn the reading before moving on.

That’s not even a hint. All it does is make beginners feel like they don’t know things they should.

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This is normal for starting out reading.

I started out spending one to two hours per four panels, between looking up kanji one by one, looking up vocabulary, and looking up grammar.

Over time, you start to recognize the most common vocabulary and grammar (and you’re probably already there on common kanji), and the look-ups slowly subside little by little.

I did a post a while back on what one’s expectations should be when they first start reading:

I recommend that you reframe your reading experience as such:

Old frame: I spent an hour and only read through one page. This is disheartening.

New frame: I spent an hour learning vocabulary and grammar. I have made progress.

If an hour of study-via-deciphering-manga is exhausting, set half an hour as a target. You don’t need to complete a whole page in one session.

I was only able to properly learn these through exposure via reading, and even then it took me longer than it felt like it should.

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I’m sorry to hear that. I can definitely relate, and when I’ve felt like that with something it’s been a sign that I haven’t been in the right place to continue – in life in general, current circumstances, whathaveyou.

Truth be told, I studied Japanese very briefly in my youth and always wanted to continue but didn’t for various reasons. I’ve always thought of that with some regret, even though I did eventually pick it up again and continue to this day. However, reading your personal account just now, I am, for the first time, thinking maybe I would have just ended up quitting anyway if I’d tried to pursue it further before I was “ready” (though of course we’ll never know, because I didn’t in this dimension!) And I’m sure that if I’d started with kanji I simply wouldn’t have felt like I was even capable of making meaningful progress.

It sounds to me like at least to some extent you may be struggling with feelings of failure, which leads to both internalized frustration as well as an externalized negative association with (in this case) Japanese study in general and WaniKani in particular. When I’ve been in that state, pretty much everything felt like an assault, and it was hard not to take it personally. But I think the thing I somehow “learned” along the way while I wasn’t studying was that it’s not only okay to “fail” but that it’s normal with almost everything worth learning/doing. But of course, that’s something I just had to come to terms with inside myself.

Anyway, I’d encourage you to take whatever time you need but not write it off entirely. After all, there’s probably a reason you started in the first place, and you still have the option if you at some point decide to give it another go. But, yeah, if there’s another tool that better suits your learning style that’s worth pursuing (or even a different language altogether if the motivation to learn Japanese doesn’t outweigh the struggle, which is real). Good luck! :pray:

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Those are all very helpful, thanks - I will have to try them tonight when I next tackle my pile of reviews.

I’m trying a different approach to reviews now than what I previously used, in an attempt to improve my recall of both meanings and readings - yes, I know that it is ‘defeating the system’ to a certain extent to look at both the meaning as well as the reading if either of those were missed - but I’m treating the SRS as ‘just a tool that works for me’, rather than as ‘a religion which must be followed assiduously in order to gain the benefits’.

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Reading is hard. You just have to keep at it. At first it is tiring and confusing and even when you know all the words you still don’t know what’s going on. A bit later, it’s tiring and confusing and, well, you get the idea. Eventually you realize that you’ve just read and understood a whole sentence…

One of the beginner book clubs is reading 曹操のフリレン (love how the IME completed that after “sousouno”). The weekly material is about 15 mins reading for me now, but 2 years ago it would have been a serious week’s worth of effort.

The first manga I read was イジらないで、長瀞さん. This is the first text, I forget how long it took me to get some sense from it, but it was quite a while, and even then I only got the gist.

3 years down the line and I can read it without looking anything up and understand it without problems. However, there are still books & manga that I struggle with. There’ll be some keigo, slang, well known saying or grammar that I don’t know, or just some sentence that goes on forever in kana and I get lost.

My general method for progress in reading is novelty & review. For example you can rotate through old and new material over 3 days. E.g. day 1, read until you’re tired then stop. Day 2 carry on from where you left off the previous day. Day 3 go back to the first day’s material and read from there. Day six, go back to the second days stuff. Day 9 go back to day 3. So every 3rd day you read something new, and for two days you go over stuff you’ve already read.

After a while, you can ditch that and read bigger blocks like entire manga or book chapters, but you still go back a re-read just over longer timeframes.

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A wise decision. The key is to find what works best for you. The end goal should be “to learn Japanese as effectively as I can”, using the tools available to me.

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I think the point of confusion is that it’s cumulative study time that matters, not merely having access to study materials but actively using them (not just WaniKani, or Japanese, but really anything). Often people don’t factor in that if they’re only putting in an hour a day it will take much longer to accumulate, say, a year of actual study compared to someone putting in multiple hours per day – the difference can be exponential.

I think a lot of folks also get more out of kanji study with less actual time put into it due to overlap with other learning: textbooks, social media, manga, or even just being able to absorb the material more efficiently due to being comfortable with reading and inputting hiragana, etc. (by contrast, if I try to use my nemesis, kana input, that slows down my progress such that I’m actually not getting through much material at all in the time I spend…) :slight_smile:

And, of course, everyone is different in a variety of ways, so it’s important that we be fair and honest with ourselves, not beating ourselves up if we don’t meet or exceed someone else’s standard of progress. :pray:

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