Japanese Learning Zero to Hero

Hi there!

I am level 4 in WaniKani. I don’t know anything about Japanese, except anime. One day I want to be able to speak and understand Japanese, as well as reading it, but I was wondering if just doing WaniKani would be fine for now. It seems that WaniKani is very focused on reading itself, so I would please like to know if learning to read would also let me understand Japanese by default. Should I also learn grammar and take online courses?

Thank you in advance!

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When it comes to language learning, different skills are complementary. You have to learn vocab AND grammar AND listening comprehension and so on.

That being said, it’s perfectly reasonable to do WK first. Knowing the kanji is really helpful when trying to read stuff, but you’ll still have to study grammar later. WK has even improved my listening comprehension a little, since I often recognize words that I previously learned on WK, despite only hearing them rather than seeing the kanji.

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If you have previous experience with the language, what I am about to say really comes down to what you already know. I will assume you have just started.

For now, I recommend you stick just to WK. When you get to Lv 20 or so, you should have enough Kanji in your brain and should have little to no trouble starting on a textbook like Genki.

The problem with trying to read at level 4 is that it will likely be demotivating because there are a LOT more Kanji you don’t know than you do so you will be looking things up constantly.

The other piece is, make sure you know the Kana. Obviously you need hiragana for WK but the katakana is helpful as well depending on what you want to read.

The other big recommendation I have is, absolutely avoid using furigana or Romanized Japanese. This becomes a crutch and will slow your learning.

You can also possibly start sooner if you look at reading things like graded readers, but even then there is an expectation of grammar to some level.

Hope this helps! And no matter what you do, don’t give up! Not that you said you will but if you do get demotivated, the folks on the forum have been awesome at getting people back on track or just talking through a problem.

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I disagree about furigana. Obviously, reading with furigana won’t improve your kanji reading skills much, but it still helps with the other parts of reading, and of course WK helps a lot with learning the readings anyway.

One of the hard parts of language learning is getting material to “n+1” level, where there’s only one new part to focus on. When you start, you have unfamiliar kanji AND unfamiliar grammar AND unfamiliar vocab. Going through WK mostly eliminates the kanji issue, but you can also just use furigana as a shortcut.

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Don’t get me wrong, furigana can be great. But it can also become something you start to rely on that can make it difficult to take the training wheels off if you rely too heavily on it. In some ways, it lets you think you know more than you do.

When I say furigana, I mean a text that has furigana for every single kanji. From time to time you will see them in light novels and other books for odd Kanji readings.

If a person knows this and uses it carefully, definitely a great tool to have at your disposal when you need it.

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I would say that apart from doing wanikani, enroll in a japanese course if you can or if it isn’t possible at least get hold of a textbook that teaches japanese, e.g. Genki or Minna No Nihongo. This Tofugu guide is quite helpful in that regard: https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/beginner-japanese-textbook/

I do recommend listening to nihongo con teppei in youtube as listening comprehension. Each podcast is three minutes and i found it really helpful(there’s one for beginners too)
I do recommend bunpro for grammer but i think it might be too much to start grammer with so maybe around level 10 will be good. As for reading there’s a lot of book apps but i am using book walker to read. Good luck in your journey.

Thanks, I’ll try the podcasts!

As everyone above said. First learn hiragana/katakana if you haven’t already, also writing, but as for kanji it’s not necessary to be able to write them by hand, everyone use computers anyway. But you can learn how to write most common ones.
You can start reading textbooks even now, additional vocabulary would certainly help but you are able to start genki or such even not knowing anything. Bunpro is a good site for a vocabulary with some examples and explanations, the basic version is free so you can check it out without paying, also first month is free. Also, as other had mentioned, tofugu.com is also a good place to learn.
If you can, I would suggest to go on some course with actual teacher, but learning aloe is also doable, just maybe a little bit harder.

At some point, probably after level 20/30 on WK and after learning at least N5 level grammar, you can try reading some Japanese text for example manga. It helped me a lot, for the start you can try yotsubato, there are also reading threads here which will help you better understand some grammatic forms or such. Also NHK news easy is a good place to read, there are also apps (TangoRisto for example) that automatically translates harder words for you.

I’d recommend Japanese with Noriko instead. Also, I’d recommend using Castbox for podcasts.

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Welcome to the community!

I’ll recommend Organic Japanese with Cure Dolly on youtube for learning grammar. I found her explanations helped me to understand why things work the way they do rather than just telling me how things work.

As others have stated WK level 20-30 gives you a good base to start reading from. You’ll still have to look up words, that will be the case even at level 60. Provided you find something appropriate for your level though you should be able to understand most of it.

You can check the various bookclubs on these forums to find stuff at the right level. I recommend reading manga first as having visual cues help clue you in to what’s being said.

I also recommend watching anime subtitled in Japanese as another good way to learn. If you don’t know a word you can look it up a lot easier if you can see the kanji it’s written with instead of just going with what you hear.

I’ve actually found that this becomes a moot point when using native materials since you don’t get much choice usually. For example, right now I’m reading Harry Potter and One Punch Man. The former has almost no furigana while the latter uses it extensively.

Once you start diving into intermediate material, you’ll have to accept whatever form it comes in, and that’s going to help you force yourself to read it that way.

However, I do agree that when you do have a choice, going without furigana is the better option.

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From you question I assume you are a native english speaker and never had any contact with learning a language.

Learning a language is learning in lot’s of different ways and gaining different complementary skills. So you need to learn several things at the same time.

I feel like in the beginning you should focus a lot on grammar. At least until you know all grammar points of N5. So you understand the basic sentence structure and also Japanese works. And do Wanikani as complementary resource.
Looking up a kanji because you don’t know the reading is something that doesn’t need a lot of time (especially since most beginner friendly books have furigana).
Only using WK won’t get you anywhere. Sure you are able to read a Kanji but if you don’t know anything else it will be useless. It is great if you can read the 寒 of 寒くない but that means nothing if you have no clue what the くない means.

You can go quite a while before you reach a point where knowing Kanji is important/really necessary. If your goal was only to be able to talk in japanese you might never need to learn Kanji. But without the basics of grammar you won’t be able to read/undersant or speak a single sentence.

That doesn’t function in any language and it doesn’t work for japanese either. Letters and words (or Kanji) will be just that: words without context. If I translate a German sentence word for word: " the tree big is ha? I but not see". You’ll probably still be able to piece together what I wanted to say (I haven’t seen the tree that is big (emphasis on a negative emotion)) because German and English are veery similar to each other. But in a foreign language like Japanese you’ll just end up with a lot of words you can’t make sense of. That is if you can even understand the verbs if they are conjugated if you don’t know the grammar.

For now, I recommend you stick just to WK. When you get to Lv 20 or so, you should have enough Kanji in your brain and should have little to no trouble starting on a textbook like Genki.

I don’t know how fast you level up but let’s say you go more or less the fastest speed (7 days per level). It would mean that you don’t know basic japanese for three months. In my opinion this is wasted time. Beginner textbooks have furigana.
What is the point in knowing how to read 労働者. When you can’t even form or understand a sentence like “私はアメリカ人です” ?

Try to learn grammar, listening, speaking and reading (maybe writing) at the same time. You can focus on the aspects you like or have trouble with. But just doing one thing while completely neglecting anything else doesn’t work in language learning.

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Thank you for posting this. I understand the intention of those who recommend to spend month grinding WK before moving on to things that were always there to study in parallel, but honestly to me it sounds uninformed. The only true blocker when it comes to Japanese is kana. Once you can read furigana you can go ahead and bulldoze through Genki I & II, since there isn’t a single kanji without furigana.

Even advanced textbooks that are specifically aimed at grammar, such as Shin Kanzen Master 文法 N1, contain a lot of furigana.

Easing in and avoiding burnout is good, however deliberately sabotaging yourself out of a concern that it would be “too hard” is harmful, in my point of view. No kanji comprehension can help you understand grammar, it won’t make an inkling of difference.

Same goes for vocab, listening comprehension, reading practice, speaking and so on and so forth.

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No reason to not study grammar and kanji / vocab simultaneously at the beginning, especially if you have the time to spare. There are certain details of the vocab you learn on WK that are easier to internalize once you know some grammar (like transitive / intransitive verbs, etc.)

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I don’t know how fast you level up but let’s say you go more or less the fastest speed (7 days per level). It would mean that you don’t know basic japanese for three months. In my opinion this is wasted time. Beginner textbooks have furigana.
What is the point in knowing how to read 労働者. When you can’t even form or understand a sentence like “私はアメリカ人です” ?

I am between 7 and 10 days per level. I have also been trying to learn Japanese for 20 years and finally buckled down for kanji with WaniKani.

I guess with furigana it depends. If you keep yourself from using it as a crutch and use it to leverage what you know and to learn more, it’s definitely helpful. The problem is if a person thinks they can read because furigana is there, they will definitely become disillusioned when they get to intermediate reading when furigana disappears. Or rather, only appears on the odd kanji or odd reading.

Instead of saying not to do anything else if it has furigana, I guess it is more a matter of don’t let it become a crutch and never move beyond needing that help? Maybe that would have been a better way for me to put it.

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