Learning vs Application (Help!)

Hello! I’m new to the forums, but I am currently just reaching Lvl 6 in WK and feeling myself struggle and plateau. Here and there I am becoming better at recognizing kanji and understanding Japanese sentences I see, but I’m lacking in practical ways to apply what I’m learning, when I try to dip my toe in it still feels too dense and I can’t understand most of what I see still, so I get confused and overwhelmed by the number of unknowns. A lot of apps seem to teach me how to do well at those specific apps, if that makes sense. I memorize, I may absorb about 10% of what I’m doing, can get through reviews or little tests, but if I try to formulate sentences myself or read a book or read Japanese subtitles on something, it’s like all my knowledge and work isn’t transferring into practical use.

Does anyone have a similar experience, or advice for someone like me? What resources would you say really helped you be able to speak with more comfort as you learn? I worry I will blast through these levels and just memorize, not retain or understand how to apply. Should I slow down on WK until I get more comfortable with these other skills?

Thank you!

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That all sounds totally normal! There’s no resource that can take you directly to speaking. The level of comprehension required to speak is really deep. Your listening/reading should be way ahead of your speaking, at first.

I’d recommend going through something like Tae Kim’s guide, to get a quick overview of grammar, then increase your exposure to spoken Japanese. Even if you don’t understand anything, just listen, and let it wash over you. You’ll be surprised at how you’ll improve if you relax and let your brain’s language center do its magic through consistent listening. “Nihongo con Teppei - Japanese Podcast for Beginners” is especially good for this! Episodes are short, he speaks slowly and repeats himself a lot, and his sentences are simple and natural. A more structured approach like GENKI (or a class!) would help too, especially once you’ve got the basics from TK.

WK is great for building vocab and prepping you to read. Listen to the audio, and repeat it out loud, matching pronunciation as closely as you can. Read the first context sentence for each vocab item, even if you don’t understand it, and parse what you can, even if it’s just the particles.

Otherwise, just keep at it. It’s okay to only understand 5% of what you read/hear!

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patience is key

I only started understading some articles and twitter around level 15, before that I felt like john travolta meme trying to understand those sentences.

Now I feel more confident, but I still have to check yomichan all the time. I hope by level 40 I can read faster and check less the dictionary at least.

My problem is still memory, I usually forget basic kanji and vocab and feel frustrated at times. Or confuse reading like じゅう or じゅ .

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This is very reassuring to know, thank you so much. And thanks for these resources too. I will keep on keeping on! I’m proud of how much I’ve learned so far, but I always worry if I’m learning the wrong way , reinforcing bad habits and possibly screwing myself over. I appreciate this mindset and I feel better about where I’m at. <3

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Knowing this makes me so relieved, thank you! I have a friend who is, for lack of better term, a sponge. She easily understands and applies concepts in weeks that take me a few months to solidify. I was feeling like maybe it’s not that she’s exceptionally good at learning quickly and applying quickly, but that I’m doing something wrong, so I wanted to ask other’s experiences. It helps to know I’m not alone in this!

Hi there! Sorry I can’t really offer constructive advice here since we’re about the same level, but I totally feel the same way, especially when it comes to trying to actually make sentences. I feel like I can recognize certain kanji, or maybe a grammar point, but I struggle to actually apply it. And most text contains so much I don’t know that it can be frustrating to even try and get through it, and half the time I can’t decode the grammar… All that to say, I feel ya :sweat_smile:

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Application is tough! It’s super normal to understand much better than you produce, even for native speakers (e.g. there are lots of words that you understand in your native language - passive vocabulary - that you would have difficulty spontaneously using in a sentence, because they’re not that common/not colloquial for speech/are more technical outside your main field of knowledge). It goes double for when you’re learning a new language.

More recognition, more familiarity with the structures do gradually help you use them in production - direct production practice exercises are also helpful (exercise books/textbooks are handy here, so is a tutor - which I have not done).

I generally find that the words that I learn on WK are ‘primed’ - I have a general sense of what they mean, but unless they’re really straightforward words like ‘tree’, I need to see it in context a few times to get a clearer sense of when/how to use it. The knowledge solidifies as you read/listen to more Japanese.

Grammar is kind of rough, because the apps have a limited number of examples for each point, so really you can memorize those and not the grammar point. You really need to see those points in more and more contexts to solidify them.

I find most foreign language concepts (vocabulary, grammar) start pretty fuzzy - kind of like you drew a big circle on a map and said ‘the town is there’ - you’re in the neighbourhood, you have a general sense, but it’s different from being able to draw an arrow to exactly where the town is. The more exposure to that info in different contexts you get, the smaller the circle on the map gets and the better you ‘get it’ and can use it. I think it’s pretty normal for different points to be at different stages of fuzziness, depending on when you learned them and how much you’ve seen them. You are still learning when you have this fuzzy sense of knowledge, you just need more practice/exposure to refine it.

This sounds super normal. I wouldn’t necessarily slow down on WK unless it’s using so much time that you don’t have time for grammar study. There’s so much vocabulary to learn to understand anything you read/listen to - you don’t really want to delay growing your vocabulary - although you can do that outside of WK with vocabulary that’s more relevant for you right now if you want.

Aside on reading books

Reading a native book in Japanese is always a big jump from textbooks/exercises - the difficulty is not really controlled, there will be tons of things you don’t know unless it’s a book really directed at learners like a graded reader (which could be a great step for you as far as application at a level that’s doable for you). Grammar knowledge is often a stumbling block for moving to native material - even when you know the point, sometimes you don’t recognize it, can’t figure out which function that particle is doing, or it looks unfamiliar but it’s a more casual form of a structure you know. Looking up vocabulary is somewhat easier than looking up grammar. Depending on your current Japanese level, a native book might still be a bit of a stretch. If it’s something you really want to do, you might try the Absolute Beginner’s Book Club on this forum to have somewhere to ask all of your questions about how the sentences are working. We’re just getting to the end of the current manga, and should be starting a new one in September. With limited grammar/vocab, it can be a really tough slog, but it does feel cool to read something.

I did read my first manga around your WK level - grammar was more of an issue than vocab, and it was HARD, but satisfying to finish - looked up pretty much everything on most pages, but the things I looked up many times have eventually stuck. I then didn’t do much more native reading for a while until I had a bit more knowledge/experience under my belt. Now I read a fair bit - still look up LOTS of stuff, and expect to need to for a long time to come, but am able to enjoy some manga. Books are tougher - take longer, more tiring, and I know that I’m missing a lot with what I’m able to understand - still sticking mainly with kids’ books.

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I don’t have similar experience, unfortunately, but people struggle with various difficulties studying Japanese and I think that’s completely normal :slight_smile: .

You didn’t mention which and whather you’re using any textbook or other resources for studying. What is your overall level of Japanese? Are you starting from scratch or do you have prior exposure to the language?

If you’re starting from scratch, Genki 1 & 2 might be very helpful as it’s written by natives and fairly accessible as a textbook, not to mention it contains a lot useful day-to-day phrases and expressions, too.

If you’re not entirely new to Japanese, perhaps Tae Kim’s guide to Japanese would be reasonable. But that doesn’t cover practice, unfortunately, so you would have to pair it with some sort of exposure to Japanese, like reading manga or short stories for children, with low kanji density.

What helped me the most so far was Tobira, but that’s above N4 level and it’s almost entirely in Japanese so it takes quite some getting used to.

Lastly, we don’t know what your end goal is in terms of language learning. Is it watching movies? Reading books? Moving to Japan? Regardless of the goal though, blasting through levels shouldn’t be a priority, I think, if you want to do something practical with the language :slight_smile: . Otherwise you might end up with incredible kanji knowledge, but no way to apply it.

Ah, whether you should slow down or not - I think WaniKani’s suggestion to start grammar at around level 10 is reasonable, but you can start earlier than that. Some textbooks like Genki do cover some kanji, too, so you wouldn’t be completely lost if starting earlier.

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You will be useless for a lot of time on the start. This is true for all learners, I think. And that’s perfectly fine.

When memorizing things, broadly speaking, you learn to recognize them and recall them.

Wanikani is pretty good at what it is meant to do and rubbish at what it isn’t meant to do. It teaches you to recognize Kanji. It does not teach you to recall them. To practice recall of Kanji, you could use a variety of sources:

  1. Reverse WK deck on Kitsun (it runs you through the vocabulary that is on WK but the prompt is in English and you need to give it the response in Japanese). Good for recall of vocab and, indirectly, Kanji. You could also use the 10k deck.
  2. Writing with Kanji Study: this is an app on Android where you can set up lists of Kanji by WK level to practice writing/recalling the Kanji when given a prompt in English. Good for recall of Kanji.

For both of these options, I’m happy to help with set up if you need some assistance.

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I love the map example!

Building on that metaphor, it’s futile to memorize a detailed map of language-city, then quiz yourself by giving directions from Point A to Point B. That’s basically what you’re doing if you focus on speaking so early, when your knowledge is still so abstract.

Instead, you need to spend some time in the city as a tourist! Explore the city from the inside, through listening. Let the locals show you around. Eventually, you’ll build your own mental map, and that’ll be far more useful and comfortable.

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You put it perfectly into words. Thank you! This is exactly what I’m feeling the effects of, the recall. I will check this out now! :blush: I used Kanji Study at one point early early when I wanted to learn just by browsing, but it was a bit steep at the time. I learned stroke order more than anything, but now thanks to WK I am not so intimidated by the characters themselves, so I will check out their recall deck.

It helps to know that I’m not alone in this feeling! My friend had such a different experience to mine, sometimes I was thinking I was going crazy for not grasping things yet. I study so many things and yet feel like I know so little! It’s a weird dissonance, but other folks have helped me see that it’s pretty normal and that it will become less murky, that’s a relief for us both!

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So many good points—you’ve put it into words so well, thank you! I’m happy to know this is typical of the process. You’re really right that there is SO much vocab to learn before I can really be able to read and understand media even at the simpler levels. I don’t want to slow down but I also haven’t made any time for grammar study beyond the basics. I struggle with the rules, the “order of operations”, exceptions, and hmm what’s the word…I feel like grammar/syntax is the part of language that ties into how the world is perceived, like it’s more emotional? IDK if I’m wording this well lol. It’s just that vocab is more logical to me—it’s very 1:1. This in this language means that in yours. But grammar is more abstract, it’s the part most native speakers “feel” but weren’t even explicitly taught—like how I can’t explain to a learner why a certain order of words in an English sentence is wrong, I just intrinsically know because it sounds weird. So I take forever to understand even the simpler parts and even longer to feel comfortable using it myself to practice because I feel like I am learning an entire way of conceptualizing and breaking down thoughts and ideas. Anywho, I will take this advice to heart and wait a bit before trying to read anything, for my sanity, lol. I really feel better knowing I’m not committing some sort of language learner crime as I continue to do these reviews. I didn’t want to reinforce a bad habit going past this point because it’s really ramping up! Thank you again!

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I like this expansion on the metaphor! I feel a lot better, thank you. I will enjoy the journey and be a tourist and just let it come naturally as I explore more and more. :slight_smile:

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Thank you! I will check out Genki. So far all I’ve used are WK, Duolingo, Various YT videos, and way back I learned the basics on Kanji Study and some stroke order. I want to find some good school-type learning resources, ways children would slowly build up this knowledge with simple stories or textbook exercises, for sure. That’s what I feel will really help me a bit more.

My goal is to learn as much as I can as well as I can, that’s all. I want to be able to speak to native speakers and not sound completely awful, haha. I would love to be able to consume Japanese media with a decent level of proficiency without needing subtitles or to constantly look up words, or to rely on furigana.

I did not know about grammar at level 10, that’s reassuring! So I will follow WK’s advice.

Thank you for your input!

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I’m one of those people who is very “talented” at learning languages; I find it fairly easy to absorb grammar points, figure out pronunciation, things like that. Even so, it’s taken me years of dedicated study to reach my current level and I’m far from being where I want to be. “Talent” doesn’t count for nearly as much as people think it does, what really matters is that you put the work in, and it’s a lot of work. Be prepared for the long haul and don’t expect to make progress overnight; as long as you show up and do the work every day you’ll find your comprehension and speaking ability slowly get better, and before you realize it you’ll be surprised at how much progress you’ve made.

Disclaimer before I say anything else: I’m a Chinese speaker, so kanji are rarely a problem for me, and I also don’t struggle to pick up new readings or meanings unless they’re obscure. As such, I don’t use any SRS at all. It seems that this doesn’t apply to all Chinese speakers, seeing as there are Chinese speakers among WK users, and the least we can say is that some of them like the structure that WK provides even if they would be fine studying kanji usage in Japanese on their own. Furthermore, this means that what I find helpful may also not apply to you. Nonetheless, I’d like to offer my experience.

First of all, as almost everyone has said so far, it’s quite normal to be unable to speak or write naturally in the beginning. This is true for any new language. You need to reach a certain critical mass before you’re able to form anything other than the simplest sentences, and unlike a young native speaker, you probably don’t have a helpful adult near you to answer your questions in real time. You’ll need to learn a few more words and absorb a few more structures before you’ll finally be able to make sentences of your own, so your expressive ability should gradually improve as you receive more input. This doesn’t mean that output practice is useless, however, because output practice can help you recall words you already know more fluidly, and cement those words in your memory. Regardless, my point is that you shouldn’t worry about output too much in the beginning, unless you happen to have friends or teachers to practice with: in that case, by all means, start using what you’ve learnt as soon as possible, and start finding out what works and what doesn’t. (Your practice partner will have to be willing to correct you, of course.)

Secondly,

I really don’t think it’s necessary to wait that long, even if that’s just… two months (?), which isn’t a huge amount of time in the grand scheme of things. I’m pretty sure WK’s recommendation is simply an attempt to reduce frustration among users, since even basic grammar resources have a tendency to use the most common kanji. However, honestly, provided you have a resource that provides furigana or rōmaji, you should do just fine even if you can’t read the kanji: when learning kanji, you should do your best to remember kanji, meaning and reading as a set with lots of links within it (here are some examples of how I’d approach it; you can start with the WK Level 1 list if everything else feels too advanced), but fundamentally, kanji are just visual aids that indicate nuance and help to distinguish homophones. As a Chinese speaker, I’m very thankful that they exist, because there are so many words that sound the same, but in theory, one could do without them given a deep knowledge of context. After all, it’s not as if illiterate fluent Chinese speakers didn’t exist a few decades ago, and they probably still exist now. Same thing with Japanese, I’m sure.

The real question once you start using non-WK resources will be this: what do you want to do about the kanji you encounter in such resources? Learn them yourself? Wait and hope that WK has them in its levels? It’s up to you, but I guess the first option is less natural when you don’t have much experience with learning kanji. I’d personally say do it anyway, and start by learning how to read a kanji aloud in context and how to write it, because that’s how I learnt everything, and I pick up new kanji quickly now precisely because I can guess how to write them and I simply store them as components in a certain spatial arrangement in my head, linked by how my hand moves to write the strokes, but other WK users are going to tell you that that will slow you down (I don’t think so, in the long run) and that it’s not necessary (that much is true). To each their own. All I’m saying is that my own methods have worked very well for me so far.

Finally,

Since you’re checking out courses, I’d like to recommend another one that covers about as much as Genki I and II while costing about half as much. I used the French paperback edition of this course, but they’ve finally released an electronic English edition, which is much cheaper than the print edition with the recordings. If you don’t have issues with working on a language via a computer, then I’d suggest you download the free trial (which includes the first seven of 98 lessons) and see if their teaching style works for you:

Assimil’s approach is essentially guided immersion: it offers a translation on one side, and a text in the target language on the other. Essential grammar and usage features are explained in footnotes. Kanji (starting from relatively simple ones) are used straightaway, and every lesson comes with an approximative pronunciation guide (except perhaps the final few). The advantage of this approach is that you get to see fairly natural Japanese immediately and you learn everything in context, which should make things more memorable and help you associate disparate pieces of knowledge. I also feel that it’s much faster than things like Genki, which include comprehension questions that are probably going to be useless for you on your own: you either know the answer and effectively end up copying from the passage, or you don’t know it and end up guessing, with no teacher to guide you. Neither approach is an efficient use of time as a self-learner, if you ask me. I prefer Assimil’s exercises, which require you to fill in the blanks with an appropriate word that you’ve recently learnt, or to attempt to translate a sentence from Japanese into English to check your understanding.

Some caveats, however:

  1. Some people feel that Assimil doesn’t provide enough grammatical explanation. I personally was only dissatisfied with the ways register changes and the continuous tense were explained. Everything else was decent.
  2. There were a few minor kanji errors in the French edition that I bought in 2015 or 2016. I don’t know if those have been fixed. There are only about five of them in total, however, so it’s nothing too serious, particularly given the value that the the course as a whole provides.

That’s my two pence. Hope it turns out being mildly helpful. All the best. :slight_smile:

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