Hello all. I don’t really post here in the forums, but I figured since I got to level 60 it would be a shame to not take use of this vastly wide-reaching, monumental platform (/s) to give a few tips that helped me along the way, not just with Wanikani, but with learning Japanese in general. Along with that, I’ll indulge for a second by talking about what lead me to learning Japanese, why I stuck with it, and where I am now. I’ll also quickly drop this chart in place of some legit stats, because honestly I just don’t really have any statistics trackers except for this one and I’m too lazy to go download some more (lol).
Why I started
I don’t remember exactly how I started watching and reading linguistics related content, but I’m pretty sure I got into it because of Tom Scott’s language files . These videos are incredibly interesting, and for someone who had never given a single thought to all the weirdness and complex structures behind humans’ ability to produce language, some of these topics were honestly mind-blowing. Tom Scott is a pretty popular educational youtuber, and I imagine a lot of people like me first discovered the world on linguistics through him, without ever searching for it. From there I looked for more, and I found channels like Langfocus and Nativlang, which I also highly recommend. A hidden gem of sorts also came in the form of Simon Roper, who makes incredibly in depth and insightful videos about the history of language, and he also talks a lot about Old English.
Anyway, from this interest I started taking up linguistics more seriously going into university, and I also decided that I wanted to learn a language. The language I initially settled on was the constructed language Esperanto. Esperanto was such a fascinating idea to me that I felt compelled to learn it, and the idea that I could be part of an exclusive club of global speakers was weirdly exciting. This video by Langfocus is a good introduction to the language.
As I continued, however, I noticed that I actually was really invested in this process, and that I was spending more and more time on learning because I found it fun. At some point, I turned toward myself and asked, “Why don’t I take this opportunity to learn something more… useful?” That’s pretty much when I decided I wanted to drop Esperanto and learn Japanese. In terms of foreign, translated content that I consumed, like many other people around my age, Japanese really seemed to beat out every other contender. I’m not a huge watcher of anime, but I did have a decently sized manga collection, and I had read several books by Japanese authors, including electronic ‘visual novels’ such as Higurashi when they Cry and the House in Fata Morgana. The idea of being able to read some of these amazing works in their original form spurred me on, and the fact that Paul from Langfocus (Who I really look up to) also spoke the language convinced me that I would be able to learn it in time as well. At the end of his video talking about Japanese, Paul gave a quick word to potential learners. This message, though short and simple, was nevertheless inspiring to me, and I started the process of learning Japanese a little more than a year and a half ago.
I’m still well within the process of learning, and am by no means an expert in learning languages yet. This is merely some (hopefully) helpful advice, based on my own personal experiences.
Everyone experiences those gut punches of trying to read or listen to something you think you’re capable of, whereupon you discover that it is actually far out of your league. Even though you posses the knowledge that you’ll be able to read or hear that material properly in time, it sometimes is difficult to understand that fact on an emotional level. Whenever I come across material like this, instead of trying to struggle through it and try to prove to myself that I can do it when I really can’t, I set a 6-12 month reminder on my phone. “Come back to this.” In fact, I’ve already hit a couple of those reminders, and I can honestly say there is no better feeling than being able to understand something that once plagued you. When a years worth of progress, though slow and hard to perceive while experiencing it, jumps out at you all at once, that is a tremendous confidence boost. So put down that novel you can’t read yet and focus on something else. You gain hardly anything from struggling for hours on material, maniacally googling and dictionary checking, only to make a single page’s worth of progress.
I learned to listen a lot before trying to speak. In my personal experience, listening leads to far more progress than speaking does, because listening helps with both your listening AND speaking. Essentially, the more you listen, the better you’ll be able to speak. I got to a point where I was comfortable listening to intermediate-learner oriented podcasts before finding a teacher on Italki. I was very surprised to see just how much I was capable out of the gate, with natural** speaking habits having formed seemingly out of nowhere. Also, being able to speak does you no good if you can’t understand your partner. Listen to a lot of podcasts and get comfortable with the language before engaging with it, it will boost your confidence and make you a LOT less scared when you actually start trying to have conversations.
This is a short but important one. Read while you study on WaniKani. Read a lot. I’m really surprised when I see that there are people here who speedrun level 60 without really reading much, as if WaniKani is all strictly preparatory material. Things will stick so much easier once you start seeing them in actual content. A good way to read fun stories if you’re on some of the earlier levels is Satori Reader. They have a website and an app, and you’re able to link your WaniKani account so that any kanji out of your level gets furigana to help you.
Lastly, here is a bunch of resources that have been particularly helpful to me, not including the most obvious ones which you can easily google or get through learners’ wikis and the like. First, like I just mentioned is Satori Reader. Great way to start reading in my opinion. Lots of explanations of common structures and actually useful translations that aim to help you understand the source material rather than being clean and sounding nice. The next thing I recommend is the wanikani phone app tsurukame. This 3rd party app will help you get reviews done even when you’re on the go or lazily lying in bed. I really like it. After that, I HIGHLY recommend the Eijiro corpus. There are lots of structures and patterns that won’t show up in a dictionary, but that you can easily find in this massive online corpus of english-japanese translations. It contains just about every Japanese AND English idiom known to man and has translations of them. Something to note however if that this site is meant for Japanese English learners, though it is still extremely useful the other way around. Their pro service is something like 35 bucks a year, very worth it in my opinion for access to even more translations. They also have a phone app.
So where am I at now? After a year and a half of daily study, I can read manga comfortably, I can read most light novels at a slow pace, I can listen to intermediate podcasts such as Nihongo con Teppei and Learn Japanese with Noriko, and I can have very basic, simple conversations with actual Japanese people. What I still can’t do: I can’t read adult-oriented news sites without checking the dictionary every 3 sentences, I can’t understand most shows or podcasts where adults are talking normally at a regular quick pace to each other, and I still run into kanji I don’t recognize relatively often. I’m excited for where I’ll be in another 1.5 years. WaniKani has helped me tremendously and I’ll keep using it for another month or two, but from then on I plan on going for a more natural approach, mainly because I’ll be at the point where that’s actually possible. I wish all of you the best and hope you stick with learning Japanese because it is easily one of the most rewarding hobbies I’ve taken up in my life. Thanks for reading
(P.S. please don’t compare yourself or your progress to anyone else, regardless of if they’re doing better or worse than you. I only posted what little “stats” I did because it seems to be more or less tradition around here. Also sorry if this post is a bit of a rambly mess, I had no intended structure going into it and this is just what came out after 40ish minutes of frantic typing)