Hello everyone! This is my first actual post in the discussion boards—though I have commented once or twice over the years—and it’s to commemorate reaching level 60. As you’ll see in my stats, it’s taken me some time to get here, but I would still say the experience of WaniKani has been worth it overall.
It feels great to finally have reached this point, and it’s invigorating to be able to look ahead at where I’ll go next! Though I’m not sure how interesting it will be to everyone, I’m going to outline my own journey with Japanese and put some reflections below, so please read through if you’re curious!
(Sorry, it’s super long and I didn’t edit for cohesion. I guess after all of this time I ended up with more to say than I expected). I’ve sectioned everything off below, in case you’re only interested in reading certain parts. Please forgive the walls of text .
Stats and Study Method
Here are the numbers (I didn’t use many scripts, so I don’t have any more detailed data, unfortunately). As you can see, I didn’t exactly power through WaniKani, for various reasons I’ll cover below. Still, apart from the first 10 levels and a few outliers (the late 20-ish day levels are because of different trips I took), I kept a decent pace.
In terms of review structure and study method, I didn’t do anything all that rigorous. In general, I did one group of reviews in the morning and one at night, with an extra set around lunchtime if I had done lessons that morning. I did lessons whenever I had time, though when I reached a set of kanji lessons, I usually prioritized doing those in the morning, as it let me hit the first SRS intervals properly.
I used textbooks to learn grammar, and eventually joined Bunpro to review (I’m now working through their N1 grammar, just to make sure I’ve seen it). I didn’t prioritize vocabulary for the first half of WaniKani, as I felt studying with textbooks and living in Japan would balance out WaniKani’s selection. This was true to a point, but around lvl 25-30 I started working through Anki decks separated by JLPT level, and recently added my last new card from N1 into my review cycle (~7000 cards total). They’ve worked well for me, but if I were to give advice to someone else, I’d probably recommend a Core deck followed by making your own cards. Either way, I think the important thing is simply building up a vocabulary for input, and any way of doing that is fine.
I don’t have any kind of log or record of my study hours, but I generally study from 2-4 hours per weekday (weekends I either take off or do light review), plus whatever immersion I get from living in the country. My actual immersion is variable, and for better or worse I haven’t set a strict immersion goal—I read when I want to, listen to podcasts intermittently, and only watch a Japanese program if it catches my interest. Luckily, I’m able to use Japanese on the regular because I live here, but were that not the case I would certainly have to focus more on the immersion front to see similar progress.
Really, that’s about it for my methods. I’ve taken a more scattered approach to learning than some, but even so I’ve been able to get to N2 level with a clear path forward, so I’m happy with it. From here, my main focus is on improvement through reading and having conversations, so I also feel that I’ve left the area of quantifiable improvement behind and will be dealing with more shades of gray in the future, but I wanted to at least touch on my study practices, if only a little.
Next, I’m going to talk less about how I studied and more about why, and also what has happened because of it. From here it’ll be a little more wordy, so I hope you’ll forgive me.
My History and Goals for Japanese
I think I’m a little nonstandard on this site when it comes to learning Japanese, as I didn’t really have a connection to the language itself when making the decision to study it. I watched anime through my teen years (Dragonball and Naruto being my entry points), and am friends with people who really love Japanese media and culture, but for me the connection didn’t really extend past knowing some shows and games I liked were made in Japan.
When engaging with Japanese media as a teen I wouldn’t say I connected to the cultural background of those media, and though I watched subbed anime I never gave the language more than a passing thought. By the time I entered college, I had stopped watching anime and was reading a very small number of translated manga for fun, at which point I’d say any interest in Japan (and by extension the language) had faded away near-completely. I was interested in American sub-cultures and western antiquity, and had you asked me about Japan and its culture, it would have ranked relatively low. It just wasn’t a topic I viewed myself spending any amount of time on.
The unexpected turn came in my final years of university, when I experienced a pretty radical change in interest and career goals. I’ll try my best not to ramble about my own academic history, but my focus was in Anthropology and History, with particular interest in culture contact in the western world and antiquity. At this time I was at the finish line of my Latin study (reading a lot of Cicero and Catullus for those interested) and had already finished my primary Anthropological coursework.
This gave me plenty of time to think about my own interests, and through a whirlwind of conversation, reading, and working with the university museum collection, I became really interested in tourism industries and individual identity. This interest crystallized over the fall of my last year, and I came out knowing that (for various reasons) the populations I would be interested in working with were in South America….and Japan.
I already knew some Spanish, and with my Latin background felt it wouldn’t be too difficult to study, and so in my final semester of university I took a single Japanese course, figuring I could get a basis in the more difficult language as I decided what my next move would be. The class was fun and engaging, but at the end of it I knew if I wanted to have a real shot at doing any research involving Japan, I would need to learn more—which is what prompted me to move to Japan, get a job, and work on gaining a proficiency in the language before graduate school.
I created this account on WaniKani a few months after completing that course, but took it very slowly before moving to Japan. Because I knew that my plans could easily change, I was not incredibly motivated to study during the time I remained in the States—an issue that wasn’t helped by my general lack of interest in Japanese media. Instead, I moved lazily through the first 12 or so levels before taking up a new job in the US and falling into my first period of inactivity, which lasted over a year until I moved to Japan and regained my motivation.
I moved to Japan in 2020, before everything started to descend into chaos, and finally had a reason to resume studying. I worked through my backlog of reviews and started up lessons again, carrying myself through another 10 or so levels.
At this point, I took another break, although this was not because I lacked motivation but rather because my motivation had shifted to grammar. Actually being in Japan had revealed to me in full force how little a single semester had taught me, and so I decided to dive fully into grammar, and burned through basic and intermediate textbooks while setting kanji aside. As I was at level twenty-one already, my reading ability was appropriate to my level of study, and I stopped logging into WaniKani for 160 days while I worked through Genki I+II and Tobira, and practiced with my friends and co-workers.
This was the point where I realized that an intermediate kanji ability (probably WK lvl 25-30 plus a few important kanji) is really all that I needed if I just wanted to live in Japan, talk with my friends, and read the basic information I saw around me. This realization made me lazy for a little while, and extended my second long break—if things had gone a little differently, this may have been the point that I left WK for good and just learned on my own, had it not been for my overall goal.
It feels odd to mention it this far into my monologue, but my ultimate goal with the language is to be able to understand it in an academic context (both written and spoken), and speak it to a professional (if sometimes clunky) level. This goal is why I eventually came back to WK, and made it to level 60. Although I could have learned the rest of the kanji I needed through immersion and flashcards, and maybe done it more quickly, WaniKani had taken me that far, and I wanted to see it through to the end.
And so here I am now, at level 60 with a long way to go (Japanese is hard!). Through WK, textbooks, vocabulary study, and a decent amount of immersion (I’m an introvert in Japan, too, so I could have done this a lot more), I’ve gained a confidence that I will be able to use the language professionally when the time comes. WaniKani has been only one part of that journey, but I very much appreciate the role it played in my getting to a usable level with the language. It’s certainly been an interesting journey so far, and I’m curious as to where it will take me next.
From here I’m also going to write out some reflections on Japanese in general, so please take a look at those if you’re interested!
Given how long my last section was, I’ll try to keep my reflections brief overall. I don’t really think I’m qualified to give advice, but I’ll start with some general thoughts I would express to myself from two years ago if I had the chance, and then add some more personal reflections. They’re bound to be biased, but either way I hope you can get something from them.
General thoughts (advice?):
WaniKani isn’t perfect (the inconsistency of its glosses was always my biggest complaint), but it really doesn’t have to be. You can learn kanji more quickly on your own (and for free), but it’s important to ask yourself if you will do it that way. The answer is different for everyone.
You don’t need to know all of the kanji perfectly, but it helps to know them well.
To follow this, grammar and vocabulary are as or more important than kanji (kanji comes with vocab, after all). Wanikani vocab is useful, but there’s so much more. Don’t worry if it slows you down—study them!
Scripts aren’t necessary, but they are helpful. Take it from someone who didn’t start using scripts until level 50—double-check is a gift direct from God, if you’re responsible with it.
Japanese is hard—it might even be the hardest, in some ways—but everyone can do it. Cut yourself some slack. You’ll get there.
Make your own mnemonics often, and make them silly.
Appreciate your progress as much as you can, and recognize where you would like to go next.
There will always be people who are better than you, but you can make sure that tomorrow you’re one of those people.
Learning Japanese has given me a lot, and one of those things is a new appreciation for Japanese media. Though I still don’t watch a lot of anime or read a lot of manga, they’ve come back into my life a little, and I appreciate them more than I did in college. I’ve also come to appreciate that Japanese literature extends beyond Haruki Murakami and Natsume Soseki, and I’m excited to read books from more Japanese authors.
Using a language inter-personally makes it confusing and less pretty (oji-san Japanese is something else), but it deepens your connection to it. This is the best part of learning the language for me—even though I can’t say that I love Japanese aesthetically or mechanically, I can say I love the people I’ve met through it.
Making habits really is as simple as making a habit, sometimes. Learning Japanese has also helped me commit to the habit of learning how to sketch, and listening to new music everyday. I’m very grateful for it.
Being the only one in a room to not be fluent in a language is an eye-opening experience in a lot of ways. Not only has it helped me appreciate the struggles of many people in the United States in a new way, it’s also helped me to get over the fear of speaking poorly. When you’re already the worst at something, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Even though I’ve done a lot with the language and can read and use it to at least a decent level, things still often feel new to me. I view this as a good thing, because a year ago much of what I saw felt new and foreign. I think we all reach a point where “I’ve never seen this before” becomes “I’ve never seen this used in this way before.” and I try to keep this in mind whenever I become frustrated.
Learning languages is incredibly rewarding, and I’m excited to continue the journey sometime in the future by finally getting good at Spanish. After Japanese, I think it’s gonna be a refreshing experience ;).
My plans from here are overall pretty simple:
- Continue reviews on WK for as long as it feels beneficial.
- Read and read and read. Especially academic articles, as the language there is something I need to be familiar with.
- Listening and speaking practice. I can have conversations, so now I want to increase my ability to do so smoothly. This will be my primary focus so long as I’m in Japan.
- Start studying Spanish at an undetermined point in the future.
- Work on my accent. I don’t think mine is bad, and I’ve never put a lot of emphasis on pitch accent actively, but if there were ever a time to become conscious of how I sound when I speak, I guess it’s now.
And that’s all from me! If you read through everything you’re a saint, and even if you didn’t I still think you’re great.
Thank you for indulging me while I reflected on the beginnings of my Japanese journey, and I wish everyone here the best going forward. Keep at it, and have fun!