Level 60 (well kind of) post and my (admittedly overly critical) opinion on WaniKani

Hello everyone, I wanted to make yet another level 60 thread and share my thoughts on WaniKani. There are a couple of things I didn’t really like about WaniKani that I rarely see discussed on this forum, and I’d like to hear people’s thoughts.

First off, for those angered by the fact I dare make a level 60 post without actually being level 60 (and for those who like looking at graphs) here’s my progress.

I started February 10th last year, and I reached level 56 3 days ago, so there was enough time to actually reach level 60… if the reorder script didn’t stop working.

Also first off: I sort of cheated. I didn’t do any of the vocabulary reviews past level 28. Which leads me to my first criticism of WaniKani: vocabulary reviews.

I find vocabulary reviews to be an immense waste of time. Same could be said, in part, for vocabulary lessons. There are a lot of vocabulary items that have no reason to be taught at all. I’m talking about する verbs, or vocabs like 明朗. Bright + bright = bright. That’s a really tough vocab, better learn it with 5 reviews in 2 days and 5 other in the next 4 months.

As for the rest of the vocabs, it makes sense to learn those but I see no reason at all to review a vocab after having successfully answered the 2 days time step review (in other words, past Guru). If you know the kanji and you have the context to help you, you will be able to recall what the word means regardless of having burned the vocab after 4 months or not. If you don’t, you could make a card for that vocab in a SRS app of your choosing and re-learn it with the WaniKani steps. Rinse and repeat until you get it right.

Multiply this by x6000 since vocab reviews will take away the majority of the time you spend on reviews. I think people don’t realize it because most dilute their WaniKani journey over years, but you are spending a lot of time on vocab reviews. And I find that to be wasted time that could go into grammar/immersion/whatever suits your liking.

So how are you supposed to learn alternative kanji readings? How are you supposed to strengthen that kanji knowledge without vocabs?

What I did is I made Kanji cards in Anki, which have the reading WK teaches you in front + 1 vocab for each additional reading. That way you’ll review the kanji meaning and all the kanji sounds in one step instead of 1 kanji review + countless other vocabulary reviews. A lot of time saved, and I feel like it’s more efficient from a SRS point of view. Doing multiple vocabulary reviews in a short timespan sort of “cheats” the SRS for the kanji reviews for obvious reasons. All this leads me to my second WaniKani criticism: no versatility.

All items (radicals, kanji, vocabs) have the exact same review stages. No “Easy” reply, no way to skip the regular learning intervals for items you know you’ll be able to recall in 2 days without the need to review it 5 times in 2 days, which make up at least half of your daily review count (in my experience). No way to start the next level whenever you feel like, especially in the later levels, when you are stuck at 33 our of 34 kanji needed because of 1 radical that most of the time is actually a kanji you already learned.

I am aware of the (supposed) reason for this: WK doesn’t want you to overwhelm yourself since the SRS system can go out of hand really fast if you learn to much stuff. I get it. A warning would have been enough though, let me decide my own pace.

The only thing that can make WaniKani more versatile (and my opinion, a bearable experience) are scripts, which is something that I find ridiculous. The fact that a spelling mistake in a review can in some cases delay your level up is especially mind blowing to me. Again, I get the reason for this. I guess spelling the answer correctly helps you learn better than spelling wrong or not spelling at all? I suppose it does. But we should be given the choice to have no need to insert the answer at all. It’s a premium service we are paying here, I’d expect at least the reorder script to be implemented in the basic WK system (and a native dark theme!).

So we get to my third point: it feels to me like WK isn’t worth what you are paying for. WK is a honeypot for absolute beginner Japanese learners. It has a great UI and it has a system that actually makes you learn all the kanji you’ll need in a year with 0 effort on your part, other than the time you put in it. What’s not to like. I feel like the people behind WK noticed it was selling well as it was so there was no reason to improve the system (not blaming anyone here, these are just my impressions). I know there’s a whole thread about all the updates WK received in the past year or so, but I don’t feel like adding synonyms or a couple of kanji (that you find in absolute beginner books like GENKI) over years is nearly enough.

I feel like there’s more to say about WK but I don’t want to make the post too long. In the end I would not recommend WK, especially for full price, especially the life time subscription, unless you are someone who can’t use computers at all and/or doesn’t want to bother with learning how to use SRS apps like Anki (which is an invaluable skill in my opinion, in case you want to learn anything at all really).

I know I’m probably being too harsh here, so don’t hate on me for disliking WK :sweat_smile: I just wanted to share my (I hope constructive) negative feedback and hear everyone’s thoughts on this.

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Interesting perspective! I am still early on in my WK journey, but as a new Japanese learner I find the vocab to be the most valuable part. I could understand it being frustrating if I already knew how to speak Japanese and was just trying to learn Kanji, but for me the learning of the kanji combined with the learning of new vocab words is why I have been enjoying WK so much and feel like it is a good use of my time.

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Oh absolutely, I’m not saying you should remove the vocab part altogether, quite the opposite. It was essential at first to help me understand how kanji can and do relate, where vocab meanings come from, etc,. Vocabulary meanings that seem obvious now without having to look at the English translation would have been really difficult to figure out when I was a beginner, even if I knew the kanji meanings.

But I do feel like that one could easily stop doing vocab review after having spent a month or two on WK.

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I suppose I am the weird one of the group, because I always enjoy learning new vocabulary more than kanji. I am not in a race. I do want to get to level 60, but the long way round. When I see a new kanji, of course I can slam it into my head, but what helps me way more is the vocabulary. Kanji on their own don’t really do a lot for me, I love learning the vocabulary because that is what helps me most when reading manga.
I love all the different vocabularies that share some kanji - and also to show how the meanings might differ or might be similar. I love that whole background, and that’s why I want to take my time.

I will never forget the day when I learnt 換気 (ventilation) and my first thought was - nope. I will never remember that. Opened a manga on the very same day and what was on the 7th page? 換気. I would have never got the meaning if I had just studied the kanji on their own. And you can be pretty sure I will remember it for quite some time now.

But I think, to each their own. I enjoy it a lot, I don’t think I have spent my money better in recent years, because I have come back to WaniKani every single day. Even if I am too sick to study grammar, I am never too sick to go through some reviews. It has kept me an active student for 2 years now, and even though I might not be as fast as others, it’s constant improvement for me.

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I see where you are coming from and of course if you enjoy it there’s nothing wrong with that. The way I see it it’s either

  • Learn a vocab through the WK system
  • Learn the kanji, sort of “discover” the vocab doing the lessons and then not review it after Guru, and eventually encounter it in the wild in a context you like (so you’ll probably remember it better than you used the WK system)

From a time spent perspective my choice was clear, but as you said, to each their own, there’s no need to rush.

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Since when is there not enough time to reach level 60?

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Well to get to the kanji reviews of my current level I’d have needed to clear 6670 items first (since the reorder script stopped working) which was not exactly a wise use of time lol

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Thanks for chiming in with a different perspective. It’s extremely rare to see someone get to level 60 (which you probably will in a couple of days anyway so… :wink: ) and mention a lot negative points of their journey.

Right, but why do you think so? Is it because the vocab is outdated and no one uses it? Why would teaching する compounds not be worth it?

明朗 sounds to me like a good example of a word that not only lets you practice the readings, but also aligns with the individual kanji meanings helping to reinforce that :slight_smile: . I can see a ton of other words like 台詞, which uses non-standard readings and doesn’t align with WaniKani’s overall goal.

I think in this case it would probably make more sense altogether to use a different app like Anki for vocab which one would find useful. To my experience there are some words whose meanings I forget overtime, because it takes a bit of brain flexing to reason them from the individual kanji.

I was recently thinking of a similar approach using Anki, but taking a vocab-first approach - showing a vocab card and breaking it down into individual kanji with single glosses + perhaps 1 sentence to show how to derive the meaning of the word from the kanji. But I can see how your approach would also be useful :slight_smile:

My main issue with WaniKani in this respect is that:

  • It splits kanji and vocab reviews in long enough time that the kanji meanings in vocab might diverge from the single kanji gloss that was taught before.

  • It doesn’t teach nearly enough alternative readings to be a significant help when one begins reading. When I started reading I had to look up a ton of words, including kana-only words, but also words which used non-obvious readings.

I think Vanilla once made a good point that the initial pre-1 day stages are not very useful, because they don’t contribute much to retention. Since I’m now using mostly Anki for learning vocab, I can say that the first stage being at 24 hours is perfectly sufficient. One can also adjust the lesson reps in a way that you’ll see the item 2-3 times when learning it before starting the actual SRS.

Removing the initial stages in WaniKani would already cut down significantly on review load. Reducing radical reviews to Guru stage would help even further :slight_smile: .

I would say it’s mostly that the SRS depends on spacing so overwhelming oneself would be counterproductive :smiley: .

Exactly this! When I started using Anki I tailored it closely to WaniKani and also added an input field for answers. Writing the answer however doesn’t really contribute much to learning and is both slower and prone to typos as you said. Regular flashcards are sufficient enough :slight_smile:

I wouldn’t be as negative about it in general, because I think of WaniKani more as a tool, one of many. From experience it did positively contribute to me learning kanji readings and meanings, and being able to visually break down kanji into perceivable blocks like the radicals. Even for slightly more advanced learners that might be useful and some of them actually do use WaniKani :smiley: .

But also like you, I wouldn’t recommend it if one were to start learning Japanese. I have the impression that it’s perfectly feasible to grab one of the Anki core decks like the 2.3k or the 10k and work one’s way through it, while doing a textbook like Genki or Minna no Nihongo and later Tobira or something else. I even feel Genki’s approach to teaching kanji is arguably better, because it covers all core readings of each beginner kanji and puts them instantly in context, exactly the way you suggested with your Anki card strategy.

Also, to be frank, 1 year is a lot of time and there are people out there who were able to reach significant proficiency in Japanese by focusing on interacting with native content within that time.

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That’s not gonna happen, since I can’t reorder the reviews anymore I can’t level up because of the huge backlog of reviews. If not I’d have waited to be level 60 before making this post, to get that sweet sweet level 60 bedge :smile:

する verbs are just a noun + the verb する (at least the way GENKI puts it), so I don’t feel the need to learn, let alone review, a term that you already know if you know the meaning of the noun and what する means. I know there’s a relatively low amount of する compounds on WK (~100 or so?) but I was just making examples of stuff that WK teaches you that I feel like is useless.

As for the other vocabulary, I feel like it’s pointless to learn it like that because

  1. In my experience, it’s more time efficient to learn it reading context you like rather than through a SRS system (again, it’s not a race, but there’s only so much time one can dedicate to learning Japanese)
  2. I think real knowledge of vocabulary comes from reading the definition in a J-J dictionary and exposure to the vocab. With a SRS for vocab in kanji + English meaning you’ll get really good at translating vocabs I suppose but it won’t get you one bit closer to better understanding the language in my opinion. In other words, you might as well read an English translation if you read Japanese by translating it into English.

By reviewing 明朗 you are indeed reinforcing your reading/meaning knowledge but it’s not a good thing in my opinion, it’s a waste of time. The SRS of the Anki cards I mentioned already take care of both the meanings and the readings. You are recalling the meaning and reading more than you would if you just reviewed the individual kanji cards, which is a waste of time and effort that could go into something else.

Same as the point I made about learning the vocab from context and definitions rather than translations. SRS doesn’t really work with vocabs for me, unless you are reviewing the literal J-J definition instead of the English translation, which is madness.

Indeed, but assuming you only use WK, a 4 days/level pace is definitely doable even for long levels. There’s no reason to not have the liberty to choose to go faster (unless they are actively trying to slow down your progress so you are forced to subscribe again :thinking:).

Of course it’s not all bad, not at all, but I decided to focus on the negative sides in my post.

Thanks for the lengthy reply, appreciate the input!

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Who are these people :sweat_smile:

Anyway, I agree with your criticisms vis-a-vis Wanikani being an expensive premium service. Personally I enjoy it as is (with a little help from user scrips, which I admit is annoying), but I get where you’re coming from.

Your Anki setup for kanji sounds pretty effective :+1:

Edit:

I disagree with this, I started immersing by reading 20 days ago, and the vocab I’ve been learning through JP-ENG SRS in Anki and Wanikani has really made the initial steps a lot smoother than they otherwise would have been. I look forward to being able to use a monolingual dictionary, but JP-ENG SRS is basically a necessary intermediate step imo.

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Right, my bad. I thought that perhaps there is a chance to revive the reorder script somehow and make it work. Oh well :frowning: .

Okay, I see what you mean now! Yes, I agree reviewing the core + する compound as separate items is a waste of time, since one already knows the meaning from the core. My Anki deck entries look kind of like this to compensate for this:
説明(する) - I already know it can be a する verb, so no need for a second flashcard

I see where our perspectives differ a little bit then.

  1. I usually use SRS to get those reps in for words I might not see as often as I would like to, because if one focuses on reading, not all words will appear with the same frequency :slight_smile: . That being said, doing SRS with a lot of words is immensely time-consuming and I see that from my schedules. Anki is easily 1/3 - 1/2 of my study time, depending on how much time I have.
  2. I think if one knows the possible meanings of a word from a J-J dictionary and is able to construct a relatable translation in English, that should also be sufficient. I use JP->EN cards and they do help, but mostly because I know the meaning of the JP word from context prior.
    Where I think it would fail was when the English translation was arbitrary and not relatable, as I often found to be the case when relying on WaniKani vocab glosses.

Big thanks for your reply and the original post as well! :slight_smile:

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It was such a bad service that you had to finish it.

“Time can be spent on immersion instead” Dude, we’re talking about an hour a day here. Don’t you think people are doing immersion aswell?

It’s vocab, how is it a waste of time? You’ll learn the vocab anyway, might aswell be integrated with WK.

You did both anki and WK, and tells us to drop the vocab and mess around with anki for some kind of weird benefit when it would probably end up taking more time and effort.

I just can’t.

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An hour a day is easily 1/6 - 1/4 of the free time a working adult has. I’d say it’s a lot of time especially if done for 2 or 3 years straight.

Again it’s not a bad service, it has some benefits, but I can’t say it’s worth it unless you really don’t like bothering with other (potentially) better systems.

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As a beginner, the draw to WK over making your own decks for me was that it’s premade and pre-paced, so you don’t need to learn it yourself to then make the SRS system. Although I agree that overall the most effective way would be to learn it, write the SRS and then test yourself on the SRS, it is a lot of time and quite daunting for a beginner!

I do agree that it would be good if they could start to implement popular userscripts and things like wkstats into the main programme as it would improve the user experience. While its great that they’ve made the platform open to modding etc, it would obviously be better to have these things available natively. Things like being able to see the status of earlier levels at a glance would be a massive benefit.

I’m a bit on the fence about skipping the vocab as I want to learn more readings of the kanji and I don’t know much vocab anyway, but I agree that they fill up your reviews very quickly. I also wish they made a clearer distinction on whether you’re learning the on’yomi or kun’yomi and which one it is asking for in the SRS - I wonder if a ‘kanji only’ mode could replace ‘kanji’ and ‘vocab’ with ‘on’yomi’ and ‘kun’yomi’ and if that would be better for people like you?

I’ve just gone for the 1 year and I’ll see how far I get!

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Can you share your Anki settings and couple of your cards from your deck as a sample? It could be a very useful for others. Thank you in advance

Congrats :slight_smile:

Honestly, the last 10 levels feel really disconnected from the rest as a whole that I’m not sure they did the right thing by adding 10 more levels. My critical responses to threads asking for 10 more levels can probably attest to that. :wink:

I think that having gone through the majority of WK gives you a pretty good perspective on things, and I appreciate many of your points.

However, this is where we’re going part ways in opinion, unfortunately.

But this one we can agree on.

I think you’re missing the fact that the reinforcement is bidirectional and that the “meanings” of the Kanji are informed by the words that they appear in. IMO, the vocab is more important than the Kanji. After WK, I remember Kanji by what words they appear in rather than the other way around. I have to think for a minute to come up with, say, words that use 明.

That’s probably where we differ the most.

I understand where you’re coming from. I rice linux desktops for fun, so I can understand how doing some things can feel trivial for some people and not for others.

But I’ve tried Anki many, many, many times over the years, and at this point I’m more than happy to pay for someone else’s solution.

So I vehemently disagree that it’s time saved, and although I will grant that it may be more efficient to do it that way in regards to time, I’m not sure that it’s better for long-term recall.

That one, I think is fair. The WK team had to make some decisions in the creation of the product that mean it’s not going to work for some people, and I think that’s fine. I think the majority of their customer base is happy, or at least ok, with the tradeoff, so I don’t see it as inherently bad that inflexible in many senses.

I can respect that opinion. It’s worth it to me based on what I went over above, but it’s not going to fit everyone.

One of the problems is that for most of us who go on past Wanikani, those problems are transitory. It makes sense why they’re focusing on fixing things in the first 20-30 levels since that’s what many of their new users are going to, but it is frustrating to go through the last half of WK, especially the 50-60 levels.

I’d say it’s more efficient to do both. There are things which context excels at and things which SRS excels at.

Also, there may only be so much time to dedicate to learning Japanese in a single day, but you have to remember that this is a journey of several years at least depending on what level you want to get to.

Agreed. But I don’t think that invalidates the approach of using J-E as a crutch to begin with and then transitioning over to J-J later.

Are you using J-J now in your learning? At least for me, the transition was painful, even after finishing Wanikani and it took me a while to be able to internalize things in Japanese well enough for the definitions to make sense.

Thank you for sharing. :slight_smile:

I always enjoy reading posts from people who have finished WK or have stopped using it near the end. I like to contrast my experience with theirs and I think it’s a good discussion to have.

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I like the vocab reviews. I think is pretty important, since some of them don’t have the reading we would expect. Beyond, the I have realized that the redundant words as the given example are very common in japanese, and we could think they doesn’t exist or mean something different, so I think is important show us.

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Noooooo! I am six months in wanikani and I love the vocab so much! I feel very happy by being knowing new words! And for me is an extra challenge (and time wasted) because I am a portuguese talker, and sometimes I even know the meaning in english. Still, I love.

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First if all congrats! But no cake!

If you haven’t done the vocab I think you missed one big feature of Wanikani.

IMHO, compared to other systems, WK proposes:

  • a stricter SRS system compared to other solution
  • Mnemonics, very useful to start with
  • Vocab to reinforce Kanji recognition/reading, see different readings.

This is both the strengh and the weakness of WK. For me it works perfectly well.
Before discovering WK I tried to learn by brute force N5 Kanji, and yes, it is possible, but you make a greater effort and retention is maybe not that good.

The best of WK is that if you are constant, you will memorize kanji and the vocab. It doesn’t require a great effort, you just have to trust the system.

Finally, of course WK is one of many ressources. I myslef currently also uses Japanesepod101, Bunpro, Tobira, Asao Language school, reading mangas and watching anime.
So for instance most of the vocab you will see it in another ressource, but it will stick better if you have seen in in WK.

I enjoy WK and the price is totally worth it according to me.

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Of course, my Anki settings are default except for the learning steps: I use the WaniKani learning steps ( 4 hours → 8 hours → 1 day → 2 days ) for kanji and vocabs that I find really hard to wrap my head around. Then I have a 4h → 1d → 2d for easier vocabs, and just a single 2d step for vocabs that I find really really easy.

In case I find a vocab in the wild that I already learned but I’m not able to recall, I forget the corresponding card and switch it to the “only 2 days” deck (if it’s not already a 2 days card).

As for my kanji cards, I’ll post a couple of screenshots:

This is what a kanji card that has a kun and a on readings look like:

I put a huge space between the two in the expression field so that when I review it, the second term doesn’t make it easier to recall, because while doing the actual review it will look like this

So I basically need to recall the “default” reading first, and then scroll down to the second item in the Expression field.

Then you have cards that get messy when a kanji has a lot of readings like 上:

But it’s easier than it looks to recall all these at the same time, and kanji that I’m learning with more than 2 or 3 readings are fairly rare.

I hope you find it useful, it works really well for me.

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