I guess now that my review counts are finally starting to go down five weeks after finishing level 60 it is time for me to write the customary level 60 post. Here, I would like to reflect a bit on how I fared on my journey, what I liked, what I did not like and where I expect to go next on my journey to learn Japanese.
When I started to use WaniKani one and a quarter years ago, I had already been studying Japanese for quite a while, but never committed to do extensive self-study. I had taken classes at the local branch of the Japan Foundation for five years then using their Marugoto line of textbooks. So, I came in already knowing quite a few words, although I had been a bit lazy in the vocabulary department the past one and a half years.
At that point, my two main weak points were listening comprehension and definitely kanji. The first I started to tackle by listening to a lot of beginner and intermediate podcasts, primarily those by Teppei and Noriko, and the second brought me to WaniKani.
Since I already knew a bit of Japanese and also some kanji, I immediately started going on a fast pace, but I really only settled in into my steady rhythm after reading (parts) of the Ultimate Guide. Applying what I had learned there, I structured my lesson timing and settled in into a weekly level up rhythm.
Leveling up weekly was quite convenient since I had aligned the busy days with my weekly schedule for other activities like my (now online) Japanese lessons. For quite a while, the workload was still very bearable since my accuracy was still quite high. At level 45 it was at 98,5%. At the end of the level 60 it had dropped to 97,4% and now, it is even lower.
I should maybe say that one should take these statistics with a grain of salt since I used the DoubleCheck script and, admittedly, cheated a bit in the higher levels to the levels coming weekly. (I have avoided to cheat on burn reviews, though.) However, without the script, WK would have been impossible for me to do since I did it exclusively on mobile and my fingers are simply to fat to avoid a large number of typos.
I think the one thing that caused most of the deterioration in my accuracy, apart from the vocabulary and kanji becoming more and more obscure and samey towards the end, was using vacation mode. In summer, I had to take a break because I got burned out from a very stressful phase at work and thought I should also not stress myself with reviews in my vacation. That turned out to make things just more stressful after the vacation; I probably had an accuracy of about 70% for at least two weeks. That lead to even more reviews, which does not help the accuracy. Still, I wanted to get it over with. So, I kept on doing lessons and adding more reviews on the pile that way, which is hindsight might not have been the most intelligent approach.
Well, it brought me over the finish line at last. There, a lack of time due to another stressful time at work made me accumulate a large pile of reviews I took over from day to day, a thing I had avoided before. That again screwed up my review timings and made accuracy drop again. Now, I think things are getting back to normal and I can finally enjoy the lowering number of reviews per day.
Here, I would like to convey some of the things I have learned about what seems to be important to make the most out of WaniKani.
I think anybody using WaniKani should at least have looked at part of the Ultimate Guide. It combined so many useful tips. Without it, I would probably have needed a lot longer to figure out how to best arrange my lessons and reviews to match the review timing.
The review timings matter. Although one might first think that the timings between reviews are somewhat arbitrary, they are actually rather well-calibrated. Respecting this is especially important for the first reviews since these lay the foundation. For the later reviews after the apprentice stages, postponing a review for a day might not be a problem, but postponing for an extended amount of time will let you forget the item. I had to learn that the hard way after my vacation and at the end when I a large heap of reviews from day to day.
Avoid Vacation Mode. Although you will not accumulate masses of reviews in vacation mode, you will mess up all of your review timings. Doing this for a day can be fine, which can actually be used to realign the reviews in a week when going fast. However, after an extended use of it, you will most certainly end up with a lot of forgotten items, which then lead to a jump in the review counts the weeks after. If you absolutely have to use it, e.g. because you travel somewhere where you have no proper internet connection, I would suggest to stop lessons three weeks or so earlier. Then, at least you will have little Apprentice or Guru reviews that get the extended review periods.
Try to end every day with an empty review pile. This is basically just an extension of my third point. If you leave items overnight on the review pile, you will most likely mess up the review timing. If this continues for a while, you will miss the review timings for a lot of items, because of the random nature of which items are asked first. I think I you can no longer get all of your reviews done in a day, you are probably going too fast, at least at the moment.
Slow down lessons if things get out of hand. How many lessons you do has the largest impact on how many reviews you will see in a week, unless your accuracy drops al of a sudden. Even after the burn reviews come in, the reviews you take over from previous levels will usually not make up much more than half your reviews during each level up period. So, if your struggle, just reduce the number of lessons. This will reduce your workload a lot, which can work wonders for your accuracy. This should usually help you to get back on track.
Do not underestimate how much work you pace can become. I did WaniKani with a relatively high pace, but I really did not realize how stressful this would be until the burn reviews started to come up. You should realize that you will get more and more reviews from old levels when you progress through the levels at a constant speed. When the burn reviews finally arrive, you will have at least the same number of reviews you do for the current level again from the old levels. So keep that in mind when reviews start to become stressful. The speed you take now, will determine the base inflow of reviews half a year down the line.
I guess these are the main points I learned and wanted to convey here, For everything else, just refer to my first point.
No, I would not recommend to go that fast. I did this for the most part in the time when socially nothing really happened due to the Corona pandemic and I already knew a lot of the vocabulary. That made it possible for my to do one level a week for a long time. However, it was rather stressful since you have only about three hours of leeway to get the new radicals and kanji in each week. Under normal circumstances, I think that is just too tight.
I think the thing I liked most about WaniKani is simply that it works. Now, after all those levels, I can read simpler texts, e.g. on NHK easy, without much problem or need for Furigana. Admittedly, from time to time I have to look up a kanji I actually have burned at some point, but then it is immediately clear again. (More complex texts are still beyond me, but that is more a question of vocabulary and some grammar.)
I also really liked the mnemonics, at least for the most part. They really helped me to keep all those readings in my head, especially the more complicated ones.
In addition, I just like that WaniKani offers one opinionated path through all those kanji. I am just too lazy to come up with a good learning order or spacing myself and WaniKani just gives me a good working solution.
There are a few smaller things that I did not like about WaniKani.
- The decomposition of later kanji into radicals is too fine. Having five or more radicals in a kanji makes the mnemonics rather useless; they just deteriorate into a random sentence trying to list all the radicals. I think it would often be much better to combine many of the radicals into one part for the decomposition. This is especially true if the combined part actually is a variation of a kanji already learned.
- Without user scripts, WaniKani really lacks quality of life features. Especially the absence of a feature allowing to correct one’s typos or to just block the next button for a second upon a false input is really annoying. It is true that you can get many things through user scripts, but I would expect this to be part of the standard package for a paid product. This is especially true since the user scripts already show how this could be implemented.
- There are a lot items with the same meaning. This in and of itself is not really a problem and rather a matter of Japanese distinguishing other things then English. However, I would be really nice to have some indication in the meaning notes contrasting the later items with the earlier ones. I know that there are example sentences, but they alone do not really fully help.
- WaniKani does not even contain all Jouyou kanji. Although some of them do not come up too often, I would really like to at least know this standard set at some point.
Well, first an foremost, I will continue to use WaniKani until everything is burned, which will probably take another two years at least. (Some of the items just do not want to stay in my head.)
Apart from that my current mid-term goal is to read 鋼の錬金術師 and play Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal in Japanese.
Unfortunately, I had to realize that I am not quite there yet. For one it became clear to me that after all those courses I have taken my grammar still is not where it needs to be to read most texts. So, I will finally start again to do more lessons over at Bunpro. In addition, I will finally pick up again my easy reading immersion by continuing to read ふらいんぐうぃっち (I am currently stuck on volume 2 due to lack of time) and then see which other intermediate manga strikes my fancy.
On the long run, I would also like to learn how to write the kanji. On one hand, it kind of annoys me that I cannot write any decent Japanese on a piece of paper and, on the other, I think learning to write them would really help me to further cement them in my brain. So, if someone knows a place with an SRS style course for writing kanji, preferably supporting touch input, I would be grateful.
In addition, I think I will look for a place to learn the remaining Jouyou kanji and N1 kanji somewhere else at some point since WaniKani does not cover them all. However, I think that can wait for a bit.