Lvl 60! Reflections and some handy habits I learned along the way

First of all: Hooray! :partying_face: I couldn’t have done it without the Rona and the endless pits of free time it has blessed me with. I kid… but only barely.

Here’s the obligatory stats page for you all to scrutinise

As you can see, it took me a good long time to get here. I tried out the free version to see how it would go, found it to be stupidly effective, and then spent the better part of a year burning everything until biting the bullet and opting for a yearly subscription. In hindsight, maybe I should have paid for the lifetime subscription. But honestly, the sting of the cost is 50% of the motivation for a cheapskate like me.

Here are some tips and habits I learned that got me to here:

Managing your progress:

  1. Do your reviews. All of them, consistently. A review stack of 750 takes weeks to get through. 15 reviews stacks of 50 can be done easily twice a day for a week. Any stack of reviews beyond around 150 is a tumour that needs to be removed. It is no longer a spaced repetition system; it’s a chore wall. Smaller review stacks mean you can focus on your mistakes and learn from them. Chore walls will make you commit unforced errors through fatigue, and you will be less able to learn from your mistakes because there will be too many of them. It is unequivocally better to keep your review stack low than to worry about getting a few wrong. It took me weeks to get through my 800-review wall at level 22, and I learned nothing from it. Install the advanced timeline/forecast extension and start organising your reviews so you don’t get stuck behind an expensive chore wall again.

  2. Don’t be afraid to get the kanji wrong early on. It is better to make sure you have a good mnemonic and understanding of the kanji early on than to find out you have to refine it later at the Enlightened stage. A wrong answer at Guru will set you back a few days. A wrong answer at Master will set you back a couple of weeks. A wrong answer at enlightened will set you back about 5 months. Get it right at the start, and get it wrong gladly before Guru. Getting it wrong later on will sting so much more.

  3. Want to get through levels as fast as possible like me? When you unlock your new level’s kanji, get a kanji re-orderer to prioritise new kanji lessons. Then just rush through all the lessons without properly learning the kanji so that you get them into your queue in one block. Now that it’s in your queue, you have 3 hours to properly learn all 30-something of them. Go into each new kanji, pull out Jisho in a new tab, and get to work studying these new kanji, writing mnemonics and whatnot. This will take you about an hour or two. When you’re done actually learning them, the next review is right around the corner. Boom! Immediately on Apprentice II with the kanji fresh in your mind for the next review in 8 hours.

Learning kanji:

  1. Write your own mnemonics and notes. WaniKani’s own mnemonics are okay about 40% of the time. Most of them are non-sequiturs that have no actual semantic relation to the kanji they’re being tied to. Some are literally meaningless word salads. If you write your own mnemonics/notes, you are expending creative energy that will form the basis of a memory in the future. Thinking about the kanji and then writing that thought down makes the connection so much more powerful than passively acknowledging some connection someone else made. How do you do this? Well…

  2. Open Jisho.org and get a second opinion about what the kanji means. You might find that WaniKani has omitted a crucial synonym that makes the kanji click in your head. Add that word to the synonyms tab. You will often discover that the kanji is related to another kanji with a similar reading. Learning just something extra about the kanji fleshes out its character and makes it more memorable. Also…

  3. Do kanji math. 労働者 = labor + work + someone = laborer. 鼻歌 = nose + singing = humming. 走り回る = 走り (run) + 回る (to turn/revolve) = to run around. Do this with the readings too: 左手 = ひだり + て. If you break the bigger vocab into its semantic and reading chunks, you get a better understanding of how Japanese works. Which leads to…

  4. Start learning Japanese with other Japanese after about level 20. You learn early on level 3 that ‘kata’ (方) means ‘direction’. Later on level 29 you learn that ‘yo + ru’ (寄る) means ‘to approach or draw near’. Then on level 52 you learn that ‘to lean/to be biased towards’ is 偏る = katayoru = kata + yoru. It literally is just ‘to approach a direction’, which is what leaning or bias is! If you went by the WaniKani mnemonic, you get some nonsense about a guy who says “I’m a cutter, yo”. It’s needlessly convoluted. Whenever you see a something that reminds you of some other kanji you learned, go look it up on Jisho. Odds are, there’s a connection that will mutually reinforce the two and get you to remember both better.

Remembering Kanji

  1. You can often figure out a bit of kanji you’re struggling with by knowing the meta-info about the kanji e.g what level is the kanji from? What can you deduce from the radical? You remember that the mnemonic had something to do with a train… You may know the meaning but forget the reading, but you realise you never had trouble remembering the reading before: therefore the reading must be something obvious you’ve just missed. If you’re well organised, you can often fumble around until you get closer or maybe it will just click. Alternatively…

  2. Just about to burn a kanji, you can’t quite remember it, but feel like you used to know it really well? Put it aside for a couple of hours. I find that if you leave it unreviewed for a while and come back to it with a relaxed brain and fresh set of eyes, it often just comes to you fully formed without much effort at all. If you’re doing a lot of reviews, or you’re otherwise stressed, your brain can get a little fried. Don’t let this set you back 4 months. Put the review aside and come back to it in a couple of hours when your brain’s freed up. If it’s been a whole day with no breakthrough, put it in the ‘forgotten’ basket.

  3. Want a hint on the kanji reading/meaning you feel like you should know but are drawing a blank? Copy and paste the kanji into the WaniKani search bar on the dashboard. A list of all the vocab that you learned with that kanji will pop up. Use that list to jog your memory WITHOUT looking at the reading or meaning. You will often find that you can remember the meaning/reading when you see it in these contexts. Some may consider this cheating…

‘Cheating’ WaniKani

  1. Install the ‘ignore wrong answer’ button. There are legitimate uses for it. I often use it to simply reorder my reviews on the fly when I get stuck behind a kanji I can’t figure out now, but will be able to when I go through the rest of the stack and start recollecting the memories of that cohort. And sometimes you’ll just make a really innocent mistake that you should not be punished for.

  2. Put in some homework and start distinguishing the kanji families. At some point, kanji will start to collect into little families of very similar looking relatives. WaniKani does not acknowledge these kanji family, and you will often realise that that new kanji you learned on level 36 is actually just one dash away from the one you learned on level 12. Except, you created a mnemonic that can’t distinguish between the two because you didn’t know you would have such a similar looking kanji. There are a whole bunch of ‘shellfish’ kanji that I confuse regularly because they all look the same, and many actually mean kind of the same thing e.g. loan 債, rent 賃, and lend 貸. These will form leeches if left unsorted out. Collect them in a book somewhere and create ways of telling them apart. Because you won’t see them next to each other often. It’s like trying to figure out which of your friends is tallest when they’re not standing next to each other.

Finally

Don’t get discouraged. It took me a year and a half to get to level 22 and then I burnt out. It took me 10 months to go from level 22 to level 60. I truly think that level 20 is the halfway point. By level 20, you already know a lot of kanji, you’ve begun to see patterns, and hopefully you will have found out what works for you in terms of getting through WaniKani. The system I developed for myself after around level 25 is vastly more efficient than whatever I was (not) doing at the start.

You WILL get better at this the more you do it. I think if you reach level 25 and you’re still struggling, then you should try to change your approach. Everyone will have their own way that works for them. Find yours. I hope mine is helpful to at least some of you. :crabigator:

P.S I’ll try to update this with more tips and insights as I remember more of them.

140 Likes

Super helpful tips. Thanks for sharing.
And congratulations!!

3 Likes

Great advice, and grats on 60!

1 Like

thanks for all the tips! this really gives me confidence seeing as i get discouraged when i get a kanji wrong that i really should have known because it was so far back or just a dumb misclick from trying to speed through reviews. I REALLY agree with creating your own mnemonics. i just started doing this with level 9 and i remember those kanji much better than others. it takes a little more time getting through lessons but it’s worth it down the line later. For instance i still can’t remember the kun’yomi reading for mountain because it has something to do with yams lol not to mention wanikani doesn’t include any vocab with the kun’yomi version of mountain, at least through level 10 so far. so it’s just easy to forget it. when i get those type of kanji wrong i just try to make something that will help me remember it.

The biggest thing i’m having a problem with now is trying to remember words that end with
う or お and words that don’t have those. for example the on’yomi for group (組) is そ. the on’yomi for mutual (相) is そう. There are tons of examples like this and i find it discouraging when i’m off by that one kana. any tips for this would be appreciated.

thanks for all the tips again and i hope we can help each other learn and grow!

2 Likes

I’m only a couple days into this, but I’ve already carved out two 30/60 blocks of time per day dedicated to any and all reviews/lessons. I really don’t want to get stuck 3 levels in like I did years ago with an ever-growing pile of of reviews that I kept failing to complete and getting wrong.

Thanks for the deep explanation about the mnemonic issue there, though. I keep seeing RTK and WK mnemonics that just don’t make sense, so it’s nice to see it’s not just me who feels that way :sweat_smile:

1 Like

Congrats! Those are some really great accuracy stats!

5 Likes

I’m just worried that if I create my own mnemonics something will get messed up, I don’t know what lol

1 Like

Wow i’m really impressed with that accuracy, are you sure you aren’t abusing that ignore button? lol If not I really commend your memory skills

I’ve made half as many reviews as you but i’m still level 11 :frowning: it’s kinda depressing, congratulation

5 Likes

Congratulations on making it to the end!

Or the end of the beginning!

Or the beginning of the end!

Or…

Anyway, congrats! :slight_smile:

4 Likes

Congratulations!

I am also guilty or learning Japanese again thanks to the current situation. :sweat_smile:

As I reach closer to 20, I feel as though I am finally starting Wanikani for real(since burns are now popping up). It’s not as bad as I thought, but I am taking it a bit slower.

3 Likes

Yep, I completely feel your pain there. The way I’ve addressed this is to rely on the abundance of English words that have either soft or long o and u vowels in them, or distinct spellings to create mnemonics. For example, 相 = mutual = sou. I would use the English word ‘soul’ e.g. ‘mutual soulmates’ because it has an ‘sou’ in it. For 組 = group = so, I would use something like ‘sorority’ because it only has one ‘o’.

I would also use English words that don’t sound like their kanji equivalent, but the spelling is identical to the romaji e.g. if I had one of the many ‘kou’ on’yomis, I would use the word ‘couch’ because it has that spelling that tells me I need a ‘u’ to follow the ‘o’.

To make this easier, use The Free Dictionary which will generate a bunch of words based on spelling.

When you encounter a reading with very few English phonetic or spelling equivalents, then you should employ some creative mnemonics that may involve people’s names, have more than one word in it e.g. toe cheese for ‘tochi’, or alludes to previous kanji you already learned.

7 Likes

Congrats on the cake :birthday::smiley:

This is so true. Many times I should just wrap up the session when I feel like I’m just taking the hit on a review just to get to the next one.

100-150 in one session is about my max depending on time of day.

The ones that come to mind for me are 顧みる, 覆る, and 翻る.

5 Likes

I try to stick with consistent mnemonics for each sound:

そ - sew
そう - soul
こ - child
こう - Kouichi
と - toe
とう - tokyo
しょう - shogun
しょ - short shogun

That last one is my own. :wink:

5 Likes

You’re not wrong. What I use the ignore button might be considered abuse by others. My most frequent use of it is when I start cracking through a review pile, get one wrong, ignore it (don’t look at the answer) and come back to it to analyse later when I’m down at the bottom of the pile. 50% of my mistakes are stupid (e.g. fat fingers, writing the first thing that comes to you without really soaking in the kanji, or narrowing it down to one or two possibilities and seeing which one is right) which I don’t think should be counted as equivalent to ‘you forgot the kanji’.

It’s slightly more nuanced. In this case, I’m consciously choosing to sacrifice 100% purity for a faster review process. But it’s not like I refuse to accept when I’m wrong; it’s important to be honest when you are actually wrong, rather than when you write ‘discussion’ when the word was ‘conversation’. But when you do have the kanji narrowed down to one or two possibilities, and you’re not willing to knock it down some levels, it’s absolutely your responsibility to iron out the kinks in your notes so that you narrow your understanding down to the absolute correct answer the next time around.

I take 100% responsibility for those purists who might consider this cheating. You need to make the accuracy/speed tradeoff for yourself, as in many disciplines.

Edit: I’ll also add that I sometime even find myself learning new things about the kanji all the way up to the Burn level. Sometimes I’m shocked that the answer I entered is correct and burns the kanji. I then, feeling guilty, do some more research on Jisho to see what it says, and find that I can refine my understanding of the kanji some more even after burning it. My point is: you need to constantly refine your understanding across the SRS stages, and the ignore button is a good tool in getting you closer to a real understanding of the kanji as you progress, even if you were off by a little bit before. As long as you’re honest with yourself and keep updating your notes with each new insight, even all the way to Burn.

5 Likes

Yeah, that’s a perfect example. Once you realise that ‘return’ or ‘change’ follows this ‘kae/gae’ pattern, it makes so many otherwise stupid mnemonics irrelevant because they don’t acknowledge the relatedness of them at all.

1 Like

i really like these mnemonics for those kana! mind if i use them to remember my vocab? :sweat_smile:

1 Like

Agreed. Make your own rules to get consistent English mnemonics. For me, I would do something like:

そ - soft, sock, soldier, etc. Short 'o’s
そう - soak, soul, sound. Long ‘o’ sounds, or words that are spelt ‘sou’.
こ - core, cost, cot, cog. Short 'o’s, single 'o’s.
こう - coast, cone, cozy, couch, coup, coagulate. Long 'o’s, or ‘cou’ spellings.
こお - Coors light, coop, cool. Double ‘o’ words.
と - top, toss, tongue, torch, etc.
とう - toast, To(u)kyo, tone, tour, etc.
とお - tool, toon, took. Double ‘o’ words.
しょう - Sho(u)gun, shown, show business, shoulder.
しょ - shot, shop, shock, shore, etc.

Do the same for things like ゆ (yuck, yummy, Yucatan) vs. ゆう (youth, you).

If you can’t find a natural mnemonic that mimics the phonetics, use similarities in romaji spelling with English words.

2 Likes

Those are actually the WK ones except for the last one. They’re just not always consistent in applying them. :wink:

1 Like

Congratulations on reaching level 60, and thank you for sharing your tips with people, I’ll be sure to do the same as you one day when I am level 60 aswell :blush:

2 Likes

You should try and see if it sticks :slightly_smiling_face: I found that I would naturally make associations in my head and it helped to solidify them by writing them out.

1 Like