I…I made it… Was it not only yesterday I was at Level 1, thinking the Level 20s were cool? 2022 seemed to be light years away, and now I’m at the top?
Caution: long post ahead
Who I am
Hello! I’ve never formally introduced myself here, and always kept a fairly low profile on my age, so this feels like doxxing myself, lol. I’m a 16-year-old Australian high school student.
How I started, and my journey (hidden because LONG). TLDR: summary timeline ↓
Much, much longer, wordy version of my summary timeline!
My first exposure to the Japanese language I can remember was back in Year 1. Some Japanese people came to my school and taught us how to say こんにちは and count from 1 to 10. That was it for a few years, but somehow that basic knowledge stuck with me.
Skip to a few years later. In Year 4 I was asked to be a buddy to a Japanese girl trialling at my school for a week. She didn’t speak much English, so we didn’t communicate all that much to be honest. The only thing I can remember her saying is ‘thank you.’ We didn’t keep in contact after she left.
In Year 6 (2017), Japanese was a compulsory class. We were taught how to introduce ourselves (aka how to memorise random strings of syllables), how to count, and the hiragana alphabet. I thought to myself, ‘maybe this will be useful for high school!’ and proceeded to print out hiragana charts for personal use at home. I would write out each row of the chart each night, starting with あいうえお. First in order, and once I could do that, I wrote a i u e o in random order and the characters underneath. Repeat until I could write them in any order easily.
I did this each night with each new row of the chart, also testing myself with the characters I had learned the previous nights before.
*Look, I have no idea why I stuck with this. I didn’t have any genuine interest in learning Japanese other than ‘writing hiragana is fun.’
Eventually I learned the whole hiragana chart, so I would write all the hiragana characters in romaji in a random order, and see whether I could write all of them. I did this for several more days, until I could write each character in a split second.
I didn’t touch Japanese after Grade 6, when Japanese class was no longer compulsory. I’d learned hiragana only just in case I would need it in high school, after all.
In Grade 8 (2019), that Japanese girl from Grade 4 came back! She joined my friendship circle (but unfortunately returned to Japan again at the end of Grade 9).
Fast forward to the last term of Grade 8, when I had Japanese as a compulsory elective. The teacher was an Aussie lady who had lived in Japan for eight years. The class wasn’t all that much, though. The assignment was to write an introduction of ourselves. Name, age, where we live, hobbies, etc. But I discovered I still remembered how to read and write hiragana perfectly, though I had not touched the language since two years ago at the end of Grade 6.
Grade 9 (2020) was the first year where we could pick three elective subjects. I still do not know why on earth I chose Japanese — I didn’t really have an interest in learning it back then.
Sometime between January and May that year, I taught myself katakana in the same way I had learned hiragana three years back. My ease with reading and writing hiragana made the class easier for me, and learning katakana helped that even more.
Then COVID happened. We started online school in May — right before Term 1 ended. In the break between Term 1 and Term 2, I randomly decided to do some Duolingo for fun.
And thus began my descent into the Japanese learning rabbit hole.
I began writing down unknown words I encountered on Duolingo. I made flashcards out of spare paper, and every night I would diligently go through all of them.
I grew out of Duolingo fairly quickly. So I looked up word lists online, wrote them down, and made even more paper flashcards out of them. Each night I would continue to revise the flashcards from the nights before and learn 16 new words. It became a nightly ritual. When the amount of flashcards grew too many, I would revise one or two decks per night.
In total I learned 438 new words in June, 468 in July, and 454 in August (the following months I will not include, as my resources and my routine grew from there.) In total, from all the paper flashcards I made and revised over the months I used them, I would say I probably learned about 2000 new vocabulary.
In July I began listening to the ‘Learn Japanese from Small Talk!’ podcast. I could only catch a few words here or there, but it got me used to the sounds of the language, and I also learned a few new things, like what そうですか meant.
Meanwhile, my grammar ability continued to improve in school, though the Japanese teacher (a new one, since the one who had lived in Japan before left) knew practically nothing past the hiragana alphabet. The assignments were what caused my Japanese to skyrocket at the beginner level. We were assigned to write a blog-type article describing iconic Australian foods and tourist places in Japanese. I would search up whatever I didn’t know how to express — ‘how to say “if” in Japanese’. ‘How to say “pet an animal” in Japanese.’ ‘How to say “in between” in Japanese’ — and use the example sentences in previously existing HiNative answers as a template to form my own sentence. By learning by practising output, my writing and reading ability improved significantly.
In early September I stumbled across Wanikani. Originally I only wanted to do the three free levels for the sake of it. But at the end of Level 3, I thought, you know what? This actually works! and decided to continue until Level 60.
From this community I discovered tons of great resources, and from there, with Japanese study inbuilt into my day, by consistently showing up to do just a little bit of everything every day and my learning supplemented with writing output, I continued to improve.
I wanted to write my journey up to where I really began studying Japanese in June of 2020, and also up to when I discovered Wanikani in detail. Here’s a much more concise summary timeline of my Japanese learning journey:
End of 2017 — Learned the hiragana alphabet.
2019 — Learned how to introduce myself.
Start of 2020 — Memorised katakana.
June 2020 — This is when I started learning Japanese for real. Memorised many key words. Did some grammar and could string sentences together.
July 2020 — Started listening to Let’s Learn Japanese from Small Talk podcast regularly. (could only pick out a few words)
September 2020 — Discovered Wanikani! Also started Genki 2.
October 2020 — Started reading NHK Easy News. As with the podcast, could only understand some parts.
December 2020 — Could write sentences fairly easily. Immersion became part of my everyday study.
January 2021 — Started reading Doggy Detectives Book 2 with the WK book club.
April 2021 — First online tutor session. My speaking skill was almost inexistent. Finished reading Doggy Detectives Book 2. Started 魔女の宅急便. Also began vocabulary memorisation again after a long while.
May 2021 — Started reading からかい上手の高木さん with the WK book club.
July 2021 — Finished からかい上手の高木さん, also began and finished reading the second volume. Passed a mock N4 exam.
August 2021 — Completed more than ten tutor sessions. Could hold a conversation but not on complex topics, and speaking was not all that natural.
September 2021 — WK anniversary! Level 36. Didn’t do any lessons for the whole month to work on leeches.
December 2021 — Reached the halfway point of 魔女の宅急便. Finished Genki. Made it to Level 42 in WK! I can hold a simple conversation easily but still struggle with more complicated topics. Also began 銭天堂.
January 2022 — Chapter 9 in 魔女の宅急便. Began Tobira. Level 45 in WK.
February 2022 — Finished 魔女の宅急便 as my first novel!
April 2022 — Finished 銭天堂 as my second novel! Began and finished 君ノ声, and then started かがみの孤城. Level 50 in WK!
July 2022 — Level 55 in WK! Began Chapter 3 of Tobira.
August 2022 — LEVEL 60 GET!!
The timeline will continue…
I would just like to say those high percentages are mainly because of the lower levels. My accuracy definitely dropped a lot in the Hell and Reality levels.
My most consistent period was definitely January and February of 2021. Those days I didn’t do any reviews was mostly when I was on a trip with no service (school camp, weekend stay at a remote farm, etc). April, May and June was basically a lot of trips crammed together plus deadlines across the two-week break and the school term, which meant at times it became very hard to do reviews.
Resources I’m using/used and have found useful
Drop-down for the sake of consistency lol
Genki 2 (skipped Genki 1 though) for self-studying grammar.
A lot of people say it’s a lot better in the classroom. I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never used it in the classroom, but it was good enough for self study at an N4 level.
Youtube in Japanese.
THIS is where 85% of my (aural) immersion comes from, and it greatly improved my listening skills. I don’t really have anyone to recommend — when I began implementing immersion into my daily routine I just watched channels I enjoyed, no matter how much I could or couldn’t understand. For casual language, VTubers are a great resource.
NHK Easy News.
This was my bridge between textbook Japanese and native content. I began only being able to pick out a few words, and when I stopped a few months later I could read it quickly and easily. Reading native material for the first time is always going to be a struggle, but having that foundation gave me confidence to jump in.
Online tutor sessions for conversation practice.
I had absolutely NO confidence in speaking before I started taking online tutor sessions. Now I can hold basic conversation easily, but I still have a long way to go! I’m a shy person in general, so even though I do encounter a good amount of native Japanese speakers in everyday life (I’m in Australia. There’s a fair number of Japanese people here) I still lack confidence to go up and talk to them in Japanese. I’m working on that!
I’ve never been a fan of picture books in English, andI don’t have much interest in manga either. Novels were a great way to improve my reading skill as well as having fun. Even though I still sometimes have a mental barrier against reading in Japanese (that may be because I’m a fast reader in English, and get absorbed in stories by reading quickly, so my brain doesn’t like having to make so much effort to read), I’m looking forward to the day when I can enjoy Japanese novels as much as I do novels in English.
What I’ve learned along the WK journey
I’ve learned so many things: not just kanji, but also about myself and how I learn.
Consistency is key.
Seriously. Just a small, little bit every day will build up, and you’ll progress further than you imagined. When I went through Genki 2 I only learned one or two grammar points a day, or finished one section of exercises a day. That meant it took me a long time to finish the textbook, but it was kept manageable for the most part (I took an unintentional break from Genki in May 2021. My ups and downs are better detailed in my study log). I started in September 2020 and finally finished it in December 2021, but I was at a comfortable N4 level by July 2021 (though I did not take the actual exam).
Also, the more consistent you are, the easier things will be. That’s been reflected all throughout my WK journey, and since the beginning of July I’ve been working on implementing that into my academics as well. The more consistent I was with reviews, my accuracy was higher, which caused a far lower number of leeches and also less reviews. The less consistent I was, the lower my accuracy was, which discouraged me and caused me to procrastinate, which then meant my review sessions took longer, and leeches also built up. Don’t underestimate consistency!
If you’re busy but want to dedicate your time to something, be flexible.
Being a high-achieving student with a part-time job and a social life (and a procrastinator, too), I’m only partly in control of the time I have. Which is why, although I would love to have had a consistent WK routine, that wasn’t, and isn’t, realistic for me. Sometimes I need to wake up at 5am for an early shift. And often I need to catch up on sleep and will sleep in later in the morning. Sometimes I will have my entire evening free, and at times (especially after exams) I will be hanging out with friends from right after school to late evening.
But I say consistency is key? My WK routine was fairly consistent, with exceptions. Let me explain.
At first, I held myself strictly to doing reviews and new lessons at 5pm, only those new reviews at 9pm, and a big review session at 7am. But over time, especially after entering senior school and after COVID no longer was an acceptable excuse to stay home, that became extremely difficult. Eventually my morning session became between 7am to 9am, my evening session between 4pm-6pm (to 7pm if truly necessary), and my night session between 9pm-10pm (to 11pm if truly necessary). Though sometimes I skipped a review/lesson session altogether, for the majority of the time, this is the schedule that became practically ingrained into my day.
True consistency is nearly never possible — which is why I think there needs to be a balance between consistency and flexibility when it comes to something like WK, where you can easily become overwhelmed and fall behind.
Dealing with frustration and avoiding burnout
Summarising everything in this already far-too-long Level 60 post makes it sound like my journey was smooth and easy. Looking back now it seems that way. In the small moments, it definitely was not.
There were many review sessions on WK where I struggled to focus because I’d gotten fifteen reviews wrong in a row and was frustrated, or I really didn’t feel like starting to do reviews at all. Although I usually consistently did one section of Genki per day, at one point I didn’t make any progress for an entire month because I almost dreaded doing it (not sure why. I tend to cycle between a period of high motivation and then a down period where I struggle to enjoy productivity.). For a long time, especially when I was reading my first novel, 魔女の宅急便 (and I do still struggle with this, but thankfully to a lower extent) I had a mental barrier against reading in Japanese. I was participating in the read every day challenge so reading was an everyday task, but I would always put it off until past my bedtime.
I’m sure everyone gets frustrated or feels discouraged at some stage, but how do we deal with this? How do we carry on without burning ourselves out?
I think part of how I’ve managed to make it this far is because I tend to be future-focused, but I’m present in the journey as well. For example: WK. I knew that if I continued to do lessons and reviews at a consistent pace I would eventually reach Level 60. If I did WK at an average pace of eight days per level I would reach Level 60 in about a year and four months don’t correct my maths please, it’s an approximation lol . If I levelled up once per month I would reach Level 60 in five years. Basically: if I do this every time period then I will reach my goal at date/time. Yes, sticking to this exactly is practically impossible. Make it flexible. If you take longer on a level, that’s okay! The deadline isn’t fixed. It’s not high school. You’re free to make your own deadline, and change it accordingly.
It’s all about perspective. Be confident in your own ability.
But… also make sure to take care of yourself. Listen to your mind and body and know when you need to rest. Pausing something for a few days, or even weeks, is much better than burning out and needing a few months to recover.
What I would do differently
If I were to do WK all over again (no, I’m not resetting, thank you very much) I would go at a manageable pace until level 20~, slow down to one month per level, and then stop around Level 40.
Then why did I go so fast?
I was determined to reach Level 60 before I graduated, because I knew I could if I wanted to. I also feared I would lose a lot of free time as I got to senior school, so I went as fast as I could, knowing that every bit of work and time I spent then would be less work and time needed later. That proved to be true .
In the paradise levels I slowed down to a 15-day pace (making them truly paradise). I’d been struggling at the end of the Hell levels, so this was a huge relief. Then a couple of weeks ago I decided to speedrun the last few levels, so that I could reach Level 60 before my Melbourne trip (I’m flying down in three days!!) and big exams. This means I can focus fully on enjoying myself while I’m in Melbourne and then on academics without having to spend time on WK and needing to keep it at the back of my mind. Then, next term when we start doing Year 12 content, I can spend that extra time on revision/study/personal health/sleep/other hobbies.
Why did I continue until Level 60?
Simply because I’m a completionist, I knew I could if I wanted to, and I thought it would be cool to leave a Level 60 post floating around in the forums. It’s for sure not the most effective and efficient route to learn kanji, but you know… I have a lifetime sub, so might as well use it . And I’ve now finally earned that shiny, golden badge that was calling me
TLDR: I was sucked into the cult and couldn’t get out! Don’t be like me!
I’ll keep doing reviews until the 20th of August, thoroughly enjoy my weekend Melbourne trip, then ditch WK to study and revise for six 50% exams upcoming in two weeks’ time.
Then I will spend the next few weeks/months slowly whittling down reviews and the remaining lessons (max 30 minutes a day). When I finish all Level 60 lessons and get them to Guru I’ll just do reviews sporadically. It won’t be a regular task anymore, it’ll be a ‘if I have free time and I feel like it’ thing.
What if I forget all the kanji I learned? I’m planning to mainly learn from novels and native content — I’m sure that will keep reinforcing the kanji I should know, and if I forget the reading of one, I can quickly look it up using the Chinese trackpad handwriting function. I’m also planning to begin doing Kamesame again, at a snail’s pace. Something like 20-50 reviews a day, and I’ll be using it to practise hand writing kanji.
With the time I gain from dropping WK, reading and doing Tobira will become a larger part of my study routine. I’m hoping to get through at least half of Tobira before I take the JLPT N3 this December.
Why I don’t regret doing WK even though for me, learning with novels may have been more efficient
- People met here
- Taught me a lot about myself
- Gave me loads of amazing resources. Without finding WK I probably couldn’t have gone this far, simply because I wouldn’t know what to use and how to continue.
- Past WK book clubs where I can choose which books I want to read next, with vocab lists
- Taught me the value of consistency, as well as habits
- I’ll always be glad I started a study log and recorded my Japanese learning journey here.
Shout out to POLLfam who kept me going and are all amazing
@qpqpqp @KyokaJiro You two were the first to make me feel comfortable when I first joined the POLLs. Talking to randos in an online forum is intimidating, y’know.
(I want to mention the rest of POLLfam, but don’t want to accidentally exclude anyone, so this is all the tags I’ll do lol.)
@Mods Thank you for everything!!
And thanks to everyone who made it to the end of this wall of text! Feel free to ask anything, or give me cake