My Challenge: From 0 to speaking proficiency in 6 months

What’s up WaniKani community :wave:

Roughly a month a go I booked a 3 month trip to Japan for next year :raised_hands: I have been intrigued by Japan for the better part of 2 decades now and it has been a dream of mine to visit there for a long time.

A few years back I set a goal to learn Japanese to fluent proficiency by the end of 2023.
Funny that… I never started actively learning until a month ago due to other responsibilities :sweat_smile:

As my trip will start May next year, I have challenged myself to learn Japanese to a “speaking proficiency”. Important distinction. This is not “fluent”.

You might be aware that this is quite ambitious, but I’m confident I can make it work.

In this little post I will go into what I have done so far, my approach, and what may plan is for the coming 5 months. I’m also tracking the actual time spent on learning Japanese with a time tracker to update this thread from time to time with progress reports.

Here is what I have done so far since starting a month ago and my plan going forward:

Done:

  1. Learned Hiragana
  2. Learned Katakana
  3. Researched various ways on how to learn Kanji, vocab, grammar and actual conversation to find a way that works for me
  4. Reached level 2 in WaniKani (took 6 days)
  5. Learned numbers + a few time descriptions + a few vocabs (Genki)

Hiragana & Katakana took me 18 days to get down perfectly. Since then it has only been repetition. I had various approaches towards learning Kanji + vocab and ultimately landed on doing it with WaniKani plus another program I get to later on. All approaches besides the Radicals + Mnenomics weren’t for me.

How I do it and my plan:

  • Time commitment: I study every day for about 2 - 3 hours. 1.5 hours right after I get up and then 2-5 sessions of repetition throughout the day. The repetition sessions vary depending on how much WaniKani let’s me study and when, but usually it’s around 1-2 around lunch time and 1-3 in the evening. I also use “Anki” which is essentially the same, except you can decide what and at what speed want to learn with it.
  • What I learn: I learn everything starting with radicals, Kanji, vocab and speaking exercises. The focus will change throughout the 6 months. Currently it’s mostly learning all written stuff + a tiny bit of speaking. At the 3 month mark I will gradually shift my focus towards speaking, which will be paid lessons from Japanese teachers through “italki.com” twice a week.
  • How I learn: As mentioned above I use a combination of different tools to learn everything. One of them is WaniKani to learn radicals, Kanji and vocab. As I need to learn roughly 1700 vocabs to get to a decent speaking proficiency, I fear WaniKani might be too restrictive, which is why I added another tool called “Anki” (spaced repetition flash card app). In Anki I have a few decks with Kani and all vocabs from Genki 1 and Genki 2.

What’s good about using WaniKani and my Anki decks in conjunction is the slight overlap in radicals, vocabs and Kanji. E.g. there will be around 10-20 new words every day, regardless of WaniKani restrictions, but because both start with “beginner stuff” the words and characters usually slightly overlap. For example I learned “fire” through Anki, and then just knew it in WaniKani, but learned “person” in WaniKani and then just knew it in my Anki sessions.

Additionally, I focus on watching and listening to the Japanese voice in my spare time. E.g. audio (learning) books and anime. This is more casual though, just to get used to the language. ALSO, I have done this for 20 years, so it doesn’t really feel like “learning”. However, I now focus more on reading the characters in the anime, or pause and try to understand what they said without subtitles.

I plan to post somwhat regular updates in this thread on how far I have come in WaniKani and how it’s going in general.

If you have any questions or suggestions and tips let me know :slightly_smiling_face:

Cheers

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If I may, in such a small time frame and if your objective is speaking Japanese, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on kanji study and a massive emphasis on vocabulary study (potentially only focusing on kana) and listening comprehension.

I also wouldn’t use WK for pure vocabulary study because you’ll miss on a lot of very useful kana-only vocabulary while at the same time learning words that only make sense if you go kanji-first.

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I see a lot of reading-oriented practice for someone whose goal is speaking proficiency.

If your timescale were longer that wouldn’t be so much of a problem but if you’re looking to maximise speaking proficiency specifically in a short time, I’d say do away with things that are only useful for reading. Don’t bother trying to learn kanji in isolation, you don’t speak in kanji. Don’t bother with radicals for now, they’re nice to know for learning kanji, but they’re pointless for talking and listening.

Learn vocab and grammar first. Those you will absolutely need. If you glean some kanji from your vocab studies, great. If not, no biggie. You don’t talk in kanji, you don’t hear kanji. They’re not the goal. Learn the words, because you will be saying and hearing words. Learn at least the basic grammar (there are no official lists, but whatever’s being thrown around as N5 grammar is always good to know, I’d delve at least partway into N4 too probably - more is better but don’t let it get in the way).

Don’t rely on WaniKani to teach you useful vocab. Yes, if you do all of WaniKani you’ll have quite the collection of useful words under your belt. No, you will not be able to get enough of WaniKani done in 6 months (let alone 3) to get maximum use out of it. Get an Anki deck that teaches you the most common words first - what’s most useful to you will vary from person to person, but the 1000-2000 most common words are likely going to be useful for everyone, and with some creativity you can go a long way with those most common words.

By all means, read. Read natural Japanese. It’ll familiarise you with the language and its common vocab and grammar in a different way than an Anki deck will. Try reading out loud. Record yourself to make sure the sound is coming out the way you want it to.

But also listen and speak. Find Japanese podcasts, YouTubers, Twitch streamers, conversation partners, Discord servers, the works. The italki lessons are also going to be great for this. You’re looking to speak, so speak. The only way to learn is by doing.

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Thanks for the tip!

I agree with the word study. That’s why I’m using Anki to learn all of the vocab from Genki 1 and Genki 2 :slightly_smiling_face: Those are the “school books” for learning elementary Japanese.

Also doing speaking practice with Japanese language teachers from month 3 onwards

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Thanks for the tip.

See:

  • How I learn: As mentioned above I use a combination of different tools to learn everything. One of them is WaniKani to learn radicals, Kanji and vocab. As I need to learn roughly 1700 vocabs to get to a decent speaking proficiency, I fear WaniKani might be too restrictive, which is why I added another tool called “Anki” (spaced repetition flash card app). In Anki I have a few decks with Kani and all vocabs from Genki 1 and Genki 2.

Yeah if you can afford it getting a real tutor who will talk with you as soon as possible would probably be most beneficial given your objectives. Learning basic grammar in six months seems reasonable, it’s the vocabulary and oral comprehension that are going to be the biggest issue IMO.

I also don’t want to demotivate you but be sure to manage your expectations, you set the bar pretty high with this challenge.

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Cool project, thanks for sharing :slight_smile:
I hope you’ll report back from time to time, curious to see how it will go for you.
I agree with the other’s advice though, especially because as you use more and more WK, you have more and more reviews and lessons pilling up, and it can take a long time every day to go through them. Time that you could use doing something else that gets you closer to your goal.
You can also look through the Level 60 celebration category, the users that have reached level 60 on WK have usually a lot of insightful feedback, list of resources and so on.
Good luck!

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Thanks again for the tips @simias :slightly_smiling_face:

I get where you are coming from. I will double down on the language lessons.

I’m one for big challenges, haha. Have done a few of those. I already speak 3.5 languages :sweat_smile: Gotta shoot for the moon to land among the stars.

Ah if you already have experience learning languages it will definitely help. Good luck!

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Thank you @simias!

It was good to post this here though.
I’m going to adjust towards more speaking lessons and exercises👌

Thanks @Akashelia

Will have a look :slightly_smiling_face: I will see how often I can post updates

Yes, this. The person I know who got from 0 to good basic spoken Japanese in under 6 months did it with 6 months of in-person, speaking-and-listening-focused, small class based instruction, which is to say 3 hours plus every day of solid speaking and listening practice. Obviously this isn’t time-wise or cost-wise practical for many, but I think the basic idea of getting as many hours as you can of speaking practice in is the right one. I definitely wouldn’t wait for 3 months before starting in on that.

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Send us photos of your trip. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Random question. I know these aren’t properly defined words, but isn’t proficiency usually a higher level than fluency? When I think of basic fluency I think of B2, while with proficiency I think of C1/C2 :thinking:

By my estimates, this is possible, but requires an insane amount of aptitude and mental fortitude. I would say most of the people on this forum that have been studying longer than 6 months can’t have a 10-minute conversation without awkward pauses with a native.

At the very least you’d want to aim at a vocabulary size of about 4000 words (frequency-based), and N3 level grammar. Essentially, going from “just barely having learned kana” to “finished Tobira” in 6 months. For the vocabulary, that would come out to learning about 26 words per day to finish in 5 months and another month for review, which is about 30% faster than max speed WK.

You’d also want to get in about 40 hours of speaking practice, which works out to 3 30-minute iTalki/HelloTalk sessions per week.

I estimate it would take about 4 hours per day, every day, of conversation-oriented study, and that’s assuming you have an aptitude for it. This also necessarily means reduced ability to read. If you wanted to read as well, double that amount of time and be prepared to put in more hours per week than a full-time job.

And then if you do succeed in maintaining such a rigorous study plan and fighting off basic human nature to rebel against strict timetables, be prepared to STILL fumble awkwardly, because even if you ask natives to use simple language, they won’t know what words you won’t know, and you simply won’t have enough time in the language to be comfortable with it.

It seems like a lot of stress for not a lot of reward. I would stick to learning a couple thousand words and N4 level grammar, and have short, polite conversations about the weather, travel and local eateries, which is a far cry from fluent but will leave you with a better taste in your mouth for your first experience there.

Those are my 2 cents, and I speak from a place of experience in overestimating one’s aptitude and ability to consistently maintain a strict study timetable. Studying outside of Japan, the only way to overcome the obstacle of lack of sustained real-time interactive exposure to the language is to increase the number of hours per day studied, and there are only so many hours in the day, and so much energy left at the end of the day.

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This was my initial reaction to the post, but considering OP said he needed about ~1700 words, I’d guess my interpretation of “speaking proficiency” is pretty different :thinking:
The curriculum he outlined certainly is a lot less work than the one you (and me as well) had in mind.

Ah sorry, I misread “proficiency” and thought he meant something somewhat beyond fluency, so around B1/B2 level like you did. If he’s aiming for something just shy of A2, yeah, that would still require work, but not nearly as much.

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OP, disregard my first comment. I think aiming at 2-3 hours per day of study, and 2 interactive talking sessions per week, you should be ok.

I would recommend doing some reading practice though, counter to some remarks. It’s been well-researched that output doesn’t provide tangible improvement in recognizing input, but the opposite certainly does. More input certainly increases ability to output.

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Similar to what @Chocobits said, I do actually think that kanji study will help with speaking/listening. Now, of course everyone’s previous points are correct as well – you don’t have a lot of time, and you need to choose your priories carefully, so only studying kanji without listening and speaking practice won’t do what you want. (But that’s not what you have planned, anyway!)

That being said, I have found that kanji knowledge can help me with listening, specifically in the sense that it lets me guess a word or make connections to other words I know. I’ve had quite a few conversations that go along these lines:

Coworker: Over the weekend I did x, y, and [word I don’t know].
Me: [word I don’t know]?
Coworker: Oh it means [explanation].
Me: Wait, is [sound] the same as [kanji from vocabulary I do know]?
Coworker: Yes, exactly!

Unfortunately I can’t remember a specific example right now, but the fact that I knew the common readings for a certain kanji has absolutely helped me (on multiple occasions) with guessing and/or connecting the meaning for vocabulary that I was only hearing. Of course it doesn’t always work, and for some people just memorizing the vocabulary could certainly be quicker, but I wouldn’t necessarily count kanji as moot when it comes to listening skills.

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You could probably speed run N5 to N4 materials and be able to navigate simple responses but even then it might not be enought. Took me a long time to get basic shopping lingo down. I have heard good things about Pimsler’s course. Tried it but at the time I think I was consumed with people talking about learning Japanese and not doing it myself.

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