As is tradition, I’ve come with a post to commemorate my ascension to level 60 (a little over a month late, but who’s counting)
My parents were pretty strict when I was young. I wasn’t allowed to watch anime and we never had a game console, so I never had a chance to have a childhood fascination with Japan. That all changed one January night when I clicked over to catch up on RockPaperShotgun and found myself reading about a little game called Katawa Shoujo.
“Visual novel? Is this a genre? What’s going on here?”
Intrigued, I downloaded the game and gave it a try. I was spending the winter in the middle of nowhere, house-sitting for my parents, and as much as I like my space I was getting a bit lonely. I ended up completely losing myself in this story, spending days doing nothing but reading in front of the woodstove, zoning out listening to the gentle music, staying up so late that when I finally passed out I would wake up as the sun was going down. It was a surreal, magical time and I still look back on this experience as one of the best times of my life.
As I read, there was one thing that kept sticking out at me. “What’s all this chan and kun business?”
I found an article on name-ending honorifics and my brain exploded. Encoding your relationship with someone into their very name? Nothing like this had ever come up in the other languages I’d dabbled in. As goofy as it sounds, if it wasn’t for this OELVN made by a bunch of weebs on 4chan, who knows whether I would have ever had my first taste of the Japanese language.
I don’t know how common it is for someone to discover anime through the Japanese language, but I’m willing to bet it’s slightly rarer than the other way around. I spent the next few years exploring and eventually decided I wanted to take a stab at it, and luckily I happened to find Tofugu around the same time.
I happen to know the exact day that my Japanese-learning journey began in earnest, thanks to an email I sent to Koichi telling him that the link to the hiragana chart PDF was broken I started studying kana on March 1st, 2016, and started WaniKani just three weeks later.
Here’s my chart (thanks to the completely invaluable WKStats):
I made a lot of mistakes using WaniKani, and the biggest one was naively assuming that I could just learn all the kanji and words ahead of time, and then I’d be home free. In pursuit of this, I devoted myself entirely to kanji/vocab study for a long time. Like, a year and a half, maybe more. It wasn’t until I was around level 30 that I realized I still couldn’t even read よつばと… Can’t thank @pushindawood and the fine folks at Bunpro enough for getting me out of that rut.
Another mistake was not engaging with the community. This is actually my second topic ever I guess? I totally ignored the forums for the longest time, and I think if I’d found the unofficial FAQ earlier on, I could have avoided a lot of grief. There’s a ton of great info here, even if y’all are creepily obsessed with polls.
Yet another mistake: I thought it might be fun to get my Apprentice items down to zero before I moved on. See that black bar on level 20? Yeah…
My best success came once I realized how the SRS timing intervals work and started making the schedule work for me. No more lessons at night! You do as many as you can between 9-10am, then make sure to review at 1pm and 9pm. Drilling those lessons into short-term memory was the only way I was able to do anything approaching “fast levels” for a majority of the second half.
And finally, hands down, the best thing I did was to start reading A LOT and not worrying about comprehending everything. Some of the vocabulary on WK is pretty wack, but you know one I’ve literally never gotten wrong? 鎮魂. Why? Because I happened to see it in Fire Force basically the day after I learned it, even though that manga is so laden with tortured kanji compounds that I almost gave up on it. Grounding your study material in reality is incredibly powerful. Read more books!
A huge shoutout to the fine folks over in the 0/0 streak club for helping keep me motivated. Thanks to everyone who works on the userscripts that helped me tailor my studies to be just right. And of course, thank you for reading this post You’re all truly wonderful.