It took some time but I made it! Still need to complete the level 60 kanji, but I’ve finally reached the golden level.
Level up chart:
Stats and chart are from the ever so useful https://www.wkstats.com/
I first started studying Japanese around 12 years ago, in high school. As part of the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, I had to take a second language. Most people were taking French, because we were in Canada, but I wasn’t really interested in it. My high school did offer Japanese though, and I was starting to get interested in anime at the time, so I figured why not.
I took Japanese for 3 years in high school. Learning hiragana and katakana and maybe 50-ish kanji in those 3 years, along with some very basic grammar, it was a pretty laid-back course. We also had a school trip to Japan in the second year, which was exciting because I thought I would be able to put to use some of the Japanese I had learned. But boy was I wrong. So much of everything was in kanji that I just couldn’t read, and we had only really learned about grammar using the ます／です form. It gave me a taste of just how important kanji was to being able to read anything in Japanese.
Entering University, I was able to transfer the high school courses to University credits, where they counted for the first year’s course. So I was able to immediately take the 2nd year Japanese course in University, studying Japanese for another 3 years during my CompSci degree. Despite enjoying the class, I was getting B+ grades at the start, and near the end those turned into C+ grades, mainly due to my inability to retain Kanji. It wasn’t really because the class was hard or unfair, it was more of an issue of me just not studying them enough at the time, since I think we only needed to know like 500 or so by the end of the 4th year, and I wasn’t the most proactive University student.
For a few years I didn’t really study much or use Japanese much at all, but then in 2017 I got a job at a small games company that worked with a few Japanese developers. I was able to talk to some of the company’s Japanese contacts, which was really nice, and I also was able to test one of the games in Japanese. But I still struggled with reading, mainly kanji, which definitely slowed down my communication and testing of that one game.
Fast forward to a year ago, fresh off of a vacation from Japan I decided I wanted to try to brush up my Japanese skills a bit more to have an easier time getting around and communicating the next time I went. I found “WaniKani” listed in a company resource page, and I was pretty quickly hooked.
The first 10 levels or so weren’t that difficult, since I knew probably around 200 or so kanji coming into WaniKani. But as it went on, more and more unfamiliar kanji were popping up. I think it was probably after level 10 that each level was 90% kanji I didn’t know.
Like most people here, I ended up finding the Ultimate Guide to WaniKani [link here], which was a great help. After going through it, I started structuring my reviews and lessons around the SRS cycles. Looking at my graph, you can tell it was around level 21 that I got really serious about trying to maintain an optimal pace.
For the standard levels, I would make sure to do all the radical lessons as soon as they unlocked, since they were rather easy (no reading to learn). And then when the second batch of kanji lessons unlocked, I would do those all at once too. Doing 15 or so kanji lessons in an hour wasn’t too difficult. As for the other lessons, I would do the kanji ones first and then the vocab ones. Normally I would spread them throughout the week at a pace of 5 lessons per hour I was awake, but making sure to do all of the first wave of kanji lessons before the second wave unlocked. At that pace it was pretty easy to get through all the lessons and reviews at max speed. I did aim for 6 day 20 hour levels, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it since it had me getting up at weird hours of the night to do lessons or reviews. The 7 day cycle is much easier to work with.
For the fast levels the strategy was mostly the same, but I would do all the kanji lessons immediately after leveling up. To help with this, I started reviewing the next level’s kanji near the end of the previous level, when I had some downtime. Even if I only look at half of the kanji for the next level, it was super helpful in letting me do all the kanji lessons in 1 hour. The pace at which I did lessons also had to increase. I followed a system where I would do new lessons if doing the lessons wouldn’t put me at more than 20 reviews when they came back up for their first review. To give an example, let’s say it’s 1pm. WaniKani shows I have 3 reviews coming up at 5pm, so I would do 15 lessons at 1pm, giving me 18 reviews at 5pm after the lessons were done. I always did lessons in the WK standard batches of 5. And as opposed to the standard levels, I only aimed for 3 day 12 hour levels for these, since leveling up in the middle of the night at 4am and doing all the new kanji lessons would probably have been too much for me. I ended up settling into an 8pm/8am cycle, where I would level up at either 8pm or 8am.
I only used a handful of scripts, mainly the re-order script and the override (aka undo) script. I think these 2 scripts are the most important if you’re aiming to go through WaniKani fast, as you need to do radical and kanji lessons right away, and it’s very helpful to have the ability to “undo” silly mistakes, like where WaniKani doesn’t have the meaning you provided as a synonym for the word even though it’s listed as one of the word’s meanings in the dictionary.
Working from home these past 8 months (due to the Coronavirus pandemic) has also been a major help in speeding through WaniKani, since I can just do reviews as they pop up. I was able to do them pretty regularly at the office too, but I’m not sure the long streak of 6 day 20 hour levels would’ve been possible if I was still commuting every day.
Even though I’ve reached level 60, I’m still not really done with WaniKani. My goal is to burn everything eventually. One thing I’m also thinking of doing in a few weeks or so is reviewing items in level 1 to see if I’ve forgotten any of them, and if I mess up on their review I’ll unburn them. I’ll do that for a while to try and really cement the WaniKani items in my mind.
I also have a few manga I should read through now, and some games in Japanese I’d like to play. Looking forward to getting lots of reading done now! And hopefully planning another trip to Japan, once the Coronavirus situation is more under control!
Thanks to everyone in the community for all the useful scripts and posts everyone has made, it’s made the kanji learning journey a lot more fun!