Sounds like many people write their Lvl60 story, so I guess I should too. Hopefully this won’t be too long.
My history with Japanese/Japan and living abroad:
I’m from Finland, so growing up we had next to no any Asian things (not much other foreign things either aside Swedish), let alone Japanese. Probably first encounter with Japan was around ~1985 (about 10y.o.) when I read James Clavell’s book “Shogun”. I read lot of books, sometimes semi-randomly picking up books at local library and Shogun was one of them. It was really interesting to see how different culture could be (albeit different era too). I read his other books too, but I re-read Shogun couple times.
In Finland it’s common to study different languages, it’s mandatory to study 2 foreign languages too. For basically everyone they are Swedish and English, plus quite many pick third one. I studied German as third one. At college I tried to join Latin class but it was full. One point I also took one class in Chinese (too difficult, wouldn’t recommend).
Early 2000 I had been working for Finnish cell phone company (non-Nokia) for ~5 years, and I started thinking it’d be fun to work abroad too. I told my boss if there’s opportunities for my skills at our company’s other office locations, I’d be happy to talk more. Over next 2 years there was multiple times opportunities, but they never came to realization. Then one of them was to Japan, and it seemed to happen as things started preparing. Since I had already studied several languages, I thought I should study Japanese too. I started to study already in Finland. Unfortunately the project got cancelled before I got to move to Japan, but this point I already thought the language is interesting so I kept studying for about 2 years at local adult college classes.
2005 my boss told about opportunity at our Swiss office. Since I already spoke ok German, I thought it’d be interesting. This time it actually happened, I moved to Switzerland. The project was quite short though, so winter of 2005 I already started considering next steps. My company offered another project in Chicago, or the other option would have been to return to Finland. Strangely, Nokia contacted me the same time asking if I’d like to join their office in Tokyo. I started talking about Chicago and Tokyo, and initially I chose Tokyo but when the salary numbers were laid out, I had to make hard choice of going with Chicago. Tokyo salary was ~50% less and it didn’t sound enticing enough if I couldn’t properly afford to live there.
So early 2006 I applied for work visa to Usa. The project in Chicago got canceled while waiting for visa, but there was another office in Seattle so I got moved there instead.
When in Seattle, I re-started studying. It had been about 2 years since I studied Japanese, so I had forgotten everything. I also took classes in Korean and Spanish, but I mostly continued Japanese. I did complete JLPT 4 and 3, and then gloriously failed 2 (before the new levels).
More recent Japanese studies:
I was kinda studying Japanese on-and-off for years, the problem was if I wasn’t using Japanese it was really easy to forget. Also I never cared too much about kanji so I was really bad with reading. In 2012 the company I worked for closed off most of the operations at Seattle office. Luckily just 6 months prior I received green card so I was able to stay instead of returning to Finland. I found job at Microsoft (Xbox), and there was also Japanese classes at MSFT campus so I joined those. The class time wasn’t perfect those so I quit it for a while, and then re-started again, and then quit again. Around 2014 I also heard about this WaniKani website to learn reading and I created account, but it didn’t feel important enough to spend time on it. I much rather learn to talk than read.
Around 2019 I met this funny guy called Koichi, and he was telling me about this thing called WaniKani. So I decided to give it another go. It took me bit time again to get properly started on it, but since late 2019 I haven’t missed a day. Finally after lot of days and late night studies, I hit Lvl 60. I still plan to get the longest streak in WK history. Approaching 900 now.
Other Japanese activities:
For long time I didn’t really care for any anime other than Ghibli movies (which I don’t think as anime anyway). Most other anime I just didn’t like. Occasionally I tried to watch more to help my Japanese, but the storylines in most anime are just awful and I felt they were meant more for teenagers or young adults, not old guy like me. (I did like Elfen Lied and Shura no Toki). Since then I’ve found some more watchable animes, by far the best I’ve liked was Kimetsu no Yaiba.
I’ve always loved movies, and Japanese movies have been just one category in the mix. Recent years I’ve started watching more and more, also some Japanese dramas too (for example Doctor X Daemon Michigo, Midnight Diner and Hiru no sentouzake). For past few years I’ve also had Japanese IP-TV subscription so I can watch most Japanese TV channels at home. Quite often I just have it playing in the background, just get myself exposed to listening the language. TV is great since many shows have subtitles too. Sometimes the talk is too fast, so now with the power of WaniKani I can quickly peek at the subtitles to check the kanji to help understand what they are saying. Naturally the text goes too fast to properly read it too, so needs to be combination of listen+read.
2010 I also started kendo. That is super fun sport, and one of the motivation to improve my Japanese is that I can better visit dojos in Japan (so far visited ~10 dojos, including one at the Osaka Castle). I’ve been now visiting Japan about every two years, the last trip (in 2020 February) was purely for kendo and it was the best trip ever. I started in Kagoshima where 96 years old sensei beat me easily. It was beautiful and very humbling experience. Then I went around Tokyo and Kansai for various dojos, including the one at Osaka Castle. Funny enough, after going for beer after the practice at Osaka, some old guy came to chat at the Izakaya. Turned out he was former world champion (in kendo), and head coach for the current Japan #1 team. He even invited us to watch their pratice the next day, that was truly super experience. If I didn’t speak Japanese the level I can (not great, but I can manage), it wouldn’t have happened.
I’m also now trying to read some manga. I was around Lvl20 when I got the set for “Bamboo Blade”. I read the first volume, but I didn’t understand it good enough so then I re-started around Lvl30. I’ve been reading it slowly, I’m about halfway through the set but it was great to see as I progressed through WK levels and quite often I noticed kanji I had recently learned in WK. It really gave me confidence to keep going for Lvl60. I now have also manga for Kimetsu no Yaiba, but I want to finish the Bamboo Blade first.
I also bought fairly difficult book in Japanese, “真訳 五輪書 自分を超える、道を極める”. I read about 15 pages of it with lot of difficulty. I think I need to improve much more than kanji to get through that one. Maybe one day.
In 2018 I bought car which has online radio, so when commuting I’m listening to Japanese radio stations. After browsing for a while, I kinda liked FM Kitakata. They had good amount of talk and fairly easy to listen to, not some heavy accent. I’ve planned to go visit the radio station on my next trip so I can go say thanks
I had my doubts in the beginning, but I’m gaming person and eventually as I got into habit of doing WK daily, the gaming mentality of leveling up hit me.
One of my key tip to WK is to do you. Don’t try to push faster than you feel like doing. If you want to take 5 years of completing, that’s fine. There’s about 9000 items in WK, so learning that many will take time and effort. If you try to go too fast, it stops being fun and you’ll end up quitting. For me it took about 2.5 years to complete with my pacing. For vacations and such, I slowed down but I never stopped. Every day at least few reviews to keep it going. As you can see, my level-up times are very different from level to level.
And I really recommend to add some cross-training. TV, books, movies, something. Otherwise you’re just learning strange squiggly lines without knowledge how to use them. As mentioned above, when TV has subtitles it’s great way to check certain kanji to understand what kind of situation they use it. Many times there’s multiple kanjis for same meaning, so it’s good to learn also situational awareness when to use which one.
I also recommend to read the example texts in WK. Especially as English is not my native language, sometimes I got the meaning incorrectly. Best(/worst) example was 合 for “suit”. For long time I thought it meant the outfit. If I read the example texts, I would have noticed the meaning properly.
Another tip is to check/review differences when you answer wrong and was thinking another kanji. It takes bit time but you’ll waste more time if you keep mixing the same kanjis all the time. Better to stop and figure out the differences between similar kanji so then next review you’ll have them correct.
One more tip that helped me a lot too, always think both meaning and reading before answering. Too many times I jump to conclusion about the meaning. When I see the reading it’s obvious what the actual meaning is. For example 勿論 is “must not theory”, so you could think it means “illogical” or something. When you read it aloud もちろん, the correct answer is of course of course.
Those said, I have to admit, I cheated a lot and used the second-guess button a lot. I had rules on those though:
- I didn’t care about transitive/intransitive. My main goal was to get through all kanjis, so this wasn’t important enough. In the early levels it really bogged me down, and it was making WK less fun. As said above, you do you. So I made it much more fun by allowing myself to cheat on this category.
- Words I have no clue in English. Since English isn’t my native language, especially towards the higher levels I quite often hit word I have no clue about. Naturally I googled the meaning, but it was tough to learn 2 new words at the time, not just the kanji. For example sedge 菅, I would recognize this as the plant which I don’t know in English, and write s-something and just mark it as correct.
- Words with correct idea if not exact. Bit related again to the non-native English, but sometimes I fail to understand the nuances of the meanings so I’m ok to general idea. For example “region” vs “territory”, I don’t really see them different enough to say. Another tough one for me is lend vs borrow since my native language we use one word for those and understand it from context. Even in English (after living 16 years in Seattle) I still struggle to remember which way they go.
By using those rules for cheating, I was able to make WK much more fun and it helped me keep going without bogging me down on items I didn’t feel were important enough.
One remaining tough one which I didn’t cheat, is rendaku. I still to this date don’t understand the rules in rendaku, so I just have to repeat the words until I have it memorized for each word.
Big thanks to WK community too, finding support group is great way to help push the levels. I joined the study-buddy thread here and it made huge impact. The community at WK is very supportive. For the last ~10 levels, I made bet for beer and yakiniku about reaching Lvl60 before March. That really helped make sure I got to the end
Tried to think some how to continue from here. I still want to finish WK, maybe not 100% burn but I’d like to get close to that.
I have 5000 word dictionary (Finnish-Japanese) which I’m considering reading. I assume most of them I already know, but reading in Finnish might help better understand the nuances.
I’ll definitely read more manga, and maybe one day that book I mentioned above.
I’ll watch more Japanese TV, movies and dramas.
I’ll travel to Japan whenever I can.
I’m thinking trying JLPT N3, and if pass maybe even N2 (which I’d fail for sure).
Thank you all at Tofugu, Wanikani and the community. It is so much more awesome now to keep studying Japanese as I won’t be struggling on my reading parts as bad as I used to. I might re-start the classes again if I feel like it. Will see. I’m just happy to be here now. If you read all the way here, I’m sure you can reach Lvl60 too.