I started Wanikani on the night of January 1st. Much has changed since then, but I stuck with Wanikani no matter what, out of pride if nothing else. This afternoon, 353 days later, I reached level 60.
However, unlike most level 60 posts, I want to encourage people not to do what I did.
My story, or a cautionary tale
I started the year knowing nothing about Japanese. A few days after joining Wanikani, I came across the famous Ultimate Guide to WK, and decided that I too would speedrun Wanikani.
I saw the warnings in the guide about how difficult and time consuming it would be to do the fast levels at (nearly) full speed, but I was determined. It’s easy to dismiss the warnings when you’re on level 1 and you’re waiting around for your one or two radical reviews to come back up. And of course, I fancied myself as unusually intelligent and dedicated.
It’s another thing to live through the burn yourself. Over the course of the year, the review piles got higher and higher. I would have given up dozens of times over if it weren’t for my commitment to the promise I made to myself back in January and the idea that taking a break would mean throwing away all my previous hard work and sacrifice.
However, it’s at the end with the fast levels where things got really bad. Starting at level 50, I kept track of time spent on Wanikani each day (by writing down start and end times for each session). You can find my complete logs here, but the TLDR is that at the peak, I was averaging over two hours a day on Wanikani. One day took over three hours. And that’s not time spent on the hours or anything - that’s only counting time spent on lessons and reviews.
Are the fast levels worth it?
Just because you can do the fast levels in twice the time doesn’t mean you should. When I first started out and was waiting around for a handful of radical reviews, I found WK boring and kept waiting for it to really get started. I knew it would ramp up over time, but my attitude was “bring it on, I can take it, no matter what”.
Now I’m on the other side, and I can tell you that’s grueling, really grueling. As my log shows, at the peak I was averaging over two hours a day just doing lessons and reviews on Wanikani. One day took me over three hours!
By the end, Wanikani practically monopolized my leisure time. Long review sessions frequently left me mentally exhausted, and I’d have to break up the morning wall of reviews into four or five sessions just to get through it all.
But that’s just the cost of the fast levels. What is the benefit? Unsurprisingly, the material taught in the later levels of Wanikani is disproportionately obscure. So the least useful levels are also the hardest to speedrun.
What I’d recommend instead is to rush through the early levels as fast as possible, then take it easy.
Is that too vague? Well, the value of the levels decreases slowly, not like a binary cutoff, but if I had to put a number on it, I’d say the first 18 levels are the most useful. I’d recommend rushing up to level 18 as fast as you can, since it will be difficult to read anything without it. I found that even just reading the example sentences in Tae Kim’s grammar guide was signficantly easier after I had the early WK levels under my belt.
After that, levels 19-35 are still useful and still contain some words you’ll commonly see, they just aren’t quite as vital. You should still endeavor to go through these quickly. After that, just go through the remaining levels as you can without sweating it.
In fact, I sometimes felt like I got worse at reading towards the end, because the common words of the early levels were far in the past and thus mostly long forgotten, while my memory was crammed full of obscure kanji that you’ll rarely see in practice.
Heck, this morning, when I tried to type one of the words I’d recently learned in order to complain about the mnemonics, I found that the Google IME didn’t even offer it as a suggestion. I find it pretty crazy that we’re learning words too obscure for even the Google IME.
Caveat: One reason you may want to speedrun is to reduce the cost of WK. My speedrun meant I managed to get through all of WK while spending only $45. However, it takes a lot longer than that for things to really sink in, and the money isn’t that much in the long run. In fact, I’m seriously tempted to upgrade to a lifetime membership for an additional $60.
Obligatory stats and screenshots
Here’s the WKstats screenshots that everyone always posts:
Personally, I don’t like the way wkstats calculates accuracy, since it gives you half credit even if you miss the reading or meaning, leading to useless inflated numbers. Here are the results from my own accuracy calculator, which gives accurate combined accuracy numbers and also has the advantage of breaking things out by SRS level and type.
radical: Overall: 95.8% (3970/4146) Apprentice 1: 98.0% (483/493) Apprentice 2: 99.8% (485/486) Apprentice 3: 99.4% (512/515) Apprentice 4: 99.6% (556/558) Guru 1: 95.3% (570/598) Guru 2: 92.2% (555/602) Master: 91.4% (488/534) Enlightened: 89.2% (321/360) kanji: Overall: 92.4% (15847/17154) Apprentice 1: 95.2% (2054/2158) Apprentice 2: 98.6% (2072/2102) Apprentice 3: 98.0% (2325/2372) Apprentice 4: 97.4% (2600/2669) Guru 1: 91.5% (2503/2737) Guru 2: 85.6% (2109/2465) Master: 84.3% (1517/1799) Enlightened: 78.3% (667/852) vocabulary: Overall: 80.8% (60668/75066) Apprentice 1: 77.9% (7144/9173) Apprentice 2: 90.0% (7921/8798) Apprentice 3: 87.0% (11111/12764) Apprentice 4: 86.3% (11594/13431) Guru 1: 75.6% (9659/12779) Guru 2: 74.3% (7129/9598) Master: 72.8% (4493/6174) Enlightened: 68.8% (1617/2349) Overall accuracy: 83.520% (80485/96366)
Due to not wanting to install any browser extensions, I did not use any userscripts with WK. Notably, I did not use any override or double check scripts. Instead, I was just extra careful when doing the critical level up reviews. Luckily, most levels let you miss a review or two and still level up on time. (There are a couple of the fast levels which are “sudden death”).
However, starting around level 6, I did use the browser console to manually reorder lessons when leveling up to put the radicals and kanji first. There’s no way I could have stayed sane through all this without that. I did not ever reorder reviews - if a load of reviews came in at the same time as my level up reviews, I just gritted my teeth and plowed through, although I also did my best to carefully time when I did reviews to minimize the number of non-levelup reviews that would fall due at the same time as levelup reviews.
Additionally, starting around level 40, I used a customized version of Bish Bash Bosh to do extra practice of the new kanji when I leveled up. There’s no way I could have possibly made it through the fast levels otherwise. Expecting to look at the kanji once during the lessons and get them perfectly four hours later just doesn’t work. You can mostly do it during the slow levels by breaking the kanji up into batches, but when you go through 35 kanji lessons at once, it’s simply impossible to remember them all without extra reviews.
How good am I at Japanese?
Over my (almost) year of Japanese study, I’ve dabbled in everything from Lingodeer to Tae Kim to NHK News Easy to Nihongo no Mori. However, by far the most of my time has been spent on three things: Wanikani, watching anime without subtitles, and listening to podcasts in Japanese (I highly recommend learn Japanese with Noriko).
I cared most about developing my listening comprehension skills (because anime), although I also want to be able to read Japanese. Overall, I’d say I’ve made progress, but nowhere near as much as I’d like. Watching anime, I can catch bits and pieces, especially if I already know what’s happening, but a lot less than I’d prefer of course. Reading is still a huge struggle for me.
I’d say completing Wanikani is just the first step. As you can see above, I have a pretty poor accuracy rate on the old burn reviews. Wanikani isn’t everything - I’ve forgotten most of what I’ve learned. However, I still think it’s useful because it provides a foundation.
Whenever I look up a word in Japanese, 95% of the time it’s a word I already learned on Wanikani, so I can go “oh yeah, I remember that now” instead of having to learn it from scratch. And even if it’s a word I don’t know, 99% of the time I’ve already at least seen the kanji before. I’d be lucky to remember half the kanji on WK, especially given the sheer number of interchangeable shapeless blobs with varying combinations of radicals and meaning (which of the bazillion nurse kanji was that again? Soil? Miss? etc.) but again, I think at least previously being exposed to them makes them easier to (re)learn in the future.
And now for some cake!
I’m not sure how it started, but it seems that all of the level 60 posts talk about cake for some reason. Luckily in my case, the cake is not a lie.
By sheer coincidence, I tried to bake a traditional Japanese Christmas Cake yesterday. For some reason, the sponge cake didn’t rise at all, leading to a tough and thin cake, but at least making the whipped cream frosting and decorating it went smoothly, and it was still pretty good.