Hiya. I’m Clicky Steve, from Glasgow, Scotland.
When I first started looking through the forums and trying out WaniKani, I saw a few ongoing progress diaries that I found quite helpful, and wanted to share my own - partly for posterity, but also partly as a kind of self-accountability. I’m only on level four so far, but will update the original post below each time I level up… Hopefully to 60!
For a bit of background… Previously the only language I really had experience of outside of English (Scots) was Greek, as I have family out there. I got to a semi-intermediate level of Greek before hitting a fairly bad wall, as there were very few decent resources available at that time for somebody trying to progress in what is a relatively obscure language. With Japanese, there are so many more resources available, and I am really enjoying exploring them.
Anyway, here’s my progress entries so far, which I’ll update as I go.
April 2019: False start.
After visiting Japan for the second time, and spending a month there (almost two months over two trips), I realised how much I loved the place, and wanted to understand some of the language. I had started learning bits and pieces on DuoLingo, but I knew very little Hiragana or looked at any other resources. I signed up for WaniKani, but got confused by the term radicals and didn’t really do much again until…
2nd January 2020: Starting again (About 6 days to complete).
By now I have confirmed my third trip to Japan for October 2020, and decided to finally take learning Japanese seriously. I have gotten a good knowledge of hiragana and katana through tofugu, and decided to take the next logical step of learning Kanji with WaniKani. Alongside this, I am continuing to work on duolingo, and learning grammar using YouTube (Japanese Ammo!) and bunpro.jp.
8th January 2020: Reached level two in WK (About 6 days to complete). Completed stage 1 of duolingo.
Decided to take advantage of the winter sale and purchase lifetime, to force myself to keep this up. Some days I have been checking in just once, and other days checking in constantly, spending hours at a time - mostly on my phone so I can type the characters directly without Romanji. Finding that I can recall radicals very easily, but some other things just don’t stick at all. Based on the completion time of about 1 level a week, I am aiming to be at level 30 or higher before my trip at the end of October. Only time will tell whether this is realistic or not!
14th January 2020: Reached level three in WK (About 6 days to complete).
I initially found myself doing more WK and less of duolingo and other grammar resources, as doing all of the reviews and lessons can take up quite a bit of time. I’ve found it harder on days where I’ve been busy, and the reviews pile up past 30 at a time - but realised that if I switch to my computer for those times, I can go much faster. I am still switching between my phone and laptop though, to test the different writing skills.
There were a few days where I just couldn’t remember anything, and kept getting the reviews wrong, hitting like 30-40%, which was quite demotivating. But then you get days where all of a sudden you just remember everything, and are suddenly getting 90% and above. It’s especially cool when something just clicks and answers to things just pop into your head from somewhere in your subconscious.
Near the end of level 2 I started to explore other sources. I’ve been trying out http://delvinlanguage.com/ for listening and vocabulary. I picked up a Genki I textbook and workbook, as well as Japanese: the Manga Way. My plan is to try lots of different things for a while, and see which stick naturally to aid learning. Have slowed down on bunpro.jp as I don’t love the ‘teaching’ portion, but will come back to it when I have a better understanding. Currently sinking in a significant amount of free time into Japanese, but I would just be watching TV or something else anyway.
2nd February 2020: Reached level four in WK. (About 18 days to complete).
To get to level four, I experimented with re-ordering the lessons so I am doing all the radicals first, then the kanji, then the vocab. This is because I suspect I can remember things better in this order, from simpler to more complicated. It has also helped with reviews when I end up with a lot of them to do at once. My accuracy has also been improving.
I’ve also realised that sometimes the mnemonics just don’t stick in my brain, and I struggle coming up with alternatives, so in these cases I’ve been referring to ‘PictoGraphix’ by Michael Rowley - a Kanji book which has lots of accompanying pictures. These stick in my head more, and have helped when I get stuck.
In terms of other resources… I have still been plugging away at duolingo, but also really been enjoying “Japanese: the Manga Way” book. It is laid out in a really clear and interesting way - and has helped my understanding a whole lot. I’ve also been making use of KaniWani to supplement WK and help with recall - about once a day. I find that I can often remember the kanji and how to say them, but can’t always type them properly yet - which is annoying. That’s another (!) thing to work on.
I took a bit longer to get to level four than I would have liked, as I had about a week ‘off’ where I was travelling for work and couldn’t dedicate the time to doing my daily reviews. This threw me, and stalled my progress (which was pretty de-motivating), but after a day or so I managed to get back on the horse, so to speak.
13th February 2020: Reached level five in WK. (About 11 days to complete).
WK: I’ve installed the leech userscript to try knock out some of the stubborn vocab/kanji I just can’t get into my head. It’s been helpful for identifying the ones I need to work on - which isn’t always obvious to me when just working through Reviews. I’ve found that when there are very different words for vocab and kanji that look the same, that tends to throw me. I’ve also realised that I’ve been lagging behind with the vocab lessons since using the reorder script, so I’ve been doing at least a few vocab lessons every day (rather than focussing on reviews and keeping my review pile under 100).
I’ve also read a book on learning recently which says that ‘block learning’ where you do many things of the same type helps you feel better about your progress in the short term, but that in the long term it is actually far less valuable than ‘interleaving’ learning, where you do different kinds of reviews. In other words, re-ordering my reviews so that I’m blocking the vocabulary etc together might seem like it’s helpful, but in the longer term it will mean I remember things less effectively - so I’m going to stop doing that.
Japanese generally: I’ve realised that I have been mostly relying on WaniKani for my daily Japanese studies, with a sprinkling of duolingo - and that it isn’t enough for what I want. Because of that I got a small cheap phrase book which has been helpful. I changed my approach to DuoLingo too. Beforehand I was trying to understand everything and be able to read it all etc on each lesson, but I’ve realised that isn’t quite how the app is set up. It’s okay to guess and work things out from context - because each level builds on things in a way that should theoretically mean you learn. So I am trying to be more relaxed about it and just do a bunch of lessons regularly.
One thing I’ve noticed that is cool is that I looked over some old photos from my first trip to Japan the other day, and realised that I am able to understand some words from signs in the background, like 中古 and 入口.
7th March 2020: Reached level six in WK. (About 22 days to complete).
WK: I was beginning to end up a couple of levels behind with my vocabulary due to the reorder script, so made a conscious effort to turn that around. I can still level up at a similar pace, I just need to do a lot more lessons and reviews, which was fine. I struggled this month, as the time taken to complete shows. I’m not 100% sure why, but I found things hard to remember, and began to lose motivation. I’m hoping I can do much better with level 7.
Japanese generally: Ran out of my free bunpro.jp trial so signed up for the monthly sub. I had abandoned it as it felt way too difficult a few weeks ago, but now I am starting to get a hang of things a bit better which is good. Went to see a Japanese film and couldn’t understand anything at first, but by the end I was surprised at how many characters I could recognise and vocabulary I picked out from the dialogue. Even managed to spot some omissions/oddities in the English subtitles. I lost a bit of motivation because of how slow I was going with WK, so need to try pick that up.
25th March: Reached level seven in WK. (About 18 days to complete).
WK: I started out on level six feeling quite despondent, as at the end of level five I felt like I was treading water; not really retaining things properly, and my motivation was plummeting as a result. However, I reached out for some advice in the forums, and got a load of help. It’s about now that I really began to appreciate the WK community. As well as some great tips on changing perspective, I found some other practical threads. One was this which helped differentiate between ‘cow’ and ‘noon’ - which I kept getting mixed up.
Another thing I did was to set my lesson sets to three at a time, rather than the default 5. I read somewhere that @sharpevil said that doing three meant that the lessons were like ‘popcorn’, which I liked, and resonate with. The prospect of doing lessons became far less daunting, went by much quicker, and I actually wound up doing a lot more as a result. “Oh go on, I’ll just do three more…”.
Some misc thoughts: The best feeling is still when you can’t remember something and all of a sudden it pops into your head. I could have levelled up a few days earlier, but I had a couple of days off from reviews due to virus related drama. I like the new Dashboard. It makes things easier to keep track of. I am still a few levels behind on vocab, but doing my best to catch that up.
Japanese elsewhere: Been doing Duolingo mostly. Started the Genki textbook which is really helpful for explaining things that I wasn’t aware of or didn’t quite understand. Rather than try and do a wee bit of everything a day, I am now going to try and focus on one source aside from WK. Finding the time is the hardest!
16th April 2020: Reached level eight in WK. (About 22 days to complete).
WK: Nothing much to report here, other than it seems like I am now averaging about 20ish days per level which is a bit disappointing. I could go quicker if I focussed solely on the kanji rather than the vocab as well, but I don’t want to do that. Even still, I am lagging behind on the vocab as it is… I’ll have to step things up a bit probably…. but I also don’t want to burn out.
Japanese elsewhere: I haven’t made much headway with anything outside of WK over the past few weeks, which is disappointing. Definitely feel a bit like I’m putting in a fair amount of work and not really progressing, but I just have to get over that. Some days I find I can read more than I expect which is nice. I stumbled upon these Katakana flashcards which looked decent, and I picked up a set to help me recall that side of things as I don’t see it as often so am pretty rusty. It’s been helpful.
Right at the end of this level I tried to force myself to use Duolingo again after a break, and noticed that they’ve added a bunch of extra lessons for Katakana as well. That’s good as it will help me learn, but I’m also raging as they added them to Level One which I had already completed!! I’ve since gone back and completed it again.
26th April 2020: Reached level nine in WK. (About 10 days to complete).
WK: I started out this level determined to make more of a concerted effort, and progress a bit faster than I have been lately. I continued to focus on prioritising the radicals and kanji as before, but stepped up my game in terms of reviews. One of the tactics I used was to do as many WK reviews in the morning as I could before doing anything else. After that, I did the reviews more frequently, whenever I had 15 minutes spare. That meant that I was doing reviews more frequently, but for shorter lengths of time. This meant that I was levelling up the SRS stages faster as I was doing more reviews, but it also meant that my retention has noticeably improved.
The one major wrinkle in the pudding given my approach is that I am definitely much further behind with vocabulary than I want to be. However, I’ve just accepted that this is the way it is - though I am doing what I can to catch up as much as possible. It’s tough to do that while sticking to about 100 Apprentice reviews at a time though. I do suspect that a script was feeding me the higher level vocab and not the earlier levels though… so I was constantly getting new and harder stuff rather than getting the chance to bed in the older vocab. I’ve fixed that, so we’ll see if it makes a difference in future.
Duolingo: I have gone in and out of paying a decent amount of attention to Duolingo. I find it much harder to keep on top of than WaniKani for whatever reason - perhaps because it doesn’t feel like I actually understand much outside of guesswork… I am still plugging away at it irregularly though as I do seem to retain some things. It’s just a slow burning kind of slog. At least now I am actually doing new lessons, rather than just going over old ones to get easy XP!
Japanese elsewhere: A few weeks ago I really struggled with reading anything in katakana, having forgotten all the stuff I learned from tofugu’s guide through lack of use. However, I now have a fairly decent grasp on most of it, and I am practicing where I can. The problem for me is now working out how to relate the Japanese pronunciation of certain words with the English, as it isn’t always obvious.
Thanks to my focus on WK, my general reading comprehension is definitely becoming my strongest area - in the sense that I am able to pick up more kanji and words from context when I see them written down than before. However, my understanding of grammar, and actual vocabulary knowledge for key, everyday terms is poor.
I have been dipping into the Manga Grammar book and the Genki coursework infrequently. Every time I do, I find them immensely helpful - but actually carving out the time to sit with the books and study is proving difficult. This is something I want to get better at.
p.s. sorry these are long
26th May 2020: Reached level ten in WK. (About 30 days to complete).
WK: Oh man, this was a bittersweet slog. I did a bunch of lessons at the end of the last level to try and get through more vocab which caught up on me big time. I had about 200 in Apprentice, which meant I had piles of reviews each day. It felt impossible to get through them consistently, which meant I started to forget things, and got more demotivated. Big mistake! I eventually just had to sit down and chug through 250 odd reviews in bursts to clear them all. Doing so by level helped. After that I just had to stay on top of things more often - but it really slowed me down.
Elsewhere: I got so demotivated this period that I didn’t really do any Duolingo, or very much of Genki/my other sources for a good while. However, I signed up to try out some one on one Japanese tutoring online. This was partly to act as a motivator, but also because I realised that with my current approach I will probably be able to read a fair bit, but not actually speak very much. That helped to spur me on. I also realised that if I want to be conversational faster, then perhaps needed to spend a bit less time focussed on Kanji (so definitely under 100 apprentice reviews) and more time on vocab outside of WK. To try help that, I downloaded Anki and have been working through some vocab lists.
Found Cure Dolly’s book that was helpful in understanding some things conceptually a bit better - Cure Dolly - Unlocking Japanese: Making Japanese as simple as it really is
7th June 2020: Reached level eleven in WK. (About 12 days to complete).
WK: I dived right in to level 11 as soon as I had finished level 10. My strategy now is to concentrate on the kanji and radicals as a priority, and focus on developing vocab elsewhere as I don’t seem to remember it as well from WK. For the kanji I’ve been spending more time thinking about the stories/mnemonics in my head and saying them out loud when doing the lessons, then following up on the reviews as soon as they come up. Vocab wise I’ve been chipping away to bring down my apprentice numbers from 190 odd. Once I’ve got them under control, I think 100ish will be the sweet spot.
Japanese elsewhere: I have been continuing with my Japanese tutor - once a week for an hour at a time. It has been really helpful - giving me motivation as well as the chance to focus and practice. I’ve noticed that I can read much more than I thought thanks to WK, and the tutor was surprised that I knew kanji (probably because my other skills are so crap).
I’ve installed YomiChan for Anki which was really fiddly to set up, but great once I got it working as I can quickly lookup and grab words I come across that I want to remember. Each week I am now adding in words from the lessons with the tutor and reviewing them. This, coupled with (very slowly) studying Genki has been the biggest help so far. I’ve noticed that I’m starting to immediately think of some Japanese words now in relation to everyday life, which is a good sign.
I started working through Cure Dolly’s video course, and had a few moments of things clicking. Beforehand it felt like I was just memorising phrases, and now I can actually construct things and understand the logic of basic sentences, which is awesome.
Other apps: I have basically abandoned duolingo for now as I don’t think it was really helping me much at all. I tried a week trial of Drop which seemed to help me remember some words fairly well, and I got a 60% discount so it was just £24 for the year, so I’ve decided to give that a try for another way to learn vocab.
Generally feeling fairly positive at this point!
17th June 2020: Reached Level Twelve in WK. (About 10 days to complete)
WK: Getting into a decent groove now I have brought my Apprentice count down to about 100, and have stopped stressing out about trying to catch up on all the vocabulary. Enjoying the process again by focussing on the Kanji, and doing vocab lessons when I have the extra time.
Elsewhere: I picked up a copy of 'Remembering the Kanji vol. I’ by James W. Heisig. It only teaches you how to write and understand the meaning of kanji, but not how to say them. However, I quite like using it as an extra learning tool to supplement WK. Writing things down is actually more useful and interesting than I thought it would be, so I’ve been putting a bit of time in every day to do that.
At this point I have so many different resources and things to stay on top of, but it means I never get bored, and I feel like my learning has really accelerated lately - especially with my weekly Japanese tuition. I can now create and understand all kinds of sentences, which feels amazing. Some days it feels like the mountain is impossible to climb, but other days I am surprised at how much I know.
28th June 2020: Reached Level Thirteen in WK. (About 11 days to complete)
WK: Reached level 13! I’ve worked out that I now know about 400ish Kanji, which isn’t to be sniffed at. I also got my first burns as well during the last level, which is a good feeling. 25 in total, which is not bad at all. I think 10-12 days is probably about right for levelling up now, which is not bad. If I stick to that kind of trajectory I should be on level 23-25 by the next time I go to Japan, which is pretty comforting.
Japanese elsewhere: I’ve been using kitsun.io to learn specific words I come across and want to remember. I like it a lot better than Anki, so I think I’ll be subscribing. I’ve also picked up a few different books like the Japanese Grammar dictionary to help me understand different points. I’m carrying on with my Japanese lessons once a week also. Hopefully this will all help. Onward and upward!
10th July 2020: Reached Level Fourteen in WK. (About 12 days to complete)
WK: This level was tough going. I found the kanji much harder to remember, and some of the mnemonics didn’t really make any sense in my head as their link to the word was pretty tenuous at times. I got things wrong a lot, but was fairly dedicated at my reviews, which meant I still managed to level up in 12 days somehow! I now have 72 burns which is pretty cool to see.
Elsewhere: It’s been slow going the past couple of weeks. I’ve had a lot of other things on so I haven’t felt as motivated or excited about Japanese, and feel like I’ve plateaued a bit. However, this picked up again near the end thanks to my 1:1 Japanese lessons. I found myself responding to a couple of questions without having to sit and think about the answer, which caught me by surprise, and was pretty exciting. A small thing, but one which felt good. I started a blog at allmywordsarejapanese.wordpress.com to update my failures and progress when I feel inspired.
28th July 2020: Reached Level Fifteen in WK. (About 18 days to complete)
WK: Now that I am getting a bunch of burns (up to 149!), I wanted a bit more fanfare, so installed the Burn Celebration script. It is fantastic, and reminds me of the Hall of Gratuitous Praise from Sabrina the Teenage Witch… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvGAE-ScNDY
This level was pretty tough going. I found things hard to remember, and I had a few days holiday at the beach where I thought I would get a bunch done but didn’t, so that slowed me down.
Elsewhere: I have been slowly plodding along - continuing with my 1:1 lessons which are getting tougher to remember everything. My kanji reading is definitely better than my other skills, so I need to find a way to balance that out more. By the end of the level (the very last day) I had started to pick up some more motivation again, so will see what this next few weeks brings.
9th August 2020: Reached Level Sixteen in WK. (About 12 days to complete)
WK: I’ve gotten really behind in the vocabulary on WK, which I don’t like, but my aim is to smash through the kanj first and then circle back round. This seems counter-intuitive but knowing the kanji has proven much more useful when learning the vocab that is more relevant to me, other than the random words WK throws up. In all honesty, if I was to do the vocab as well it would take me forever to progress as I struggle with anything more than 100 in the apprentice level. This level specifically was okay, but felt like a bit of a slog, as I had so many reviews from other levels popping up.
Elsewhere: At the very end of level 14 I realised I needed to up my game with my conversational Japanese, as it is far behind my Kanji comprehension, and I was struggling to remember things during my weekly 1:1 lessons. I signed up for the HelloTalk app, and started posting some sentences for other folks to correct. It has been pretty useful so far, and actually pretty motivational. I think I saw the single biggest improvement to my Japanese for a long time after using HelloTalk that first week, as I was thinking in the language. I was a bit busier the second week so didn’t come on as much, but it was still valuable.
As well as HT, I signed up for Bunpro.JP again, and discovered that I actually was able to understand far more than I did a few months ago when I stopped using it. That has felt good, as there has been a noticeable progression.
My band are meant to tour Japan in October, but that pretty much looks impossible at this point, which is pretty disappointing. I am trying to look on the bright side though, and (so long as I get the money back from the flight costs) it gives me more time to learn the language, so that the next time I can actually get out there, I should be able to have some kind of conversational ability. Perhaps I’ll even have hit level 60 on WK at this rate…
19th August 2020: Reached Level Seventeen in WK. (About 10 days to complete)
WK: I finished this level pretty quickly - surprisingly quickly - but I found myself hitting a wall with a bunch of older reviews and forgetting a lot. Even though it was fast, it felt like a bit of a slog. I think I need to double down on my reviews and not do them in small chunks like I have been. Either way… I am still plugging away
Elsewhere: Carrying on with my Japanese lessons and using hellotalk, although a bit less frequently. I posted a blog about Flashcard apps (kitsun.io is great!) - https://allmywordsarejapanese.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/flashcard-apps/ Unfortunately got confirmation that my trip to Japan in October is now officially cancelled, which is a shame - and removes some of the immediate pressure to improve, which is probably a good and a bad thing.
11th September 2020: Reached Level Eighteen in WK. (About 22 days to complete)
WK: omg this was a slog. I started taking a bit longer this time deliberately, to try and make sure I soak things up better and try catch up on some vocab… but it didn’t quite work out, and I ended up with over 400 reviews at one point, and over 200 at the apprentice level. It was definitely the hardest level so far… and I think I need to slow down a bit more or I am going to get overwhelmed.
Elsewhere: I learned the te form for the first time. Found a good site to help practice. https://steven-kraft.com/projects/japanese/ Despite this, I felt like I lost some of my comprehension ability. I need to spend more time on apps like HelloTalk, crafting sentences to put things into practice.
23rd November 2020
Unfortunately my progress has stagnated. I somehow got behind on my reviews, which meant that I developed a huge backlog which was impossible to work through. I’ve tried tackling them as much as possible, doing no lessons… just reviews, but it’s very de-motivating. I find myself forgetting kanji I knew because I’m so behind, which then just adds to the giant pile I have to work through every day, and I’m a bit stuck. I might post seeking advice in a separate thread.
Other than that, the Japanese learning has been going not too badly. I’ve carried on with my weekly lessons, learning vocabulary with Kitsun, watching Japanese TV etc.