The most important piece of advice I have for anyone studying Japanese is: Just keep going. How fast you go doesn’t matter. Any language takes years to master, and Japanese is no different.
[insert witty opening line about cake here]
Alright, it’s been over 3 months since I actually hit level 60, so I figured it was time to make the Level 60 post we all seem to be required to make upon reaching that sweet, sweet cake! Also, this isn’t going to be a post full of gifs and memes, so if that’s what you’re here for then sorry 'boutcha.
Since there are plenty of detailed guides out there already, I’m going to stick to what I accomplished (as more of a written record than anything) over my 2.5 years of WaniKani (+time between then and now) instead of acting like I know how this crazy language works any better than y’all do (spoiler alert: I don’t!).
First up, the stats! I capped this screenshot the day I hit 60 to preserve the position I was in regarding Guru+'d items and total time upon reaching. 914 days, or exactly 2.5 years from start to level 60. (This cap was taken Dec 15, 2019)
Now, the level-up timeline!
As you can see, my average was roughly 12 days per level, but I was far from consistent. This is what your timeline looks like if you’re an adult with a full-time job teaching middle school band (read: no real lunch breaks, 60 hour weeks on average with occasional extra work + weekend events). For some of us, it’s just not possible to sit down and do 3 review sessions per day every day for a year. On top of that, life can get in the way, and you know what? That’s fine. Progress is what matters.
I have several levels that took me excessively long amounts of time, so let's get into those a bit.
- Levels 13 & 14- I was making 8-10 hour round-trip drives almost every weekend, and work was overwhelming. Life calmed down around level 15 and I got “back on track”.
- Level 25- This is where I moved to Japan in August 2018, so life was a bit chaotic and took me a bit to adjust.
- Level 33- Took a trip back to America for Christmas, hit vacation mode. Some things are more important than kanji, amirite?
- Level 44- My parents took a trip to visit me in Japan, hit pause again as we were travelling around quite a bit, and I didn’t want to wake up early/stay up late to do reviews.
- Finally, level 50- This is where I was at when I took the JLPT N2 in July 2019, and once that was finished I took a break from studying because I had been going non-stop for a long time and wanted a break.
Here’s my heatmap and item distribution, which I screencapped yesterday. As you can see, my motivation to continue reviews since January has waned, but time spent on reviews has been replaced with reading books, so I’m not too bothered with it.
Now, here's what I accomplished in the 2.5 years (+a little) since I started WaniKani.
- July 2018- Accepted a job on the JET Program and moved to Japan. Currently contracted to begin Year 3 in August.
- July 2019- Took and passed my first JLPT! (N2)
- August 2019- Took and passed the 漢検９級 with full points.
- October 2019- Ran my first two half-marathons ever in the span of 2 weeks. Came in under 2 hours on both.
- November 2019- Practiced with the town relay team, and “made” the team as an alternate.
- January 2020- Took and passed the 漢検７級.
- February 2020- Earned my black belt in judo after practicing for under a year
- Since I started WaniKani, I’ve read 6.5 books (gotta re-borrow 君の名は and finish it gosh dang it), and all of 四月は君の噓 (only 11 volumes) in Japanese. Most of this has been since January 2020.
- All in all, I’d say I’m in general literate, and I can at least work my way through most daily conversations at work and drinking parties. I don’t really agree with them, but I frequently get compliments on both my Japanese and pronunciation from coworkers and students. Not the standard 日本語上手！！ I used to get when I first moved to Japan, but genuine compliments. I usually concede the argument once they point out that I’m arguing against being good at Japanese, in Japanese.
Lastly, for those who are interested, here's an overview of my entire Japanese studying journey from step one.
- Pre- Summer 2016- I jumped around various apps, kind of haphazardly “studying” Japanese, but never really got serious about it or learned too much. Though I do credit this exposure with making the rest of the journey easier since I had, at some point, at least seen some amount of kanji, vocab, and grammar.
- Late Summer 2016 I started using Pimsleur, and did it every day on my way to work. I eventually went back through the entire first 4 phases a second time. At the time, only 4 phases were released, so I never completed phase 5 (it was released after I was already in Japan).
- June 15, 2017 is when I started WaniKani. I had also officially set my sights on applying for the JET Program in October 2017 at this time.
- September 2017- Tofugu posts about both Lingodeer and Bunpro in their “New Japanese Learning Resources” article, and I dabble in both. At the time, Bunpro was fairly barebones and I was essentially a pure beginner, so I went with Lingodeer and it was honestly the best decision at the time, I believe.
- June 2018- In preparation for departure, I subscribed to Bunpro (they had a great sale when they first launched for real that I couldn’t pass up) and blasted through N5 (most was review thanks to Lingodeer), with the intent of clearing N4 before my July 8th departure. I was pretty close, but just barely missed the mark.
- December 2018- Cleared N3 on Bunpro.
- January 2019- Started N2 on Bunpro.
- July 2019- Passed JLPT N2 by the skin of my teeth: 90/180.
- August 2019- Passed 漢検９
- January 2020- Passed 漢検７
- (ideally) August 2020- Pass 漢検５
- (ideally) December 2020 or July 2021- Pass N1
As far as resources, I highly recommend Lingodeer and Bunpro for grammar, Pimsleur for beginner listening/speaking, Dogen for phonetics, 日本語の森 on Youtube for advanced grammar (N3+), and Kitsun for various vocabulary resources. I won’t go into a ton of detail because again, there are plenty of guides across the forums, and even specific threads about most of these resources. These are just what I used/am still using, and I’ve found them incredibly helpful.
Ultimately, the most important thing in studying Japanese (or anything, for that matter) is not speed, it’s not time spent per day, and it’s definitely not natural talent. It’s dedication to the long game. You’re not going to become fluent in one year. You’re probably not going to really learn 2000 kanji in 3 months. Japanese kids learn about the same number of kanji WaniKani will teach you over the course of NINE YEARS. Albeit in more detail than WaniKani, but that’s to be expected with native speakers, and most of us will never use kanji to the level that they will.
Just stick with it, even if it takes you longer than you expect or want it to. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, nobody can tell you you’re making them if you don’t make them in the first place. Get out of your comfort zone a little, reading books at your level won’t push you to get better, so don’t be afraid to pick up something a little more challenging. (They absolutely can reaffirm your progress and help with comprehension/retention, so I’m not dumping on easy books. I’m in the middle of 銭天堂６ so I’m really not judging.)
So, best of luck to you all on your journey! We’ve all still got tons to learn, regardless of where we’re each at. We’ll all be waiting for you with cake for when you hit the Gold Badge checkpoint