One year of WK: It's not a race

…and if it is, it’s only with yourself.

Pardon my amalgam of quotes.

On April 16th 2022, I opened my WK account. I wanted to make this post as a small review of this past year with my almost daily new habit.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that this was… if not a lifetime endeavor, certainly one that warranted a lifetime subscription.

I spend around 4-6 hours at WKing every week, which is a lot, and at first glance, I expected more progress, especially compared to the “2 years” this is supposed to take.

Right now I’m level 18. WaniKani is taking me more than I thought it would to go through the levels. I was expecting to be at least level 20 by now, if not 25.

I usually score around 70-75% in my reviews, which I think is kind of low. I would be making more progress if I wasn’t constantly making the same mistakes, at least periodically. I’ve never made any extra study, so there’s that. Part of that comes down to usually doing one long review instead of more shorters ones during the day. But I’m sure there are other reasons too.

After some thought, and all these things and more considered, I’ve figured that I don’t mind this pace, and I would like to share this sentiment with those of you I know are out there who also feel are going too slowly.

Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I want to take this metaphor a bit further.

Imagine you’re an amateur marathon runner. After you’ve been training for years, the day of your first marathon comes. You’re placed at the very back of the pack, because your times are slow, or you’ve never actually had a registered race time.

Would you compare yourself with the elite athletes at the front of the pack that are going for the world record? You’re obviously participating in the same race, but would you want to be out there next to them leading the pack? Of course not. They’re pros - you’re just a hobbyist. You’d be happy if you just finish the race.

Back to WK and comparing ourselves with other, faster users. We don’t see other people’s free time, goals, life situation. We only see avatars, names, at best some level 60 story. We don’t see what they’re trying to achieve by learning Japanese, how it fits into their lives. Where learning Japanese sits on their hobby-life purpose spectrum.

For me, learning Japanese is just a hobby, and I’ve been learning for less than 18 months. I’m still very much a beginner, and it’s kind of frustrating that I can’t do anything much with the language yet, but I have a family and a Youtube channel that take up most of my time. I should be, and at the end of the day, I suppose I truly am grateful that I’m managing to put in the time that I do.

If I stop comparing myself with other “runners” and their motives and just compare myself with myself a year ago, I quickly realize that I now know more than 550 kanji and assorted vocabulary. It’s kind of incredible that I can read and recognize the words/phrases for “zoo”, “graduation ceremony” or “evil begets evil” in Japanese.

Some final observations & notes:

  1. I now use Tsurukame full-time. The new version of the vanilla website is quite unusable for me, and Tsurukame has lots of nifty add-ons built in.
  2. I hate how when I complete a level, only then do I get the deluge of new vocabulary. Is there a reason we don’t get the vocabulary together with the kanji?
  3. Even though I’m burning lots of items daily, I’m scared that I will forget everything I learn. One of the main reasons I’m putting this much effort every day into WK is that I know that if I stop, I’ll fall off. Any ideas on how to best practice reading? Grammar-wise, I’m between Genki I and II.
  4. How would you go about learning the basics for writing on top of the kanji knowledge acquired by WaniKani? I don’t want to learn how to confidently write all the kanji I know in Japanese by hand, just the basics. Mostly talking about the basic rules for stroke order here, not learning how to memorize stroke orders and patterns for all kanji, that seems 10 times more difficult and time-consuming!

Here’s to another year of WKing. Best of luck, patience and perseverance to all of us.

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To answer no. 2, it’s because the default prioritization of lessons is radical > kanji > vocab. As long as you still have kanji lessons available, you won’t get any vocab ones. If your pace is slow, chances are you won’t get very far into the vocab before you start Guruing radicals and the second set of kanji unlocks.

You can change this in Tsurukame settings, though. Go to Settings > Lessons > Order, and you can rearrange the priority. Once I started reordering, I generally started doing 5 kanji lessons + 5-10 vocab lessons (10-15 if no kanji available). I still do all radicals in one batch. If you want to mix like I do but do fewer than 10 lessons, you can also change that under Settings > Lessons > Batch Size. The minimum batch size is 3.

For no. 3, I know there are graded readers you can find online, such as on tadoku.org. The app SatoriReader is good too; it’s a paid subscription, though the first two chapters of each story are free to try it out, and there are multiple settings for furigana—all, none, or by knowledge. The last, there are multiple presets for (grade level, frequency, textbook—including Genki I and II), and you can also import via WK and/or manually add known ones. The stories also all have audio.

The book clubs on here, particularly the Absolute Beginners or Beginners Book Clubs, are also a good place to check out. You can start with the new pick (BBC I think is starting late this month, though I don’t know about ABBC) or something they’ve already read; many people still follow the old threads, so if you have questions that didn’t come up in the discussion threads, you can still ask and get an answer.

For no. 4, stroke order follows a few general patterns across all kanji, so you definitely don’t have to specifically learn to write all of them. After a handful, you start getting a feel for it. I know there are apps and practice books for writing all JLPT kanji, but if you don’t want to go that far, JP>EN dictionaries have stroke order for all common and many less common kanji, so you can just practice the ones you want to.

An example of stroke order in Shirabe Jisho:

Best of luck to you, too!

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Thanks for posting this. I was also captivated by the two year promise, but I’ve also been going fairly slowly. It’s been about two years and I’ve been stalled on level 23 for about two months.

Wanikani is great, but I think a lot of things about it are tuned for the obsessive speedrunner. I see a lot of posts where someone complains about some function or tendency of the app and the answer is “you’re not going fast enough”. They’re usually quite kind about it because this is a nice community, but it’s what the answer boils down to - it’s made for people who want to move at pace.

Tsurukame is great! It’s amazing and I use it exclusively now. I rarely if ever use base WK. Being able to force it to accept simple typos or near misses, to skip really rare or weird kanji or vocab, or to input synonyms is perfection. I’ve aggressively used its reorder ability to pace myself and force-clear those horrid vocab blobs.

I, too, detest the huge flood of vocab at the end of a lesson. It’s incredibly dispiriting. Every time I have to remind myself that vocab is much easier to learn than kanji and to just push through. But I wish it wasn’t sorted into levels at all, I want it to add a kanji and it’s vocab at the same time so I can cement the readings. It doesn’t help that you don’t always learn onyomi with the kanji (for eg 諦 the onyomi is てい but you learn あきら). I know I could do this with Anki, but that’s a lot of setup.

For writing, I found this site a great companion for WK: https://kanji.sh/ It has drill sheets with stroke order, sorted by level for WK. I have been trying to catch up to my WK level and hope that soon I can start each level by drilling the kanji physically. It’s helped me recognise radicals and separate really visually similar kanji.

Anyway, I wish you luck. I’m vacillating on whether I continue with Wanikani. It’s definitely good for recalling during reading, but when speaking I can’t remember any words from WK at all. But the biggest problem I’m finding is that despite it being a tool for reading, I still can’t read anything. At level 21 I got an email saying “you should be reading” but… reading what? Their own example sentences are way over my head grammatically and every time I try to read all the “easy” things (NHK easy or shounen manga for eg) I still spend more than 3/4 of my time in a dictionary. That’s not reading, that’s translation.

I have had luck with Bunpro, which has some very simple at-level reading passages that I can read without assistance, and this makes me feel like I’m actually improving. But Bunpro doesn’t do what WK does. Also, while they complement each other really well, WK also suffers in comparison. Bunpro’s “leech” management is significantly better. You can automatically pass through an easy item, put a difficult item back in the pile to re-learn later, and if you keep getting something wrong it creates an additional “ghost” review that helps you learn it (admittedly, the latter would only work for WK vocab, not kanji). But best of all, the vocab is always in an easy-to-read example sentence.

This perhaps highlights that no single tool will teach you a language. I still value WK, but I’ve stopped dead in my tracks with learning. This was partially because right now I just hate the experience of learning new kanji so much. There are so many visually similar ones, so many homophones, and so many synonyms (I’ve learned about ten that mean “judge”), and the mnemonics rarely do much for me. But the reviews are the worst and they still keep coming - 100 a day sometimes. I open the program once every three days, do about 150 reviews, get dispirited, leave 100 or so in the pile, and quit, only to repeat the process in a few days when the pile gets to 250 again. I hope I can rediscover my fire for Wanikani though - because to answer your last question, no, you don’t forget old items. They really are burned into your mind.

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I don’t know if it’ll be helpful but I made a Kanji deck containing all WK kanji in lesson order and stroke animations (based on the KanjiVG project): Kanji drawing practice with animated strokes, WaniKani order - AnkiWeb

I use it as a companion for my WK studies because I find that I memorize kanji better when I learn to write them.

What @enbyboiwonder says is very true: the various components of Kanjis follow a set of more or less flexible rules. If you learn how to draw the various components once you can usually draw any kanji containing them (like if you know how to draw 人 and 立 and 日 and 心 you’ll probably be able to guess how to draw 億 first try, and then even a more complicated kanji like 響 is easy to draw when you figure out the various components).

Sometimes some rules conflict with one another and you get some surprising results (like 左 vs. 右 for instance) but overall it’s fairly regular.

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i use wanikani and really like it and i also use fluentu which i can’t recommend enough. i’ve tried bunpro, which is great and lingq, which is ok, and iknow, which is ok but fluentu will enable you to use the kanji you learn in wanikani, give you lots of listening practice, watching youtube videos, and will teach you vocab and grammar from its breakdown of the videos and tests on what it teaches you.

I’m the same way. I think the biggest drawback and handicap to WK is how awful the mnemonics are. I’ve read several posts on other sites and apps about people bashing them, so it’s not just me. Some radicals are given ridiculous names for zero reasons, except for the creator of WK being “different.” While WK is helpful, I’ve found a better use of learning kanji by just reading and watching stuff with/without subs. I’ve realized I know more than I think I do. I use WK 1-2x a week, only because it’s getting annoying with the new radicals, kanji, and vocabulary’s mnemonics and ways to recognize them. “A tofu with a gun”…yeah, okay WK, okay.

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I used lingq for Russian a couple of years ago and found it pretty expensive for what little it does.

I think I’d sooner pay for Satori reader if I wanted more digestible content specifically tailored for Japanese. But in the end Yomichan in the browser + native content does 90% of the work for free so…

I ignore them almost entirely. Honestly WK’s main draw early on is the structure of the lessons and the order in which kanji and vocabulary are introduced, but then once you reach level ~20 or so you have all the basics and don’t really need that much hand-holding, I find. I still enjoy the structure because it’s motivating to “level up” and gauge your progress that way, but at this point I almost wish I could pick and choose which kanji I want to learn and which ones I want to leave for later.

I still have a long time to go until I reach 誰 or 俺 for instance (both above level 40), which I encounter all the time in the wild, meanwhile WK is teaching me how to say “steam whistle” which is cool, I guess…

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I think you are bang on, when it comest people’s life situation. I’ve been speed running so far, and it resulted it nearly 3 hours per day with 200+ reviews every single day for the past 3 weeks. Obviously, this is not something you can do if you have a partner, and kids, and demanding job at the same time.

I would assume finishing in 2 years would still easily demand around 10 hours per week.

I would definitely try to take a look at your review accuracy, it is indeed way too low. The lower your accuracy the heavier the ammount of reviews, the slower you will be. It’s a dramatic increase even going from 90% to 85%. Are you doing your reviews on time? It’s absolutely crucial that you do the first 2 reviews as soon as possible (the 4 hours then 8 hours one).

Try to manage your day so that it is possible: for example you can do some lessons at 7 pm, do the first batch of review (+4 hours) at 11pm before sleep, then do the +8 hours first thing in the morning.

When it comes to burned out items, I have to say I’m unsure at such slow speed, additional input from people that finished wanikani at slower speed would be welcome. The thing I’m afraid of is that, ideally, at good speed, by the time you might forget the burned items, you’re already doing plenty of actually reading in Japanese, allowing you to continue reviewing passively.
But if you’re too slow, I don’t know : (

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