One year with WaniKani

Tomorrow marks one year on my Japanese learning journey and officially my one year anniversary with WK. Currently on an exchange in Japan, and have tonight off so I thought I would share my progress, thoughts and tips. Sorry for the wall of text!

Absolutely no japanese language skill this time last year apart from konichiwa and arigatou. I decided to learn Japanese because I was in Japan this time last year, and I wanted to learn. No reading, writing or speaking skill.

Learned katakana/Hiragana using “kana mind” on iphone in 3 days while I was in Japan. I didnt learn it perfectly, just enough to recognise most of them and relied on repeated exposure to consolidate it. Katakana is still a little difficult for me today, as I dont see it as often as the others - it just takes me longer to read it.

Found this app and signed up immediately. It suited my needs - Im a full time 2nd year medical student, so efficiency was my number one priority. In one year, I am level 36, know a bit of 1100 Kanji. My method of using wanikani is probably considered cheating for many of you, but let me explain:

The only 3rd party app I use is the ignore button. Its worked wonders for me but I understand why most people consider it cheating. My reasoning is that as a medical student, I need to learn a lot of new information very quickly. I’ve come to accept that I forget most of it pretty quickly, and instead rely on seeing the information in context in the hospital to consolidate it, after which its quite rare that I completely forget it. Juggling time to study japanese and medicine concurrently is pretty tough, so I took shortcuts.

  1. I always marked radicals as correct. I see the radical every time i see it in the Kanji so the repetition takes care of itself and I always end up remembering it every time anyway.
  2. I used WK every single day. On days where I was wrecked at the hospital I was too tired to concentrate properly so I marked ones that I got wrong only once as correct. More than once incorrect and I wouldnt click the ignore button.
  3. I pretty much didnt care about vocabulary items
  4. (most important) - I read, a lot. This was my main method of consolidation of everything I learned. Even for items marked as ‘burned’ by WaniKani I didnt fully ‘remember’ until I read it in a sentence from a book, after which i can read it perfectly pretty much every time unless its in a new word. Seeing Kanji in context, instead of standalone, is king. WK’s algorithm is good, but like anki, its not the be all and end all. I use anki concurrently with WK for sentence mining books and articles so I just didnt have time to spend hours on WK and relied on other methods for consolidation. I can memorise the side effects of a drug all I want, but I know ill never fully understand it until I see a patient suffer that side effect in front of me and the same principle works for Kanji (at least, for me).

Im well aware that this isnt for everyone, but it suited my way of learning and im not any worse off for having done so I think.

I use AJATTs method of sentence mining, and it works for me. Alongside WK, it really consolidates any Kanji that you learn, and its better for vocabulary than WK’s vocabulary system. I mine books, articles, anime etc, throw them in Anki with the help of a few add-ons, and also study these every day. Currently at 1500 sentences, for those who are familiar with the method. Not for everyone, but worth a shot if you havent tried.

Finished Genki 1 and 2 properly. Then stopped studying grammar. I now learn my grammar by mining sentences from textbooks and other sources, but I dont actively study it.

HelloTalk is amazing (not sponsored). I made a few amazing friends on there and because of that, many of them have kindly let me stay in there home during my 7 week stay in Japan. I skype with them many times a week, and its nice to have friends who can teach you natural japanase and correct you. For guys, its a bit difficult to talk to women because there are a lot of creeps lurking on there. But if youre like me and find it kinda difficult to connect with guys, just be patient when talking to females. Many of them get a lot of flirtatious messages, so just be kind and keep it interesting and they may eventually get comfortable, then they make amazing language partners. My biggest problem was a conversation dying out after “so why are you learning English?”.

I also used Italki and paid for about 10 lessons before coming to Japan. Not good for long term, but really good for practice.

Where i’m at now:

Writing - can write hiragana very well. Cant write katakana at all. Cant write Kanji at all unless im copying.

Speaking - Can hold a conversation, but not about complicated topics. I can express my thoughts most of the time, but not in long fluent sentences. My pronunciation (apparently) is excellent, but i attribute that to the countless hours talking to Japanese friends who always correct you, as well as a shit tonne of listening.

Reading - Of the Kanji that I know, I can read quite comfortably. The kanji that i dont see so often I sometimes forget the pronunciation, but always remember the meaning. I can read Manga and watch anime with subtitles and understand a good chunk of it. For some reason light novels are on a different level, so they are quite a bit harder even with the Kanji that I know.

Listening - I listen to Japanese all the time - when im driving, at home studying (japanese or Medicine) etc. Its on in the background and I rarely concentrate on it, but its always playing. That, in combination with active listening practice and conversing with my friends, I can understand a LOT more than I can speak. Faster speech I can grab onto the gist of the speech, but arent yet able to fully understand it. At my current exchange hospital I understand next to nothing because I dont know any medical words in Japanese yet.

I think ill stop here. Sorry for the long text! This is just my experience, but I hope you found it at least a little interesting. If you have specific questions please feel free to ask :slight_smile:

One year on WK with a full time study load - WK level 36, Reading is pretty good, Speaking is okay, writing is horrific. All in all, it has been a great year - I passed my medical exams, and now have lots of Japanese friends who are amazing and that I will be visiting very soon!


That’s more than half of the kanji content of WaniKani, though. If they taught all the readings in the kanji lessons, this might be more understandable.


Let me rephrase - I didnt care about vocabulary items in WK. But I do care a lot about vocabulary. Actually, any word in WK that I came across that I thought would be useful, I found a sentence using that word from a book, or on weblio and then put it into anki and learned it that way! Hence, I mostly skipped all vocabulary items on WK.

Okay, though my point was still that the vocab are there to teach you the other readings you didn’t learn in the kanji lesson, not necessarily to be of use in conversation. Even if they don’t get used in conversation, they are in your passive vocabulary.

Anyway, just hoping you’re not missing out on kanji details because you thought you wouldn’t say a word to your friends.

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Yeah I agree with that wholeheartedly. It was just because for my goals and purposes, I didnt have time to learn passive vocabulary that I will unlikely come across. If I did come across it and it was somewhat important, there was a new sentence I could mine! :slight_smile:

Looks like I’m the only one on this planet who can’t stand Genki


I don’t like Genki. I found it boring and unengaging.

Edit: Oh @Eternalsonata1 , apparently today is my two year anniversary, let’s share some cake!


I like cake.

I couldn’t finish it. Textfugu was interesting but way too verbose.
Using bunpro now.

Try the learn Japanese with manga book it’s really cool

If you mean “Japanese the Manga Way”, then that’s the one I used. A good starting point for sure. It’s a lot of fun, shame about the romaji though.


Didn’t like it either, not sure if it was because I didn’t buy the workbook. Even then, I’m sure I would still not enjoy Genki. Doing a lot based on the Bunpro recommendations. I love those numbers going up. That’s why I’m addicted to WK.

If life was based on completing progress bars, I would be a professional.


I would love to know how someone can distinguish passive from active vocabulary. Seriously. At the beginning, I also was like “Give me that top 1000 words and I’ll be totaaaallly okay.” Yeah, sure. I know that there are words way more frequently used than others, but even words considered to be in the passive section are so frequently used that it hurts.



Yeah, that’s the one. You’re right it soils an otherwise perfect product. Romaji is a pain in the butt, my eyes are magnetically drawn to it.

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Same, I know the feeling entirely. Great book though, really helped me find a starting point for understanding japanese grammar that Genki didn’t provide.

I’ve railed against Genki before, but my biggest problem is just how haphazardly it’s grammar is organized. I loved that Learn Japanese the Manga way started with basic sentence construction and built up from there.

Active and passive vocabulary is a subjective concept. So it isn’t necessarily correlated to word frequency, which is based on overall average use. In the case of the OP, the quite a few of the words they would want (or already acquired) in their active vocabulary for the medical field would most definitely fall on the less frequently used words due to their technical nature. You may, in your own studies, have learned some basic medical words (for whatever reason), but in general rarely use them because you’re those contexts may not be as frequent as someone in the medical field.

In other words, one should be able to easily identify words in their passive vocabulary because those are the words that one understands the meaning/concept but rarely use. This is why I always scratch my head when someone says “nobody uses that word”. Unless they’re referring to a word in a dead language or an archaic word, they are really saying that no one they speak to actively uses this word around them.

That aside, I agree with your critique in that no one’s going to be able predict what should or shouldn’t be in their passive vocabulary accurately, so why does it matter if you intend on aiming for high proficiency? But alas, I only have time to focus on my own learning…

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Don’t get me wrong, prioritization is definitely important. The thing is that I suspect a lot of people choose not learning not so common words and end up not really doing anything at all. Planning too much kills momentum. Not saying that this is the OP’s position. :slight_smile:

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@johnDoe I don’t like Genki either, though it was my first serious attempt to learn Japanese, so I used it nonetheless. I personally am not fond of recommending it outside of a classroom (as, without the workbook, a great amount of the exercises are difficult/pointless to do), but it works well for someone who isn’t disciplined or serious enough to use more free form methods like online blogs.

As for OP’s comment about light novels being on a different level, it only makes sense. With anime and manga, you have contextual information to provide meaning to anything you don’t immediately understand. In anime especially, there are typically “types” of voices for each speech style, and inflection to back it up. In manga, we still see the characters interacting, so we passively generate a “list” of possibilities that slide into what we can actually read. Light novels, aside from the few pictures which usually only help with maybe a paragraph or two, are strictly reading. In addition, a lot of light novelists like to use obscure kanji or jukugo, making the reading more complicated than necessary in order to stylize it. Some light novels are SIGNIFICANTLY harder to read than others. I would recommend Spice and Wolf, as it is one of the most “normally” written light novels that come to mind aside from the “older” speech style of many characters which, if you’ve watched enough anime, you’ve probably encountered anyway (things like replacing the copula “da” with “ja”).

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I understood your point. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Throwing away learning opportunities is a waste. I cannot count the times words I’ve learned incidentally have come to be useful to mean in unexpected moments.

Although the OP didn’t explicitly say this, their actions express this to a certain degree. But if it works for what they are looking for, I don’t have any further comment. I just hate not understanding things in the moment when I might have had the opportunity presented.

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