If you try WaniKani, you’ll be able to complete the incredibly simple task of learning ~2,000 kanji (both meaning and reading) and 6,000+ Japanese vocabulary words. In order to do this, all you need to do is:
Do your available Lessons.
Do your reviews.
Do them every day, without fail. Probably even on Christmas.
“Simple” does not mean easy. The word “easy” is a word copywriters use to get you to buy their language learning product, be it textbook, audio program, or app. But, if you actually want to learn something, and learn it to real fluency… it’s going to be hard.
There are good reasons to limit reviews, but general speaking it’s not something a normal user should be doing frequently. If I had to word it a little differently, do each review within 24 hours of it becoming available. I think some scripts have a variation of this as prioritizing overdue items.
The Lesson → Accelerator analogy is also pretty good, but I’d probably say it’s more of a truck than a car. With the way the SRS intervals are structured here Apprentice 1 → Guru 1 or Guru 2 is more than half of the intervals, but take around a week to get results.
At the risk of being sacrilegious, I’d personally re-order that entry in the knowledge guide:
Do your reviews.
Do them every day, without fail. Probably even on Christmas.
Consider doing at least a few of your available lessons. Maybe even all of them on when you can, but not too many at once or you’ll pay for it over coming weeks and months.
Amen!! I live by this wording.
However: Note that if, like me, you only do reviews once per day (not multiple times per day) you’ll miss the 4 and 8-hour schedules.*
I used to think this only mattered if you wanted to go as fast as possible (absolutely NOT my personal goal). But it also directly impacts your cognitive load and SRS efficiency.
Basically, the job of an SRS is to give you frequent, repeated reviews of hard stuff, and less frequent reviews for things you find easy. Normally, new stuff in the earliest stages is always hard: it takes several repeats before it “sticks”. Without those 4-hour and 8-hour reviews, you’re making your daily reviews harder.
This is getting off topic, but I think the key to keeping Wanikani from becoming overwhelming boils down to just a few things:
Try to keep the SRS stage distribution of upcoming assignments fairly balanced. Especially avoid too many early-stage items (“Apprentice” and “Guru” items, or stages 1-6). A common heuristic is to keep Apprentice + Guru/10 under about 150 or so. [Self-promotion: my GanbarOmeter userscript makes this especially easy to manage.]
Also try to keep the timing distribution (scheduling) of upcoming assignments balanced. It’s far better to have 100 reviews scheduled each day for a week than 700 scheduled on the same day. This is where the accelerator analogy comes in: doing lessons (or a backlog of missed reviews) in a few huge batches rather than spreading them out is invariably a bad idea. Slow and steady is the ticket to keeping the stress within reason. [The ultimate timeline userscript configured to show the next 120 days of assignments by SRS stage can help you visualize how well you’ve spread out your upcoming assignments.]
Review “new” items (items in stages 1 and 2) repeatedly and frequently, every chance you get. I find it extremely beneficial to get “extra” reviews in for stuff in the first two stages, outside of the Wanikani schedules (mainly because I don’t do multiple review sessions per day). [Again, the GanbarOmeter makes this trivial by launching a self-study quiz for just these items.]
Try not to worry too much about your current level, level-up time, when you’ll “finish,” leeches, or especially wrong answers! The only way the WK SRS knows if you find something difficult is if you answer incorrectly. Anyone beyond level 3 is literally paying for a service to quiz you more often on stuff you find hard to remember: answering incorrectly is how you take advantage of that service.
That said, sometimes you’ll realize that you keep seeing an item as it keeps bouncing back down from higher levels. You’ll occasionally need to figure out why this keeps happening. For me, most often it just means I need more repetitions (i.e. “don’t worry about leeches and let the SRS do its magic”). Other times I’m confusing it with another character and I need to figure out which character that is and figure out some trick to keep them straight.
I think #4 is particularly important. It’s human nature to want to answer everything correctly and progress quickly, but it’s honestly better to relax about incorrect answers: they’re actually the most important part of the process!
* It takes 4 hours from completing a lesson before it’s scheduled in stage 1. It takes another 4 hours and a correct answer to move it to stage 2, and yet another correct answer and 8 hours to move it to stage 3. That’s a minimum of sixteen hours to move an unlocked item to stage 3.
I’m only on level 18, almost 19, so maybe I haven’t got to all the hard ones yet, but I never considered that doing fewer lessons would be beneficial. It’s partly because I hate outstanding things. I always clear all my phone notifications because their presence bugs me. Same with the lessons. If they are there, I will do them.
I have, at most, 225 reviews a day so far, but I will try to do them a couple of times a day so I haven’t had to do that many at once yet.
I have noticed that doing even 150 in one go takes me a lot less time than it used to, which is encouraging to me.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound disparaging. Nor did I mean that the characters get more difficult as you progress. Obviously you’ve progressed more than far enough to fully understand the process (quite quickly, to boot).
I only meant that I hope you’re able to burn items fast enough to continue doing your lessons at full speed (I’m definitely not able to). The workload is cumulative and enlightened items that you haven’t seen in four months can really come back to bite you. Trust me.
I only meant that I’ll be curious if, after a few months, you’re still able and wanting to do all your lessons as soon as they’re available.
“I made it!” posts by more than a few level-60’s prove that many people are able to maintain the pace and finish all 60 levels in a year or so, but I know for certain that I’d have burned out if I tried (and I started this process with a larger spoken Japanese vocabulary than most).
For what it’s worth, it was right around level 17 when I started finding the process a little more difficult and started to value slowing down:
I can see at a glance that my assignment queue is healthy (basically Apprentice + Guru/10 is around 150), and that my expected number of daily reviews (the gold dashed line) is within my desired range of 120 to 180.
The review timeline shows that my scheduled reviews are fairly evenly spread out, without any particularly painful days coming up. (Note Feb 12 and 13, though: I can tell I slacked off one day a couple months ago — it would be better if the reviews were balanced between those two days instead of mostly on the 13th.)
Finally, I can see that I’ve burned 4000 of the roughly 9000 items on Wanikani. To my way of thinking, that’s a far better indicator of my “real” progress than my level. I can also see that I’m currently working on a little less than half of the remaining items (roughly 2500 items are “in progress” with scheduled reviews).
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Everyone’s experience here will differ. But I still think caution is warranted regarding doing all your lessons as soon as they are available.
How long have you been doing WK? I’m pretty much seconding Rrwrex’s advice on this. If you haven’t been at this long enough for your enlightened reviews to start coming back (about 6 months in), you haven’t seen your full workload yet.
The best way I can think of to illustrate it is with this graph of my own workload:
The beginning was when I was doing WK very inconsistently, learning all of my available lessons at once, then sometimes forgetting to check my reviews for multiple days. Things stabilized around level 6 when I started to keep a much stricter, more consistent schedule of doing 10-13 lessons a day, with at least three review sessions.
Each color represents a different batch of lessons, with the exception of the first two apprentice levels (I do two batches of reviews for those items in one day, since the reviews are due 4 hours after lessons, and then 8 hours after that).
On any given day, I have reviews coming back twice from my lessons that morning (apprentice stage 1 and 2), as well as reviews from my lessons the day before (apprentice 3), from two days before (apprentice 4), from a week ago (guru 1), from two weeks ago (guru 2), from one month ago (master), and finally from four months ago (enlightened).
Because I do the same amount of lessons each day, the reviews coming in from each stage are really consistent, so the amount of time I spend daily on WK doesn’t really change (it has gradually increased over time as I have more items in circulation/pick up more leeches, but other than small ups and downs, it’s pretty much the same day after day). This makes it nice and easy for me to get my work done, because I know exactly how much time/energy to budget for it. Even when I’m having a terrible day or are super busy, I can still take the time to get my daily SRS time in.
If you don’t do a consistent number of lessons each day, your number of daily reviews probably fluctuates a lot. As you get further in WK, all of your past studying choices will come back to haunt you. So if you binged 40 lessons in one go six months ago because you were feeling great that day, those 40 reviews might come back on top of a couple hundred other reviews during a really bad day for you when you’re feeling sick or extremely demotivated and don’t want to do a bunch of extra work. Some people are able to tough it out, but for others, it can be really hard and lead to burning out.
I recommend pacing yourself with lessons to just about anyone (including OP, once you’ve gotten your reviews back to a more manageable level). Even if you’re trying to level up as fast as possible, you can still spread out your lessons (though I would recommend against going full speed). The ultimate guide to WK talks about scheduling and pacing yourself, and I highly recommend reading through it, because it has a lot of very sound advice about creating a sustainable study schedule with WK.
I’ve been hanging around the forum for almost a year now, and just in that time, I’ve seen quite a few people burn out and quit, and most of the folks who have stuck with it spread out their lessons. I’ve also met a few folks who did all of their lessons as soon as they could and still managed to reach level 60, but most of them ended up with incredibly irregular study schedules where they’d have occasional 400 review days. That’s more than twice as many as the highest number of reviews I’ve ever done in one day. That kind of schedule would not be doable for me.
Apologies for the long explanation, but this is why doing fewer lessons is beneficial! It lets you control your pace and makes things a little smoother overall. My main philosophy with SRS is I want to be kind to my future self, so I make sure my daily workload is easy enough that I can still complete it on a bad day. That’s how I protect myself from burning out.
And @izildop, I think it would be a great idea to pick up WK again and reset back a bunch of levels! You’ve probably lost anything guru or below, as well as probably many master level items, so it might be a good idea to reset back to a level where you have almost all enlightened stage items. If you have vocab lessons you haven’t done, I would reset back to a level where you’ve at least completed all of the lessons. Working through a review backlog can be pretty tough, but there are people on the forum who have done so successfully who can offer advice if you feel like you can’t get through it.
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I did not think you were disparaging.
I wasn’t actually planning to rush through the levels. I guess it’s more like, I didn’t employ a particular strategy and just went with the flow, which so far, has worked for me.
I have a few reasons for learning Japanese, but one of them is definitely reading a specific light novel. Knowing that this was my aim, I have been consistently doing my reviews as well as practicing reading other media to slowly put what I have learned into practice. Grammar lessons too, though that takes a back seat when I run out of time.
I will take your advice and slow down if I start struggling, though I see no harm in using a sort of elimination strategy; I do my lessons, then over the next day or so when they come up for review, I pass the ones I remembered and take note of the ones I didn’t. Go over them again or come up with a way to remember them, pass them next time. Any that come up again that I definitely forgot (and there haven’t been that many of those), I create a flashcard for myself and keep them handy to try to commit them to memory. I find that it usually only takes me a couple of tries before it “sticks”.
I am aware it’s not a competition and despite my method, I am not actually trying to rush through it. But it’s good to know that it’s perfectly okay and even encouraged to slow down when needed and I will keep that in mind when I hit a roadblock.
I think everything that would help you get moving forward again – would be a good idea.
If you can dig through the review pile without reset – great
If you can’t – then resetting some levels might be a good idea.
In any case, congratulations on successfully reigniting your motivation and welcome back!
Best of luck with your studies!
That last bit worries me a little — you may not fully understand my point. My worry is that waiting until you start to struggle to slow down might prove too late.
My caution about doing lessons isn’t about reviewing items you’ve seen recently (within a few days or weeks).
Most of us find our recall drops dramatically for items we haven’t seen for a few months (items that reached master and enlightened stages).
Remember that every completed lesson increases the total number of items you are actively reviewing. The only way to decrease that total is by progressing items to stage 9 (burned).
Items you answer easily and correctly today may prove more difficult after a few months without any reviews (stage-7/master items you answer correctly today won’t be reviewed again for 120 days exactly).
I see you started in September. That means you’ll start seeing and hopefully burning enlightened items soon if you haven’t already. But will the lessons you’re doing today be as easy to burn as items from the first few levels?
I think the majority of WK burnouts had more items under active review than they could actually handle. Unless your burn rate is equal to or larger than your lesson rate, WK gets progressively more difficult.
I’m one of the people who thinks that WK maybe has too much vocab, especially items that are redundant and/or that have weird meanings you can’t easily deduce from the Kanji, which tends to make the items leechy. That said, skipping all the vocab doesn’t make a lot of sense for me because it detracts from the value proposition of WK.
WK intends to teach you Kanji meanings and readings. By only doing Kanji reviews, not only are you being indirectly quizzed less on every Kanji you learn (I feel that’s important because WK review intervals are quite large compared to e.g. Anki) but also you’re skipping at least half of readings (for most items).
If you just want to learn Kanji meanings without readings, I think something like RTK and then learning readings explicitly through vocab that you get from somewhere else (e.g. core anki decks) might be more fit for the purpose.
You make an excellent point. I wasn’t even going fast, but it turned out I was going too fast for me - which I found out when all the things I only half knew came back to bite me about 10 months in. No lessons for me for months while I got my (returned) apprentice items under control. I have done a few lessons recently but I’m going to be a lot stricter about not taking things on unless my apprentice is under 100. I’m not beating myself about getting things wrong, I’m just accepting I’m here for the long haul
I restarted myself recently. I believe I was at level 13 and then I had to take a break because my work became crazy for months and when I came back I couldn’t bring myself to work through the 1200 built up reviews that I probably forgot half of. It was for sure the right call to restart, even though these early levels are agonizingly slow I found I retained a good bit still. Definitely don’t skip the vocab this time, as others have said, it’s the actual language part of the language hah. I would also suggest going in with as few scripts as possible, ones that don’t help you cheat yourself. I basically just use the dashboard cockpit and kamesame for cementing in the production of the words and kanji. I wish I had known about kamesame sooner, because it lets you add in things from other sources very easily.
B: It never occurred to me to use the heatmap to look forward like that. Thanks for the hint!
I use the heatmap mostly as a streak-tracker, motivational thing looking backward in time. It shows I’m coming up on 100,000 total reviews which is a pretty cool milestone, and I’m making a good run on finally beating my longest review streak. I did 199 days in a row very early on, then somehow didn’t get another review in until after midnight on the 200th day. It wouldn’t have hurt nearly bad if it was the 237th day or some other “not round” number.
For looking forward I like configuring the ultimate timeline to show 120 days out by SRS level (as shown above).
In case anyone not averse to scripts cares: here’s my current dashboard (I’m VERY fond of it):