Strapped for time, is there an "ideal level" to shift from WK to really hammering down grammar and reading?

It’s that time of year again – summer is over and the demands of the academic year (and things that I really should have finished over the summer but didn’t – hello Bayesian statistics!) are banging down my door. As the title implies, I’ve become a bit strapped for time, and I can choose to keep up with WK or I can focus on native material, but I don’t have time to do both. I have a general outline of how to proceed but was wondering what you knowledgeable people on the forums had to say on the matter. The overall goal of the adjustment is to get the most bang for my 1.5ish-hour-per-day buck.

At the moment the game plan is to continue WK until level 35ish (ETA: ~Christmas). According to WKstats that’ll get me to 95% of the N3 kanji with 80-some% of the N2 kanji and 50-some% of the N1 kanji for good measure. From what I understand/have heard in various discussions, kanji/vocab tend to get progressively more esoteric in N2 and N1, so the 95% N3 point seems like a logical pivot point if I’m just looking for functional use of the language. At that point I’m thinking to resume my grammar studies and get back into reading native material. I don’t think I’ll totally abandon WK – I’m planning to continue radical/kanji lessons but ignore vocab lessons via the reorder script. I’ll also try to keep up with my old reviews, though vocab reviews may get the ax . . .

Anyway, that’s the gist of it. Is it sound? Should I set my pivot point earlier or later? Should I continue kanji lessons after I pivot? Am I a fool for even thinking of abandoning the Crabigator? Any thoughts are welcome :slight_smile:

Edit: For future readers, I’ve selected ctlnctln’s post as the ‘solution’ to this post because of how insightful it is – it provides a lot of compelling reasons to stick with WK through to the end as well as some nice advice for some other learning strategies (like a 10 minutes of listening practice every morning). I’m still personally planning on drawing away from WK at level 35 (will continue with kanji and radicals, but there are so many vocab we need to learn that picking up a couple thousand more on here is just a drop in the bucket to the 30 thousand words that make up a native speaker’s passive vocab, and I’d rather use the time to get a head start on that and reading practice), but I definitely advise you to give it and the other posts in this thread a read and make up your own mind :slight_smile:


I can’t really comment on the grammar aspect cos I don’t know how good your grammar is, but from the reading I’ve been doing I would say that a lot of the kanji I’ve been having to look up have been from the 30s in WK. It definitely tails off once you get into the 50s especially, though obviously you still encounter them.

So I think trying to reach 35 before abandoning WK and focusing on reading native material in particular seems like a good idea (maybe even a couple of levels more if you can manage it), or you’ll be spending a lot of time looking up kanji you could have just learnt.

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Looking at the WK stats site you know ~90% of the kanji used on the web with level 35, so you could get by. If you read graded material that actually follows the JPLT classification you can read comfortably, but in the “real world” there is always the few odd kanji per sentence that you have to look up.

If you can handle the interruptions it’s fine, but for me it really slows me down, makes me tired, and I really can’t concentrate on the grammar or content. So from huge effort I didn’t learn much.

With higher levels you don’t really have to worry about that. The native material I can read now would have killed me on level 35, even though it is middle school stuff.

So my recommendation is to continue with the kanji (maybe with a slower speed), because even 5–10% of unknown kanji are a lot when reading a single page somewhere.


A question, what grammar book do you use?

Continuing with kanji is the plan; I’m thinking I’ll just drop vocab lessons while continuing on radicals/kanji so that I’ll at least recognize kanji as I’m going along. Hopefully WK will be closer to half an hour a day than the almost two hours a day it is at present.

@Radish8 Thanks! It’s nice to have somebody agree that 35 - 40 ish is about the point of diminishing returns. Maybe I’ll push through 36, vocab and all, and pivot with the new year, and then make sure to at least get the kanji through 40.

@Bane I use a combination of Human Japanese and online resources. Lots of people swear by Genki, but it didn’t work for me. I tend to really dislike Japanese textbooks for a variety of reasons I won’t go into now. Human Japanese gets a pass from me because it’s not too torturous to read (I skipped the massive vocab dumps though . . . they don’t provide kanji in book 1 and ain’t nobody got time for that), so it’s relatively quick to get through which is great for two reasons. 1) if you’re strapped for time like me, you may only have 5 - 10 minutes before bed to pick up on the next grammar point. 2) less time spent in textbooks means more time spent with native material which just seems like where you really want to be.

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Grammar > kanji > vocab > reading

I know people wanna be reading but that’s your reward for learning, not the way you learn. Manga and novels and dramas are entertainment. They’re not efficient tools to learn from.


I agree with you, mostly – you definitely want to build a foundation in all three of those things before starting to read. However you do need to get started reading at some point well before you gain mastery of all grammar forms, get 3kish kanji under your belt, and developing a passive vocab of 40k. How to balance all that is pretty up in the air, especially if you have time constraints that mean developing one means neglecting the others, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that you should at least develop all of them to some extent before getting into reading.

As for native material not being an efficient learning tool after you’ve developed an appropriate grammar and kanji foundation, that’s a pretty contentious point. You’ll find a range of opinions and evidence, both empirical and anecdotal, on both sides of the argument, and if you replace ‘native material’ with ‘real world contexts/meaningful contexts’ or something of the like, you’ll find that this is debated not just in Japanese or language contexts but in areas ranging from music instruction to best classroom practices.


Nicely put there. A lot of people are telling ‘‘read lots of manga and that way you will learn kanji and memorize then’’. Same principal goes for grammar as well.

I faced the same dilemma around level 25 (basically I was fed up with SRS apps :sweat_smile:)… did a switch in my focus… been reading the main strategy now. From here I draw new vocab and grammar and review, grammar on the spot, vocab (translation on the spot and then) goes into Anki routine.

Grammar it’s a tricky thing to review on the spot, since you can come up with a far difficult piece of grammar before you know the most basic construction related to that grammatical point. In any case, it’s the same for vocab. I can come up with fairly advanced words and then get the kanji in WK, and maybe a simpler, commoner synonym as well and then there’s this little :exploding_head: moment that puts it all together… Even considering that I wouldn’t do it the other way now, since the connection with the actual encounter of the word or grammar it’s much more potent given all the connections I can do with the words once I “close” this cycle. :sweat_smile:

I don’t think kanji will stop you for reading at your current level, that if you are not considering too many things aimed above 中学生 level.
I think grammar will take care of itself, as it is more limited, reviewing on the spot will help (you can always go deeper later if you want) to get you accustumed to any unfamiliar construct fairly quick, but then vocab… well… even WK’s 6K aren’t that much really, so I would point that as the most important task to get on with reading.

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Just as a side note. Most 少女 and 少年 manga (of which things like yotsubato and classics like glass mask, ガラスの仮面, are) will have furigana on almost all if not all kanji (少女 manga for some reason has more furigana). Basically any kanji past grade3 will have furigana. So there isnt’ any reason related to kanji knowledge that you couldn’t be reading any of those titles (if you have gotten to level 30 in WK for example). If you have primarily been doing WK there will be a TON of basic kana vocab (and vocab in gereral) that you aren’t going to know. But you are going to have to learn that stuff anyway, and since it is really common, you are going to see it often enough to retain it.

So whereas I don’t think reading manga is an efficient strategy to learn obscure kanij, it is a superior resource for learning how to read. especially if during each daily reading session you add 10 or so words you didn’t know to an srs and do those as well.

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sorry to double post. I think I get what you are getting at. But I am going to disagree in general with this statement.
native material is not an efficient way to learn if you are a beginner. You should definitly have genki level grammar / some vocab / kanji knowledge.
But after you are familiar with basic grammar I think reading is absolutely the best way to improve ones reading ability.
I do agree with you that until you get to an advanced level, it is not a good way to aquire vocab or kanji knowledge. So one should have a stratagy for studying these things in addition.

I just see a lot of posts on WK by ppl who seem to feel that if they just had a couple of more levels or a couple hundred more vocab words that reading would get easy all of a sudden. I don’t think that this is true. It takes practice. The practice should be at an approprate level, but reading (and doing the work to understand what you are reading) is a very efficient way to get better at reading.


Well pretty much this though. Most of the people asking questions like these are not at the advanced level. They’ve got a lot to lose by rushing into it.

Anyway, I think there’s a sweet spot around the intermediate level (like when you’re on the cusp of hitting N2) where it’s really beneficial (maybe even required) to do it.

But I passed N2 last year, so I guess I’d be considered advanced? When I wanna get better I study grammar or do the SRS. If I’m feeling good about my level I just benchmark myself against books until I feel like I’m not good enough again. I’ve read over 15 novels at this point. I haven’t felt like I’ve gotten better from reading since like book 3.

This is an issue but I think it’d be better solved with grammar study. Seems like WK people despise grammar books. There’s a ton of people on this website who are a super high level but are still covering N4/N3 stuff.


But that might just be that WaniKani goes faster than grammar study. For example, I started learning Japanese last November and in 10 1/2 months I’ve made it to Minna no Nihongo chapter 37 (halfway through the 2nd book). Almost N4 level, grammarwise. I started WaniKani in December and I’ve made it to level 21 in 9 1/2 months. If I had gone at top unlocking speed, I would have been level 40/45, maybe. So if you discover WaniKani relatively early in you studies, of course there is going to be a discrepancy like that.

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I can confirm. I started around mid-December.

There’s a compounding problem: it takes a lot of time and efforts to go at full speed. You’d have to have a lot of free time and unyielding motivation to study grammar on top of that.


That’s certainly valid – the music analogue of this is the Hanon/Czerny exercise schism in the piano world. Many pianists swear by those exercises (the equivalent of saying hit the textbooks), but many pianists also say just go out and learn it in the music rather than doing repetitive exercises (analogous to learning with native material). As with Japanese, I fall into the “go out and do it” camp of thought, but both approaches have turned out great pianists.

I do have to disagree with this. N4/N3 is a fine level to start getting into things like NHK Easy. Even Tofugu recommends that you start around then – get into grammar starting at WK5, start dabbling at WK10, and start delving deeper at WK20 before committing to reading at WK30. At average speeds (well, university speed anyway) you’ll probably have finished up Genki II or equivalent in that span of time, and higher level textbooks require you to read in Japanese anyway. Anecdotally, I was doing translations of NHK Easy at WK18 with only Genki I under my belt. They took awhile to do, but I felt much stronger at Japanese then, and I wish I had the time to get back into doing that.

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Well you sound like you got it all figured out so good luck.

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@acm2010, I see that you are lvl 60 so I have a question for you. (Actually two questions)
1- What does it feel like to be famous and loved by the Cabrigator :smiley:
2- Would you say that one forgets too many of the first or mid levels kanji, vocab, etc… after reaching lvl 60? or am I just too old and fogetful? Lol!

And just like that, you can be pretty good either way, but rarely can you be great without both. Michael Jordan practiced free throws, and [insert great pro golfer here] has a swing coach. Which one comes first matters less. Certain things (I find Czerny to be like this) aren’t essential, until that’s what’s holding you back from being even better, and then you have to reset and take one step back to take ten steps forward.

/Bad jazz pianist who can’t perform because terrible technique

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Not level 60 yet but I’m getting close so I hope my answer helps. I do find that I sometimes forget kanji from the earlier levels, but no amount of reviewing will help that. The best solution is to read and actually see the kanji and words you learn here in context. WaniKani is good for building up a starting vocabulary on top of kanji when you don’t know much Japanese, but nothing beats actually seeing words used in a natural conversation or in a native Japanese book. I’ve found on several occasions that certain words I learned through WaniKani have a slightly different meaning than I originally thought.


Not sure if I’m loved by the Crabigator, Its ways are mysterious :slight_smile:

I’m currently un-burning and re-doing all kanji (just the kanji) again, this time I’m writing them out and try to go as fast as possible through the reviews. I occasionally don’t remember what a meaning in WK was, or if the reading was しき or しょく after all, but for reading it is enough to have a rough idea what is going on.

The kanji on the first 10–20 levels are so frequent that you will get lots of repetitions just by reading a bit. Just doing WK only gives you a handful of repetitions, it is rather a springboard to actually learning the kanji.

On level 60 it definitely doesn’t feel like you are “finished” with kanji, or that you can read fluently. That is a different skill that must be practiced. But that practice is much easier when you don’t have to stop every sentence to look something up.

Generally, learning Japanese feels like rolling a huge boulder somewhere, and with level 60 the boulder sometimes goes downhill as well. Like I can actually spot a new grammar point in a sentence because I can see it as a whole, or remember a sentence by reading for speaking it later.