Ok, let’s do this properly. Generic thread title with at least one exclamation mark: check.
Then: cake. Vanilla teacake, buttercream icing, crabigator gods appeased.
Phew, now we can get to the rest of this post.
I figured nobody is as interested in me hitting level 60 as I am, so I’ve interviewed myself for your reading convenience.
Congratulations on hitting level 60, spelchek!
Thanks, spelchek. It’s a pleasure.
Tell us about yourself?
Well, I’m a late thirties professional working in Melbourne, Australia. I head up a team of 7 amazing people, and for the last 2.5 years we’ve been busily working on…
No, no, that’s boring, skip to the Japanese bits?
Oh, ok. I studied Japanese in high school many years ago and it was fun but we learned zero kanji. I’ve been to Japan as a tourist a couple of times and with work a couple of times, and know the absolute basic tourist Japanese like ‘excuse me where is the bathroom’? and ‘I am so sorry but I have forgotten which is my umbrella, is this one yours?’.
When we went to Shirakawa-go (amazing) in 2018 my linguistic competence hit new heights of being able to tell people there was a snake over there and ask if it was a dangerous one. In short, I am a beginner in Japanese.
So why WaniKani?
Well, we had a great holiday to Japan planned in April 2020, we were going to spend time on Yakushima Island and search around on the mainland for green pheasants. I’d been getting super excited about it and then there was kind of a global pandemic, you might have heard of it.
And then for the rest of 2020 I ended up doing two full time jobs simultaneously as I got swept into my organisation’s covid response planning as well as my usual role…
Focus, focus! This is the internet, remember! We’re not talking about work here.
Oh yeah. Well I went back to working only one full time job in early 2021 but Australia and especially Melbourne took a very hard line on the covid response thing. We weren’t the only place that did and I’m certainly not trying to play the ‘my lockdown was worse than your lockdown’ game; nobody wins that game.
But I was stuck at home – we had 8pm curfews for months, we were only allowed out of our house for an hour per day for exercise for many months, we were restricted to travelling within a 5km bubble of our address and couldn’t hang out with friends and family. And I was doomscrolling, and things were really grim. So WaniKani started as a deliberate way of doing semi-productive procrastination. In particular, I realised my default option when I didn’t have anything better to do was to go and read online news, and I wanted to swap out that habit with something more positive.
And what’s been your experience of it?
I’ve loved nearly every minute of it. In particular, when I was stuck in my house and one week felt very much like the last one and I couldn’t do anything and I was really stressed about the world, the sense of safely and calmly doing reviews and graduating from level 14 to 15 to 16 on a planned schedule was amazing. WaniKani reviews quickly became my happy place.
Get really specific for me. What did you like most?
Oh, well the game-like elements are really fun and I’ve laughed out loud at the example sentences. And the mnemonics are absolutely infuriating and, for me, absolutely effective. I’ve never done an SRS system before and it’s revolutionised the way I think about my own learning capacity. I’ve learned that I have a decent short-term memory and a more average longer term one (Enlightened reviews are my killer blind spot). I loved being able to play around with different learning concepts (lessons in the morning vs lessons in the evening for instance) and get such unambiguous feedback about what works. I am devastated that I will never again get a level up email and gif from Koichi.
At a deeper level, I’ve loved learning about how kanji work. Concepts like onyomi and kunyomi were totally alien to me at the start and are intuitive now, to the point where I can guess many onyomi from the component radicals, which is like a magic trick every time it happens. Language is the echo of culture, and questions arise from learning a language that it wouldn’t occur to you to wonder otherwise: like ‘why are there so many specific words for variations of the colour red?’. It’s these questions and these moments that keep me interested and learning.
Show us your stats!
I mean, sure, if you insist.
if you must
EVEN MORE! I CRAVE A HEATMAP!!
Settle down, you’re getting annoying. Plus if you talk in capitals you might attract the attention of the POLL thread and that’s scary.
ahem. sorry. that is indeed a risk i wish to avoid. but i bet i can guess when you got covid, looking at that stats chart
I got covid on level 58. No that’s not a typo. I feel fine now, thanks for asking. At level 48 I took an amazing holiday in Tasmania and we were out of phone range for a week, so I turned on vacation mode and didn’t regret it.
Well, those stats look pretty good to me, but you cheated, right? Please tell me you didn’t skip the vocab, I hate it when people skip vocab.
No, I didn’t skip any vocab. I’m not here to judge anyone’s choices about your own learning but it does irk me slightly when people skip vocab since to me that’s the whole point!
Mine has been a very low cheating path. For starters, I don’t have any scripts installed and I have only used the browser version of WaniKani, partly because I’m sometimes doing it on my work laptop, partly because I hate typing on phones. No reordering of any kind, no undo feature if I made typos, no double check.
The reason I say very low cheating rather than no cheating is that I did on occasion get so frustrated by a typo or memory failure that I’d quit mid session, clear cookies and restart. This gives you a do-over on things you’ve got wrong where you haven’t put in the reading and meaning pair. It’s fine as an emergency option, and the price of doing it is you have to do some extra reviews, because you have to retype in everything you’ve half done. And (only after level 40) there have also been some occasions where it was late at night and I just couldn’t even and I gave up and looked some things up in jisho, I won’t deny it. I can tell you that I’ve regretted it every time, however. It dulls the feeling of accomplishment of getting to level 60. Don’t cheat, kids. It causes lingering dissatisfaction.
Apart from those occasions, no, I haven’t cheated. There’s no secret trick to this, that’s part of the beauty of it. You just have to put in the work.
Distil us some wisdom, please! Are there tips and tricks that you’d recommend for everyone?
• Keep doing the work, you’ll get the results. If you’re not seeing the results, keep doing the work anyway while you plan what to change in your habits to move closer to the results. Be kind to yourself, this is a long game.
• Stay curious. If you’re engaged with learning it helps break up the repetitive aspects of learning a language.
• Focus on incremental improvements and celebrate them. Deliberately remember sometimes that you’re getting a lot right. It’s so easy to focus on getting 4 kanji wrong out of 100 and get really sad if this becomes 15 kanji out of 100. Our brains are hardwired to weight negative feedback more strongly than positive feedback. This is helpful for SRS, since you’re much less likely to get an item wrong next time. But it’s also important to often step back and congratulate yourself for another review session completed, with most of the items correct, well done.
• Don’t compare your journey in a critical way to others. Try to ask better questions than ‘am I normal?’. For instance, you could ask ‘What can I learn from how other people have approached the problem I’m facing?’ Or ‘This isn’t working for me, what are other things I can try?’. It’s a pretty nice forum for this, to be honest. Low on the competition, high on the encouragement. But try to internalise that ethos as well. This is not a race, this is not a drill, this is an adventure.
Ok, what about the more controversial things: what worked for you that might not work for everyone?
• For me, consistency was a lifesaver. Being able to commit to a 7 day level and have a predictable workload about timing of reviews and lessons really helped. Although I went very fast the goal wasn’t speed but accuracy and consistency. I have no regrets about my pace, it worked well for me. Had we not had a pandemic, it would also have been slower. Doing the ‘fast levels’ at a 7 day pace has been delightful, a vast improvement over the level 40s which were really hard.
• I strongly prioritised habit over motivation. WaniKani just became a completely normal part of my day that I didn’t even need to think about or wonder why I was doing it, it was just the routine of what I did. If I had reviews to do, I did them before doing other less important things. If I had lessons or a large chunk of reviews to do, I’d throw that in the mix when planning everything else I had to do that day, from work to cooking. Obviously I don’t have children, they throw big spanners in routines But even when I was child minding my 3-year old niece for the day, it’s still possible to get plenty of reviews done around other jobs if you really commit to it. No judgement on whether that’s a good choice for you, to be clear!
• I realised I really don’t like to do more than 40 reviews at once. I’d much prefer to do 10 sessions of 20-30 reviews each in a day (this was roughly my peak average workload) than 3 sessions of 70+.
• I also don’t like learning more than 5 lessons at a time – even where I did 20 in a day I’d do them over a 2 hour period with breaks in between each set of 5.
• Microbreaks are great. 10 reviews, water my plants, 10 reviews, eat a sandwich, 10 reviews, stretch is a great pattern for me. The wrap up button is my friend. I also loved fitting reviews in microslices of time. Someone’s a few minutes late for a 1:1 zoom meeting? Awesome, that’s another 5 reviews done. Cup of tea and 10 reviews a few times a day gets you through a lot without it feeling like a chore or compromising your work/life too much.
• It’s worthwhile to throw the kitchen sink at improving your accuracy, it’ll save you time over the long term.
Specific notes of what I did for accuracy in case it’s helpful
- Took my time with lessons, tried hard to schedule them when my brain was functioning best. Taking a few more minutes to bed down the lessons well and run through the initial item quiz a few more times (I usually hit that ‘need more time’ button and do a self quiz a few more times before doing WaniKani’s quiz) is an excellent investment of time.
- Said words and readings out loud, even under my breath. Helps heaps.
- Reflected briefly at the end of each review session on things I got incorrect to analyse why I got them wrong and figure out how not to do it next time
- Took every opportunity to add in user synonyms that personalise the language in a way I would use the word. For example Australians shorten everything, so ‘Member of Parliament’ isn’t in my use vocabulary, it’s always MP. For things like 満点 perfect score is not really the way I’d say it, I’d use full marks, which has the added bonus of matching the kanji slightly more literally as well. User synonyms are your friend, go hog wild.
I tried lots of other tricks too, there’s plenty of threads on the forum about it. Encountering kanji in the wild while reading anything always helps and feels amazing. Writing your own mnemonics is a good skill. Writing kanji out physically helped sometimes but not others, extra practice in any format (bishbashbosh is great) definitely helps. I kept a completely separate list of leeches on kitsun for a while and ran it in parallel with wanikani but that’s a fair whack of extra srs work, which was a little bit of a grind. Try everything, keep what works is my advice, with luck you’ll learn some fun things about your brain along the way.
I’m left full of gratitude. For WaniKani, for the amazing people on these forums who have given me so many good ideas and inspiration.
The other Japanese resources I now use – from Kitsun to BunPro to KaniWani (I permanently went into vacation mode around level 20, the workload got too high but I may pick it up again) I have all got from recommendations here. Cure Dolly videos are so weird and offputting that I would never have tried them on my own, and they’ve unpacked grammar in a way nothing else has for me. Special shout out to the forum bookclubs and the legends who set them up and keep them going, and the other legends who participate in them. I lurk a lot and am silently grateful.
Two specific thanks to people who probably don’t know I exist but have said key things at key moments that helped me along the way, such is the magic of the forum
- @ChristopherFritz you were a patron saint of grammar advice on the first manga I ever read with the help of the absolute beginners’ bookclub, Teasing Master Takagi san. Super gratitude!
- @rodan thanks for many wise and wonderful contributions to the forums, I’m inspired by your ongoing curious about learning, and am specifically grateful for your suggestion (pretty sure it was you, if not, apologies!) to read a textbook like a novel, that’s the way I finally got through Genki I and II without gritting my teeth, it hadn’t worked any other way.
I love the way that beginners can jump in here with basically any polite question and get it answered in record time by someone. I like the threads that start with a rage-quit post about an obscure WaniKani word and become a philosophical discussion halfway through about kanji origins and poetry.
I’m scared of the POLLs thread, but that’s ok.
So I’ll keep doing more Japanese because I find it interesting. I really don’t have a long-term goal in mind at the moment, I’ll quit if I stop finding it interesting. For now I’m going to keep going with the 10K SRS deck on Kitsun. I’m going to go and read some more manga. I’ll keep lurking on the forums.
And, right now, I’ve gotta go and do my reviews.