The Re-in-wani-kani-ing: A Retrospective


Hello again, my dearest Wani Kani community! It’s been quite a while since I peeked in to say hi, not since June of 2020, to be exact!

It’s been a long journey of learning and, sadly, forgetting since then. I’m writing this post to document my experience with the Japanese language over the last 9 years and my intent for the future. I’ll ultimately request the community’s help and expertise to get me going again!

So, without further ado,

IN THE BEGINNING

It all started on an ordinary afternoon for a middle-school aged version of myself. We had been handed a list of classes for the 2015 fall semester, and lil old me decided it would be a fun idea to drop Spanish for Japanese! Little did I know this one decision would dictate the course of the rest of my life in one form or another.

The first few years of that class were a breeze. We spent most of our time getting acclimated to Hiragana and Katakana while only lightly touching on basic sentence structure, kanji, and vocabulary. We took the language in at a snail’s pace, but that was only to be expected for a middle-school to high-school-level curriculum. All in all, as the challenge began to ramp up over time, five years of these classes equated to a roughly 200-level university education. It was quite the commitment, but one that was well worth it, if you ask me!

As a quick aside

These classes just so happened to be a seed of my gender transition (did I mention that one decision in middle school changed my life?). I remember pondering the speaker’s gender distinction as the topic came up with words like 俺 and あたし. Something within the idea of using feminine language in my speech sent a dopamine shot straight into my little brain cells.

And now, for your listening pleasure……

A vocal comparison of the past and present <3

The golden age


The next few years of high school were some of the most dedicated I’ve ever been to a language, heck, the most dedicated to any subject, for that matter. I attended Japanese language learning competitions, started a study group, ran the school’s Japanese club, visited Japan over the summer, began learning 書道, got about 500 kanji deep into Wani Kani, received Japanese AP college credit, and began looking for universities in Japan to continue my education. Did I mention that my decision in middle school changed my life?? To call this anything less than an obsession would be an understatement!

So… what happened?

In short, COVID happened. I graduated from the five years of language study my high school could offer and was left without any community to speak of! This is what I would like to call the ULTIMATE BURNOUT PERIOD!!! As Japan closed down its borders, I tried to find ways to do language immersion at home. I found a couple dozen online resources and just… kept… studying. Sadly, as I kept trying more and more to retain the language I’d already learned, the lack of a stable and consistent community broke my ability to keep up with all the energy I’d previously had. My review pile kept getting larger and scarier while my textbooks began collecting dust on the shelf. Over the next few years, I lost my conversational ability, and all my burned vocabulary gracefully drifted away.

Well, where am I now?


Due to the lockdowns, my passions and aspirations changed massively. While I once intended to attend a language immersion program like CIEE before applying to Temple University, my humble new beginnings saw me as an aspiring horticulturist and later entomologist. So, here I am in Portland, studying environmental science and loving every second of it! However, no matter how far separated I am from my past, I keep having this desire to begin learning once again.

As a quick summary of where I am today, I:

  • Literally can’t read the essay I submitted for my AP exam.
  • Reset from WK levels ~15-20. It’s back to square one for me!
  • Am generally unable to speak, write, or read the language anymore.
  • Want to start again! I can see now that language learning will be a challenging and lifelong undertaking, and I don’t want to stop here!

And I need your help!

I’d love to get back into the process of learning Japanese! I don’t think I’ll ever have the same vigor I did during my pre-burnout phase, but this is an alluring and worthwhile endeavor, regardless. So, what advice do y’all have? I’m looking to begin studying in my own time between university classes, and I’d most particularly love to find more opportunities to immerse myself in the language fully. What’s your methodology for self-study? How do you stay motivated outside of a classroom setting? Are there any resources you know of or recommend within Portland in particular?

And, above all else, I’d love to hear your experience! What does your language learning path look like? Was it straightforward or challenging? Did you take significant breaks and later retry, as I wish to do? Did you exchange your soul with a witch in the dark woods for N1 proficiency? Please feel free to leave anything from a quick reply to an entire life story!

And, of course, thank you for taking the time to read my post, it truly means the world to me :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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I decided to learn Japanese on a whim in 2014. I’m taking the N5 next month. Between those is a whole lot of being motivated for a few months and then burning out, of trying things and dropping things and picking them up again.

A lot of things happened in my personal life. I finished uni with a degree I hated with grades that weren’t “enough”. I had a job I hated so much I threw up, which I finally quit. I looked after my sister until she recovered from her decade-long medical issue. I went no contact with my dad. I reconciled with my other sister. I survived covid, as did my grandad, then we lost him to a nasty fall. I’ve been in therapy three times. Last month I met my niece.

Despite everything, I still keep coming back to this beautiful, infuriating, fascinating language.

Edit: DOG! I have a dog! She is important.

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Welcome back :smiling_face:

Will this become a study log? :eyes:

I’m another 9 yearser :smiling_face: I did very little for 7 and then a moderate amount the last couple years which has got me up to reading children’s books for fun.

Key points in my journey

  1. Starting
  2. Not giving up / keep going in small steps

I think that is honestly the sum of my wisdom.
I almost gave up 3 years in and the best decision ever was to look for a language exchange partner. We’ve spoken weekly since and are now best friends so I have a pretty strong motivation to keep going. Joining in book clubs and the study log crew here also has become a huge source of encouragement and joy.

Does Portland have a Japanese society? If there is get involved it’s fun!

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The life story

I got into manga in middle school, which also brought me to anime and Vocaloid. My parents banned all sad songs in middle school because I had depression and my parents thought they could just ban everything sad to get rid of the depression. I could listen to Vocaloid songs in Japanese and just lie about the lyrics though. And Vocaloid songs have a ton of “happy upbeat music but lyrics are about depression/murder/death/ennui/etc” so I got addicted. I even picked up a handful of words from obsessively singing songs with my friends.

Covid got me too. My husband told me he wanted to us to learn Japanese together in like August-September 2019, but he wanted to start in the new year as a new years resolution. I have a friend who minored in Japanese, and he pointed me towards wanikani. I was doing great, consistently leveling up and feeling like each level made me more powerful. My husband (he was actually just my boyfriend at the time) and I were long distance though. I was in Canada for school, and he lived in the US. He was going to visit me in May 2020 for a concert.

When the lockdowns happened, I felt like I lost my purpose. I was only living to have my human contact in May 2020, and that got “postponed indefinitely.” I ended up ordering food/groceries to my room and not seeing anyone until Canada passed an exemption for significant others if you filled out a notarized form that you were exclusively dating and had met in person and everything. Instead of living on the wanikani website and doing reviews 10 times a day, I just stopped one day.

Thanks to the notarized form, my husband visited me for 3 weeks in December 2020. It’s difficult to describe the touch starvation. I was super depressed and my parents were pressuring me to use covid as an excuse to fully bounce back from my mental health funk. They kept saying things like “if you don’t do X by this date, you’ll be a failure for life.” Even my therapist at the time was constantly harping on “if you just graduate college, you’ll be able to make $200k a year and all of your issues will disappear, so why aren’t you graduating yet?”

I ended up moving back to the US with my husband. I was terrified of flying alone and talking to customs, and my husband helped me pack up my room and everything too. But then I spent much of 2021 trying to get over the trauma of ~8 months with no human contact. 2022 was actually mental health focused, realizing that having separation from my parents constantly hurting my self esteem let me rebuild my self esteem a bit (also we got married). 2023 was difficult because my friend group ended up hurting my self esteem and it took me months to realize that I needed to step away.

The present time

My husband said “let’s learn Japanese…for real this time!” for 2024. I came back at level 24 with a couple thousand reviews. I listen to Vocaloid music basically every day, so there’s some kanji that I’ve been getting consistent exposure to and remembered. But the ones that I haven’t seen for 4 years were like “have I even done the lesson for this? why is this in my review pile?”

I shifted my study habits a lot. I started doing some reviews on my phone, because sometimes I’m too depressed to grab my laptop, and trying to maintain the SRS timings is important to me. I slowly reinstalled some scripts when I felt like it. Initially, in 2019, I wanted to follow SRS timings perfectly, and I was worried seeing words in the wild was “cheating,” so I avoided doing too much reading. I’ve always had a good memory and been a good test taker, so I never saw a problem with this in the beginning.

Now, I’m trying to read more. And while I do have a bunch of leeches from the teen levels, I’m trying to go through them slowly. I made a study log here and I try to read posts with questions because they teach me useful things. It took ~4 months for me to feel like I had made up for ~4 years off of reviews. I’ve still forgotten a couple burned items, but I don’t feel like I have to unburn that many, because the common ones are getting reinforced through exposure and are starting to feel familiar again anyway.

That’s making me feel like burning items really was helpful/important to my study journey, so I’ve decided to try to push wanikani as much as I can (while still trying to make some time for regular reading). Also my husband actually started wanikani this time (and got lifetime in January), so I have someone to talk to about everything, even though he’s going slow (1 month a level, so he’s level 6 now). And, I feel like pushing through reviews now. What irritated me most about going through a 2000 pile of reviews wasn’t the number - it was how many I looked at and had no idea. Doing 100 reviews of guru/master items where I know more than 90% of them goes by super quickly, compared to doing 100 reviews of items I have no memory of and have 20% accuracy on.

Initially, I read through Genki 1 and 2 and figured that was enough basic grammar to function. I have since found TokiniAndy has playlists going through Genki 1 and 2, and then he moved to Quartet books after, so I’m going to start Quartet books whenever I find the time. I’m currently playing Little Witch in the Woods (an early access steam game that’s like a witchy potion-making Stardew Valley), and for the most part I don’t have to look up grammar. And I would rather prioritize the immersion of playing a game in Japanese and trying to do quest problem solving in Japanese than take time away to do grammar, so I’m not pushing myself about it yet.

For me, reading is probably my most important skill, because I want to read books/manga and song lyrics. So I’m okay with doing this approach of kanji → grammar → immersion. Once I’m “done” with wanikani I’ll hopefully have more time to devote to grammar, and after Quartet I think I could replace that with some more serious listening/writing practice. For now, I’m just participating in the Anime club here, and occasionally trying to use the words I’m learning in sentences, or making short descriptions of my day.

FAQ

I’m not dropping anime/Vocaloid anytime soon. It’s my comfort music, and my husband and I bond by watching shows every week. So my “reason” is constantly there, even if it’s not perfect/ideal listening practice.

The forums here help keep me motivated in general. Everyone here is super nice, and there are people who have been keeping study logs going for months/years, so it’s easier to see that not everyone shows up every day super motivated. I’m keeping my inertia by telling myself I have to come back to my log to update it. And it is actually useful to be able to go back and see how I wanted to start playing Little Witch in the Woods in ~February-March when I was level 24, but I was slow with looking up a bunch of words that I’ve since learned (partially through wanikani, and partially through seeing イバラの(しん) enough times. But part of the key is doing things that I find fun in the moment. My husband can watch me play the game in Japanese and see things like 1回 and recognize it, but I have to explain to him the entire plot. But I have fun playing regardless, and immersion that’s fun keeps me going when I have to look up 50 words in one day.

Well, I haven’t yet. Maybe by the end of the game. Though it would be nice if that got me to N1 too.

If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s “going in the direction my mood feels like today.” I’m consistent with wanikani reviews as a baseline minimum, so therefore I feel like wanikani is a cornerstone of my studies. I could justify slowing down and swapping to more immersion, but I feel like it’s better for me personally to try to get 60, especially since I have ~2 months to go on the vast majoirty of my enlightened items since I dug myself out of the review hole, and in 2 months of pushing I can get really close to 60.

I have to work on getting more dedicated time to Japanese immersion, but that’s difficult because every day varies in what my husband wants to do/whether we have to do chores like get groceries/how much motivation I have/how much my mental health is killing me/whether my friends want to hang out/etc. So I’m trying to go with weekly goals of “make progress.” I’m joining my first book clubs on here, and I should recommend The BookWalker Freebies Thread - #715 by rodan, because they have free manga that rotate frequently and you can purchase 0円 volumes just by making an account, no payment details required.

Don’t worry too much about the breaks. I feel guilty sometimes that I’ve wasted a couple years, but I did important things in them, and it’s far more important that I came back. I’d recommend joining one of the many study buddy/accountability threads on here if you don’t feel up to making your own study log.

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My main reason for starting to learn Japanese was because i saw a series on BBC TV thirty years ago presented by a Japanese woman and i wanted to sound like her.

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Thank you so much for sharing about your life during all those years in between. I can definitely see this being a “Despite everything, it’s still you” type moment. The fact that you’re still sticking with it and going for the N5 all these years later is inspirational to me, as I’ve had such a similar journey of fundamental changes in my life since I began studying. I hope for both of us that we can accomplish our truly lifelong goals of learning this language, however long it takes!

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I’m not sure yet! I’ve never written one before, but I could definitely be tempted for the sake of keeping myself accountable and consistent!

It makes me happy to see so many people with a similar timeline as mine!

I like your point about taking small steps. A big mistake of mine in the past was attempting to dedicate hours and hours each day to the learning process. I looked at my old bullet journal recently, and holy smokes! I had two daily habit trackers for Japanese study and a few additional immersion tasks sprinkled throughout the week. This past version of myself truly wanted to learn as much as she could in as little time as possible, but in reality, I had to ignore many of my intended tasks due to burnout. I need to slow down to take intermittent rest breaks, lest I go 5-years-on 5-years-off again, haha.

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It’s wild to me that 2019 was already 5+ years ago. Even the fact that you pushed from level 24 to 41 in just 2024 seems surprising—despite the fact that it’s already June haha. However, if anything, that shockingly fast passage of time throughout the pandemic gives me more faith in the strength of sticking to a passion for a longer period of time, given that I start today! Imagine how well my spoken Japanese will be in 2029; given the last 4 years, it can’t be that far away, right?

THIS!!! COVID, for me, too, was a time of touch-starved depression sprinkled with a heaping tablespoon of absurdly high expectations. No wonder I got so burnt out! I think only now, in 2024, I’m getting to that point where I can focus on my mental health and the damages from the past 4 years. I’m proud of myself, you, and the rest of the world for getting through everything to this point.

I’ll add this one to my wishlist! It sounds right up my alley, and it’ll definitely be beneficial to have more media to work myself up to! I can see that BookWalker Freebees Thread being useful too, thank you :heart:

I couldn’t agree more! These forms were a huge motivating factor when I was actively posting in late 2019-2020. Y’all are continuing to convince me to begin a study log! In the absence of my old class to keep me going, this might just be the community I needed all these years :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

Y’all are all making me feel so much better about this giant break! The shift in priorities I’ve experienced during the past five years happened for a reason and is nothing I should give any blame or disappointment to.

The forums are yelling at me for creating too many replies, so I’ll combine these two haha.
@peterA As someone who frequently gets vocal envy for others, this is a very relatable sentiment haha. I wouldn’t say that the vocals on this song singlehandedly got me back into learning, but they were a strong influence for sure!

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So many heart warming responses here, and it sounds like you have you some new ideas! I hope you enjoy yourself :smiling_face:

It really does help lol. It’s so nice now and then to just say, right, I’m slowing down and that’s OK. I’ve seen a couple people who slow down on the summer, or some people take a mini break after finishing a book club, that kind of thing. I’m sure you’ll figure out what’s best for you!

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