Trails to Level 60!

Hello everyone! After exactly 500 days, I’ve made it to level 60! :partying_face: :partying_face: You can see the whole journey week-by-week in my study log here: ケミの軌跡 - Chemifox’s Study Log

What started as a journey to play an as-of-yet untranslated JRPG has hopefully turned into a lifelong habit. :smiley:

Japanese Motivations

Since discovering anime as a kid, I always knew I would learn Japanese at some point. I tried once in high school, but I lacked the discipline or self-motivation to get very far. I tried once while in college, but I was way too overwhelmed with other things to give it the attention it deserved. And for several years after, I was just too busy.

A certain event in 2020 suddenly gave me infinite free time and a desperate need for anything that didn’t involve reading the news. I got into Trails in the Sky again and wanted to play the next two games in the series… but they weren’t released in English yet. At the time, it seemed unlikely they would ever be translated. What if I just played them in Japanese? Sentence by sentence, line by line. How hard could it be?

Well, hard, obviously haha. Maybe some languages can be learned that way, but I needed more guidance. I finally found Wanikani in July, and the rest is history! Initially, I thought I would do the free trial and see how far it took me. If at any point I didn’t feel like it anymore, I would just stop. No harm done, no time wasted. Well, Wanikani seems specifically designed to work well with my brain, from the colors to the gamification, nothing else has held my focus quite so well.

In addition to JRPGs, I’m also really interested in Japanese literature, particularly Japanese science fiction. I had a few translated short story anthologies I picked up from Kinokuniya years back, and reading them felt different from western sci-fi. They’re obviously coming from a different perspective, a different cultural context. I wanted to learn more! I’ve already picked up 10 books in Japanese, a combination of novels and short story anthologies, that I hope to read in the next few years.

My Journey So Far

Firstly, a note about me. I am a person who gets huge bursts of energy and can hyper focus for weeks at a time on something, even if it’s tedious. But on the other hand, nothing kills my motivation more than doing something that I’m not interested in. Therefore, in this language learning project, I have not been shy about picking up and dropping things, from resources to immersion sources. If you look at my study log, you’ll see a lot of posts where I mention something cool I found that I want to do every week that I never mention again haha. So please enjoy this very bouncy journey.

I started Wanikani in July 2020, and shortly after, I started playing Trails in the Sky in Japanese. Well, “playing” is definitely too strong a word. I took screen shots of all of the lines in the opening cutscene and translated each line one by one. Knowing very little kanji or even Japanese grammar, this was an incredibly tedious process haha. I was spending a couple of hours on each line, but for whatever reason, in that moment, it brought me a lot of joy. Each finished line felt like its own victory, and that was really motivating. This only lasted a few months, though, as I predictably got bored of it, though I still pick it up randomly from time to time. I did get through the first few cut scenes that way which is no small task! I didn’t understand 100% of what I read, not even close, but I learned as much as I could from the material.

Major lessons:

  • How to look up kanji and vocabulary
  • Basic grammar, especially verb conjugations and particles
  • Listening to the voiceover dialogue and getting a feel for Japanese sounds

Next, I discovered the book clubs here on the Wanikani forum! I just happened to find the beginner book club just as they were starting on Shimeji Simulation, a surreal 4-koma manga. It turned out to be an incredible experience. At the start, I kept up with the pace of one chapter per week, but it came at a huge cost. I was reading a couple of hours per day which ultimately proved unsustainable since I had gone back to work by then. A few weeks in, I slowed down and spread each chapter over 2 weeks. By the end of the first volume, I had sped up noticeably. When the book club read the second volume, I could keep up at 1 chapter a week without any issues.

Major lessons:

  • how to pace myself to avoid burnout
  • casual speech patterns
  • basic Japanese sentence structure
  • parsing long strings of hiragana

Next project was trying to understand basic grammar in a more rigorous way. I joined a Genki I study group, and we finished the entire first book. :partying_face: I also bought the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar which is a great resource! I re-watched Cure Dolly’s videos. I read articles on imabi. Ultimately, though, I prefer learning grammar in the order that I encounter it. I still feel like I have a shaky foundation because of the weird roundabout way I’ve learned everything, but on the other hand, sitting down and ‘studying’ grammar without the context of a book or manga feels so boring and demotivating. I have some plans for how to incorporate this kind of study in the future while keeping it interesting because it’s still really useful.

Major lessons:

  • grammar study is boring :sob:
  • there’s a lot I still don’t know

Next, I picked up Girl’s Last Tour by the same author as Shimeji Simulation. This time, I tried to read in a more free manner, without translating every little thing. I focused on words/grammar that I don’t know and didn’t dwell on things that felt comfortable to me. At first, this didn’t change my pace much because there was still so much I didn’t know. But by volume 2, I was reading noticeably faster. By the end of the series, I could read an entire manga volume in 2 days. Of course, this particular series doesn’t have as much dialog as others, but it still feels like a huge accomplishment.

Now, I am reading a light novel for the first time (Kino’s Journey!), and my pace is once again slow as I get used to narrative-style grammar. I am so excited to see my progress as I go from one volume to the next. :smiley:

From spending two hours on each sentence to spending half an hour on each manga chapter, I’ve come a long way in a year and a half.

My Immersion Process

My process for immersion is really weird, I think, so I’d like to detail it here! This isn’t meant to be a guideline that someone should follow, though feel free to take inspiration! This is just the path I took. I think there’s a lot of room for refining the process for new learners.

Stage 0: Choose something that brings you joy. If it stops bringing you joy, throw it away. (Marie Kondo your immersion!)

Stage 1: I began by transcribing every single character in each line into a note-taking tool (I like Notion A LOT for this). I noted any new vocabulary (which at the beginning, was a lot). It helps to put all new vocabulary in a place where you can see how often they come up! Like a google doc or a Notion database. Then, I took notes on the grammar in that sentence. I made sure to cite my sources by pasting any urls or page numbers of resources that I used so I could reference it later!

I liked to give my best attempt at a translation and then either throw it into DeepL or look at the professional translation if such a thing exists (although it’s worth mentioning these sometimes preserve the ‘vibe’ of the sentence but not its grammar). Did anything surprise me? If so, I would see if I could find out why by looking at more grammar resources. If it feels too hard, I would move to the next sentence. The goal is not 100% understanding. The goal is to learn something new in every sentence and inch closer to understanding over time. If the line is too hard to learn anything from, I would skip it!

Later, I copy+pasted each line into Kamesame to start learning any new vocabulary. If I were to start over from 0 knowledge, I would focus on vocabulary that came up frequently, buuut I was feeling really extra when I started, so I just learned everything. I kept my apprentice count in Kamesame really low, though, because I didn’t want to spend a ton of time on it. By transcribing every sentence, I could go as slow or as fast as I wanted. Through this process, I would also re-read the line and see if my understanding of it has changed. Almost always, I could apply some new knowledge I had gained in the meantime and reach a higher understanding of the sentence.

Stage 2: Transcribe only lines that contain something new, either new vocabulary or new/unfamiliar grammar. At some point, transcription became more of a chore, and I was running into sentences that I could already understand at a high enough level. This seems obvious in retrospect lol, but giving the perfectionist in me the option to skip a line I already understood is something I had to specifically put effort towards.

Stage 3: While reading Girl’s Last Tour, I became familiar enough with grammar that I stopped transcribing entirely and only noted new/unfamiliar words (and page numbers so I could refer back to the text if I needed context later on). I stopped dwelling on grammar specifics, which does feel like a bit of a lost opportunity, but I gained so much reading speed that it was worth it.

Stage 4?: In the transition from manga reading to light novel reading, I went back to transcribing sentences with unfamiliar grammar, but this time, I’m focusing not on translation, but on parsing the Japanese language without translation. I’m dwelling a lot on particles, clauses, and conjunctions and how the text flows from one idea to the next both on a sentence level and a paragraph level, if that makes sense.

Wanikani Stats!



During the free trial, I did a set number of lessons per day (15?), but I quickly got impatient and started doing lessons as soon as I got them. When that stopped being sustainable, I maintained a 160 apprentice count (a number arbitrarily chosen because it had been my previous high water mark). I had a good run of levelling up every 7.5-8.5 days as you can see, but I hit a stumbling block in December.

My retention for guru items is relatively okay, but master reviews and enlightened reviews each have a noticeable drop in retention, as is expected with SRS. So my leech count was starting to build at that time. I recovered and just pushed through it with brute-force as my reviews-per-day count kept rising and rising. Eventually, it got to a point where I couldn’t ignore it, and I stopped doing so many lessons in May and started leech training. This had a huge and immediate improvement, so I made it a few more weeks, but in July 2021, I decided to slow down a bit to 9-day levels. Then I slowed down again to 10-12 day levels which was a much more pleasant experience!!


You can see my daily review count going down after I started leech training regularly around level 37-38.


The big slowdown happened at level 44, and you can see my retention, though not perfect, is noticeably better than the levels that came before it. I’ll have a better idea of just how much better when level 44 items are up for burn reviews.

Next steps!

I’m going to keep chipping away at Wanikani, but I want to turn my focus towards strengthening my foundation. To that end, I want to start reading NHK news articles again and participate in the Japanese Sentence a Day Challenge
because I think using Japanese is the best way for me to do that. Genki I worked for me, not because it is a particularly well-structured resource, but because it was more active than just reading imabi.net or watching Cure Dolly videos, for example.

I also started meeting with a tutor on italki recently! We just talk about whatever, and I pick up a few new grammar items or sentence constructions over the course of a lesson. I hope to fold those into the sentence-a-day challenge because I’m just going to forget them if I have no way to reinforce it. My speaking is extremely clumsy right now, and my listening is horrible… but like with reading, the only way to get better at it is to do it.

And of course, I’m going to keep reading! Literature is what is motivating me right now, and I’m sooooo eager to get to the point where I can join the Intermediate Book Club here on the forum. I’ll also keep following the beginner club and the absolute beginner club if I’m interested in what they’re reading! The ABC, especially, contains amazing grammar explanations that have already shored up some gaps in my knowledge.

My Genki study group also recently started a buddy read of a manga, so I will not be lacking for immersion sources for a long time!

Acknowledgements

@valkow You immediately replied to my very first post which felt really motivating, and you’ve stuck with me through it all! :pleading_face: Thank you!

@ChristopherFritz You are such an amazing presence on this forum! Your grammar explanations are incredible, and you are so patient and kind. :heart:

@Beyond_Sleepy @fallynleaf @princeofcyborgs @VikingSchism @Sylph @beckswithspecks @Rowena Thanks for keeping me company in my study log! :heart: I’ve enjoyed seeing the little heart notification pop up, and I’ve enjoyed following each of your logs as well! (Valkow and ChristopherFritz are also included here! :smiley: )

searls - Kamesame is an incredible and invaluable tool! :smiley: Thank you!

Kumirei, prouleau, rfindley, rwesterhof - Thank you for the userscripts/stats websites! They have made keeping track of my progress a breeze!

Side note: why is there a limit on mentions :sob:

Okay, phew! That was quite the ramble. :smiley: I did get cake! I got a kabocha cheesecake from a local Japanese bakery. I did not, however, get any good pictures before I ate it though lol. Imagine a cake picture here!!

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Congratulaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaations! I don’t even know what to say at this point, but I hope this frees up some time for you to read and dig into new, exciting materials. Stay passionate. Stay エース!

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I’ll write a better reply when I’m not tired, but I need to congratulate you right now! Hitting level 60 is always incredible

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Congratulations

Level 60 is quite an accomplishment! :+1:

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omg, congrats chemifox!!! That’s amazing!! Your level 60 post is so interesting and in-depth, I love seeing just how much effort you put into studying all this time! you’ve been so diligent it’s super impressive and inspiring tbh!!! (I know you said you feel like you jump around a lot and don’t follow through on some things but getting to level 60 is totally proof that you can do something long term!!!)

and thank you so much for remembering and mentioning me even though I haven’t been on in a while!!! I am honored!!<3333
I love reading about your journey and it’s so cool you’ve moved onto your first light novel! I’m excited to continue watching your progress! You’re gonna do great!!! Thanks so much for sharing!

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Congratulations :tada:

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Congratulations!! This is an amazing achievement, wow!

I’ve really enjoyed following your journey and seeing everything you’ve been reading and trying! I hope you keep updating your log with what the post-level-60 life is like!

Also, thank you so much for encouraging me and supporting my own log! It really means a lot to see the notifications on my posts. I hope I’ll be joining you in level 60 land in a little over a year!

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I’ve never even seen you here before but reading your post makes me feel so proud of you. It also gives me motivation to do better myself, I can’t wait till I have the privilege to make a level 60 post and join you up there.
So for now, おめでとうございます!頑張って!

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Big congratulations and good luck in your future studies! :partying_face::partying_face::partying_face::duck::horse:

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Congrats!! :confetti_ball: :partying_face:

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Congratulations! Turns out there is a single piece left

image

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Congrats on making it! :partying_face: Well done! :+1:

Here, have some cake!

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Congratulations! I can say I’ve always enjoyed reading your study logs (and thank you for checking in on mine when I post there too) and hope you get on well with the light novel reading

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I’m only on level 4 right now hoping to get to your level ! Congratulations it’s a huge accomplishment!

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Grats, all that’s left is the big clean up.

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First of all congratulations on your achievement! You had a great ride at WK.

Second of all your post is great, very informative and motivating. I really like how you organized your overall studies.

And finally, I just found out your Study Log, and I wish I did this earlier. It is really amazing that you stick with detailed weekly logging, and went beyond numbers and stats, but also added experiences, tries and impressions. To have all learning journey documented in one place is incredible. Just imagine re-reading the very beginning of the log few years later, should be fun.

All the best!

P.S. I hope you will continue your Study Log. Level 60 is just a number, learning Japanese does not stop at that, maybe even starts at that :slight_smile:

P.P.S. There is a old but very fun The Level 60 compilation topic that was locked due to inactivity, and went into oblivion, but it was unlocked recently - feel free to add yours if interested, it’s a wiki.

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Congrats @chemifox san :tada:

tenor162

This :ok_hand:

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Congrats!!

I am at the beginning of my wanikani journey (it’s my first month lol) and seeing that kind of post always gets me motivated so thanks!

Also I was just wondering, what’s leech training ?

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That’s awesome! Congratulations!!! :smiley: :partying_face:

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leech training is using scripts (or other methods) to work specifically on the items you’re having longterm trouble with. leeches tend to become an issue later in the progress through WK

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