Wani Kani motivation struggles & questions for long-time users

Long time lurker first time poster. みなさんこんにちは :wave:

I’m curious about everyone else’s journey with WaniKani. As someone with a full time job that also demands putting in extra hours outside of work (don’t work in law) it is certainly challenging to motivate myself to tackle my reviews head on, and this is probably why I feel as if I’ve been on Level 12 for an eternity. I’ve been so afraid to take on new lessons as the reviews were challenging enough alone!

I travelled to Japan in January this year for the first time and fell head over heels with the country and people which made the frustration of not being able to think on my feet fast enough and form a sentence to have casual conversation, even more disheartening. Even though it really knocked my confidence I made a promise to myself that after I’m back I’m going to avoid doing what has essentially been the bare minimum to get by …

Well, that didn’t happen as life got "lifey’ again but, thankfully, I’m happy that these past few weeks I seemed to have got my motivation going again as it’s dawned on me I’ve made zero progress for a long time.

So, I have a couple of questions for long time users here I’d be interested to know your thoughts on:

  1. Have you also hit a roadblock in your WaniKani journey and how often did you have to hit that vacation mode button? I’m ashamed to say I’ve used it often but in hindsight it’s been a saviour and a hindrance
  2. At what level did you start to feel like you’re making progress? (whatever progress means to you). I want to read the Flowers of Evil Manga but is it best to only do this once at a suitable level or is having something you want to read a good motivator even though you’ll be stopping and starting every other word?
  3. Would you say Bunpro in combination with WK is good for someone with little free time? What’s best to throw in the mix? I’m finding ‘Cure Dolly’ videos intriguing, plus ‘Japanese Ammo with Misa’.
    And, most importantly …
  4. Why oh why do I always get 研究室 and 研究所 meanings mixed up? It’s not that difficult! Send help!
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Quick version, just keep at it, I’ve had a few lulls over the years, and have just spent about 4 months+ trying to get down a pile of 2.5k reviews, so yeah use your vacation mode. That being said, as a long time user, even though when I stopped at level 25 or so, I was flying, when I came back, it was so hard to get back into it, and stuff I thought I had down, I instantly forgot. So, I guess slow and steady wins the race (and its not a race, I’ve been on WK for more than 7 years). My two cents is also that starting WK from zero is a tough thing to do without prior knowledge and/or supplementary reading. So try and reinforce your learning with as much exposure (books, subtitles etc) and hopefully the results will help accelerate your learning.

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For this, just do it, and use the classic repetition + novelty method. Look up everything you need to, read as much as you can a day, finish the first volume. Then the same for the second volume. Then go back to the first and read it again, etc. So, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 4, 3, 4, 5… Eventually you’ll finish / catch up, then start from the beginning. You’ll get more out of it the more you understand and if it’s any good, it’ll be worth re-reading. Every time you re-read a volume it’ll get easier, you’ll understand more, and the fact that you half remember what it’s meant to say helps you learn the words.

Both of those youtube channels are good but don’t just watch them, put into practice what you watch otherwise it’ll just give the impression of learning, rather than actually learning. Like having a gym membership but never going.

As for Bunpro - I never got on with it, it seemed like more of a revision tool, but some people swear by it. I use the Anki deck 8547 Japanese Sentences, along with the grammar books the example sentences are taken from - read the sentence, look up the grammar point if I need to, get ~9 more sentences with variations on the same point, see them all repeatedly, press ‘good’ every time. It uses limited vocab (as far as I can tell everyone in Japan plays tennis) so after a difficult start you see the same words and names but with new grammar. It’s maybe not for everyone.

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I admit whenever I get home from a holiday in Japan, I feel like I need a bit of a break from Japanese, so it sometimes takes me a couple of weeks to turn off vacation mode and get back into it.

That said, there was a week in May 2019 where I was unexpectedly without internet, and somehow that completely shattered my review habits, and… uh… I still haven’t done a single review since. I mean, I’ve been reading plenty of stuff with the book clubs here, so my Japanese learning hasn’t completely stopped, but yeah, I probably ought to get back into doing a review or two. Currently got 3868 reviews waiting (though 2837 of those are burn reviews, so if I get those right, they’re not gonna keep popping up). And 168 lessons. Plus anything that has been added in a locked state.

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life getting lifey has been the biggest obstacle to me getting fluent in japanese :sweat_smile:

i’ve had revision piles of 1500+ items three times now. worked through them all, and now i use vacation mode even if i’ll only be out for a couple of days. my life has too much randomness to be able to just stick to a schedule, activities and health issues just take over every so often.

i started reading at WK level 12. the やがて君になる manga. being able to read continues to be my best motivation, until i get to go to japan. it’s tough at the beginning, but will get easier with time. and it’s very rewarding.

i would personally recommend reading stuff you actually want to to read. i find it impossible to stick with stuff which doesn’t interest me. but also, it might be helpful not to start with something super difficult - you can use websites like learnnatively to check the approximate difficulty of stuff you want to read.


and as for general motivation… the comparison between a sprint and a marathon gets made often. and a marathon might be an appropriate metaphor for learning an easier language. we’re doing some kind of week-long ultra-marathon trail run. there’s going to be tough times. there’s going to be moments you need a rest/sleep. there’s going to be times where you wonder why the heck you’re putting yourself through this. but to get to the goal, you just have to get back up, and keep on going.

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2 years and 4 months into WK so far. Didnt miss a day!

Answering the questions

1 - Have you also hit a roadblock in your WaniKani journey and how often did you have to hit that vacation mode button? I’m ashamed to say I’ve used it often but in hindsight it’s been a saviour and a hindrance

Never hit a roadblock, never used vacation mode. You just have to be consistent wih your schedule everyday. I am leaving out 45min to 1h a day everynight where I could be playing games or watching a tv show but I am siticking to my studies so I can dedicate this time to WK.

2 - At what level did you start to feel like you’re making progress? (whatever progress means to you). I want to read the Flowers of Evil Manga but is it best to only do this once at a suitable level or is having something you want to read a good motivator even though you’ll be stopping and starting every other word?

WK recommended nhk easy news when I hit lvl 11 I guess, so since then I realized after reading the 4 articles daily that I indeed made some progress. But I really felt confident was one year ago when I put into immersion watching anime with japanese subtitles, that depending on the anime, I could understand back then 50-60% what they are talking about. Nowadays It is around 70-80%.

3 - Would you say Bunpro in combination with WK is good for someone with little free time? What’s best to throw in the mix? I’m finding ‘Cure Dolly’ videos intriguing, plus ‘Japanese Ammo with Misa’.

I also have little free time and from lvl 33 on WK i started bunpro from level n5 and one year later I hit halfway N1, it helped me A LOT to understand sentences in anime (the honoric part not so much since I am not working in japanese company). Nowadays my goal is only increasing my vocab, hitting for example the 10k. Back then I was speding 45min in WK and 30min on bunpro daily.

4 - Why oh why do I always get 研究室 and 研究所 meanings mixed up? It’s not that difficult! Send help!

Everyone here (at least the normal users lmao) will always have leech vocab on their journey. I still have some from early levels! No problem for me. One day I will finally tackle them!

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I actually still have yet to hit a roadblock in my WK journey! I’ve never used vacation mode, either. I just aggressively plan my daily workload so that my pace is consistent and easy, and get my daily lessons + reviews done no matter what else is going on in my life. If you’re very busy, taking the scenic route might be a good choice for you, too.

It took me about 2.3 years of daily work (I think about 45 minutes each day) to reach level 60, doing about 12 lessons a day (and ~130 reviews) for most of that time.

Honestly, I don’t feel like it was my WK level that made the most difference in me starting to feel like I was making progress. Grammar is more important, I think. For me, the first big milestone was about one year in. I’d reached N5 grammar, was level 30 in WK, and was, uh, reading a whole bunch of native material that was way, way above my level.

The main benefits to having a decently high WK level at that time were: manga without furigana was totally doable (I still ran into quite a few unknown kanji, but not enough to really slow me down, because it was easy to just quickly draw them on the IME pad), and vocab acquisition in general was a lot easier because I knew the vast majority of the kanji in the extra words that I wanted to learn. I stared mining words from native media and adding them to Anki around this point.

So I’d say that while I undoubtedly have learned a whole lot from WK, my experience with it is mostly that it has made it way easier for me to progress through other tools (my textbooks, mining vocab/kanji, etc.), and it is with those other tools that I have really felt my progress more than with WK.

Concerning that manga you want to read, this is something that really depends on the person! Some people find it really motivating to read something they’re very invested in, even if it’s hard, and other people find it very discouraging to read something if the difficulty is too high. I’d say that manga in particular is a lot harder just because lookups are a much bigger pain, and if it’s already hard to read, you might find it too exhausting to look up everything. But if you’re invested enough, you might be able to push past that.

For me personally, I didn’t have a whole lot of luck reading manga in the early stages. I felt like I wasn’t really getting much out of it because there were way too many unknowns and I didn’t really have the time/energy to dig into everything because the process of doing lookups was tedious. But I’m also not overly invested in manga.

What I did have luck with was reading native media that was entirely digital text that I could easily parse with tools like Yomichan and ichi.moe. Because lookups were quick and easy, I was able to get through the text a lot faster and could investigate more of my questions, and that helped counterbalance any frustrations from my low level of skill.

So I’d say the two most important considerations probably are: 1) your level of personal investment/motivation to read that thing in particular, and 2) ease of doing lookups.

I never did Bunpro, so I can’t really speak to that, but honestly I would recommend against adding another SRS if you already have very little spare time. Doing one SRS can be punishing enough, let alone two. To make that work, you would have to be pretty aggressively consistent with doing your reviews every single day, without breaks, because missing one day could easily cause things to snowball.

I’ve gone the traditional route and have learned the vast majority of my grammar from textbooks. So that’s really the only method that I personally can speak to, though there are plenty of folks on this forum who have never touched a textbook and have managed to get quite far with the language. The nice thing about a textbook is that you can do it at your own pace whenever you happen to have time and you won’t create future work for yourself like you do when studying with an SRS.

As others have said, just give it time! You’ll eventually figure them out, especially as you start to learn more words which contain 室 or 所 and get more of a feel for the nuance there.

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  1. I have used Vacation mode because I genuinely am on Vacation and can’t spare the time to do reviews (rare, but it happens). The longest vacation I went on was 3 years because I wanted to learn by doing and got in my head that I would make insane progress doing only that. The truth is doing a mix of both is best.

  2. Level 30 was when I felt like I didn’t need WaniKani the first time (that 3 year break). It’s definitely a level where you can be comfortable with ambiguity but you still have to be really active about the kanji you lack.

  3. I don’t like BunPro, I don’t like CureDolly. BunPro because I think as you get more advanced with the grammar the SRS style doesn’t work. I recommend Renshuu.org for grammar as they set it up like a puzzle or multiple choice. Seems to be better mechanically for learning Grammar. Cure Dolly and Misa are fine I guess but that’s really just for beginner level, I suggest using a text book instead.

  4. Well one is a room, the other is a building.

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I hit a roadblock exactly where you’re at. I got to level 12 and then spent two years resetting back to 10, working up, resetting to 9, taking constant vacations. I had life stuff going on but first and foremost, I was burned out and not enjoying it. About a year ago, at level 10, I changed my lessons routine. Every morning, I clear my reviews immediately after doing wordle and then do 5 lessons. It would say that’s gone from routine to ritual at this point. Then, in the evening, if I feel up to it and remember (I usually do), I do any additional reviews that pop up and 5 more lessons. It took some time to clear up the congestion from when I was doing 20 lessons a day at the start, but now, it’s been smooth sailing since then. I don’t think there’s been a time in the last year that I didn’t look forward to doing reviews or felt intimidated by them.

As far as feeling I’ve made enough progress to start reading, I started at around your level, playing Tokimeki Memorial, and did a decent amount of reading, though I was looking up kanji pretty regularly. Now, I try to spend a little time reading in Japanese most days casually, but I don’t force myself, and it’s much easier having to look stuff up less often. Basically, test the waters, start reading now, see what you can handle. It doesn’t hurt to try.

As for Bunpro, I don’t like it for SRS. It just doesn’t click for me for some reason. I think it’s a great page with great resources, but I only use it to look stuff up anymore.

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Currently studying computer science at Uni so my experience may differ, but over the last two years of learning Japanese, I’ve taken many breaks from Wanikani both due to burnout and an overwhelming schedule. I must admit that I went all out the first 6 months, spending 4-6 hours a day. For the last 1.5 years, however, I’ve averaged around an hour a day of active study, usually when drinking coffee/tea or when I need a break from programming. (I’ll listen passively while driving or doing tedious work).

To answer your second question I started immersion around level 20, which I feel has been the biggest influence on my progress. Started with anime, but you could probably start earlier if you use graded readers or NHK Easy. It was insanely tough at first but now, a year later, I’m currently reading my fifth light novel (with a dictionary of course). Wanikani is great, but in terms of efficiency, once you get the more common words memorized immersion is more time efficient. Now, I stop doing lessons when my apprentice items are around 50-60.

For your third question, I’m not a fan of Bunpro. I tried using it for a few months but I felt there was too big of a disconnect between the grammar and its usage – it just seemed inefficient. Personally, I found that learning grammar is best done by using youtube videos or textbooks, taking notes, then referencing those notes as you come across the grammar in immersion. Both of the YouTubers you’ve mentioned are amazing. I also recommend Tokini Andy’s Genki series. He goes over each chapter of Genki in around an hour and provides many example sentences, which is probably better than using the actual textbook as you’re short on time.

As for your last question, unfortunately, I still don’t fully understand the difference between those two and continue to mix them up in Wanikani. I’ve rarely seen them while immersing and, as long as you know both of their meanings, the context usually makes it clear which one it should be. Perhaps you can focus on the last kanji (the only part that differs) and try associating 所 with “general place” and 室 with “the room itself”.

Ultimately, it really just comes down to consistency (not motivation) and coming up with ways to study more efficiently. It may help to learn a bit about habits and behavioral psychology (occasionally watching short youtube videos is sufficient, no need to spend too much time on this). For example, I’ve associated drinking coffee with studying Japanese, similar to Pavlov’s dog. Something you do every day is best.

Also, you could find a video or something that stimulates those emotions you felt while in Japan, something that makes you strongly desire to learn Japanese. Perhaps an interview channel (such as ‘Ask Japanese’) with the English captions turned off would work as your desire seems to be focused on casual conversations rather than entertainment. I started learning Japanese to read books that weren’t available in English and early on, if I lacked motivation, I would use those books to remind me why I started learning it in the first place. (I bought them and kept them near my desk. Not only did this cause me to think about learning Japanese more often – and we tend to act upon what we think about – I also had to deal with people asking me if I could understand them then making fun of me for buying books I couldn’t understand, which greatly motivated me to prove them wrong)

Continuing on the stimulating desire idea, don’t underestimate the power of visualization. Imagine/daydream that you’re in Japan and casually speaking to people, and that they sometimes compliment you on your Japanese.

I feel like I’ve gone beyond the scope of your question but I hope it could be of use to you nonetheless. :slight_smile:

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These are great questions and I think everyone goes through similar struggles to different extents.

  1. I have hit several roadblocks at random times, sometimes because of personal reasons, sometimes because of work, sometimes because of motivation. I’ve been using WK for years now and still haven’t progressed past level 25. I use vacation mode occasionally but I’ve gotten used to having the odd 400 item review and I just treat it like a challenge.

  2. Interestingly it comes in waves. Sometimes I feel like I’m making a lot of progress because I use some vocabulary I learned from WK in an izakaya and people around my respond with that super satisfying えええええ!? because they don’t expect me to use this kind of vocab. At the same time, I struggle to remember basic things and my grammar sucks. So I both sound like an idiot that occasionally uses big words. I don’t tend to read much or watch much TV or anything so my only metric for improvement is communicating with native Japanese people (I’ve been living in Japan for about a year and a half now).

  3. I’ve not used Bunpro that much but it seems like a really good service. SRS in general is a proven method for improving knowledge and learning stuff, but I find that using what you’ve learned in real situations is a fantastic teacher. I watched Japanese Ammo with Misa a good bit starting out but I found that because she spoke a lot of English in her lessons, it wasn’t great for getting used to communicating. When I was studying for the JLPT, I completely avoided any lessons in English and focused purely on Japanese only lessons. Sanbonjuku is my recommendation in this regard. But Tae Kim has some great English explanations on grammar that I find very easy to understand and well-written.

  4. Tell me about it! For months I got stuck on any Kanji with the 糸 radical (続、絡、結、 etc.) and my new hell is 警視庁 and 警察庁.

There’s one thing I wanna mention about your post though, when you say “I’ve made zero progress for a long time” I’m willing to bet that’s not entirely true. Regardless of whether you’ve levelled up in WK or burned any items or even just managed to get some items into Guru level or whatever, EVERYTHING is progress. Learning a new language takes a hell of a lot of time. While consistency is king, any amount of effort is worth it. Even if it’s only 5 minutes in an entire week, that’s 5 minutes more than 0 minutes. My favourite phrase in the world is: 塵も積もれば山となる (ちりもつもればやまとなる) → even dust when piled up becomes a mountain.

TLDR: Keep on truckin’!

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  1. I don’t find the button all that useful, you just make the problem worse imo. Since the timings of the other items will be out of wack.
  2. Around 25 I felt that I was actually not incompetent in the language and could read alot.
  3. No, Bunpro is a waste of time for beginners imo. Better to go through N5-N1 lists and make cards.
  4. You will always mess things up in the beginning and as you progress what seemed impossible just makes sense and you wonder how that confused you in the beginning.

All this is very useful. Thankyou!

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I’m always grateful when someone shares their struggles with WaniKani, especially those that have to juggle life with learning. So thank you! I’m at the place you were when you wrote this post, I think.

After doing this every single day for a year now, I’m only on level 13. It’s been TOUGH too. This is recreational learning but I had a goal to finish Wanikani and be able to speak/understand conversational Japanese in three years. Well, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I have been supplementing with Genki too.

I feel like I just can’t remember reviews I haven’t seen for a few months no matter how well I knew it at the time. Hardly a single one. IDK if it’s an aging thing, or my ADHD, but I can’t do it and then get irrationally angry at not being able to perform reviews without struggle, and vow to quit at least once a week. Learning Japanese this way has been so highly discouraging.

You know that you don’t need to do WK especially to get better at japanese, right? If you have very little time and it makes you angry, there is not way you will hold your motivation with this kind of SRS, in that situation I doubt it’s useful enough for you to do this right now.
You said yourself your time is limited, and yes if you go at a steady pace, WK will help you recognize words and Kanji, but you should consider, that this is not the only option to get better at japanese. :slight_smile:

With little time you could instead get a LingQ subscription and start reading there, even if it’s only easy news for the start. You can load in daily NHK Easy News Articles, do the beginner stories or just search for content, that you find really interesting on there. The positive is, that you can learn about the country, the culture, their troubles and situation over there right now. Also LingQ has a built-in dictionary for every word you just need to click it and it will give you a translation for a word (and mark it yellow to show you later that you have already seen this word in the past).
Like that you can read quite fast and will come along the same words again and again, thus remembering them naturally without trying to stuff it into your brain without context. It might really be a better option when you just can spend a few minutes a day! :smiley:

And if that isn’t your thing, there are still many other interesting things to do, no need to demotivate yourself with boring practices!

I don’t know but I used to do too.

I’ve since added “lab” as a synonym for 研究所. Bwahaha.

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Thank you for the LingQ suggestion! I have been doing the NHK pronunciation lessons, and recently read an article on there, it’s funny you mentioned it. I appreciate the vote of confidence :slight_smile:

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