I started worshiping the Crabigator on May 6, 2015, not long after I started studying Japanese. At that point, I had maybe made it about halfway through the textbook Genki I and had very limited experience with kanji. Initially, I did all of my reviews and lessons as soon as they became available, but soon became overwhelmed and became a card carrying member of team taking it slow. For those of you interested in how slow, I’ve kept a cryptic online spreadsheet of my progress since level 27 or so.
I recently reached an important milestone in Wani Kani and thought I’d share a bit of what I learned along the way. So, here goes:
Wani Kani - Tips, Tricks, and Traps
“When you get to the top, don’t forget to send the elevator down for the next guy.” – Stan Kenton
1) Try and go for a lifetime membership
I’ve said more than a few times that learning Japanese is more like a marathon than a sprint. It isn’t so much that it’s difficult, it just takes a long time! You really have to spend a lot of time with the language to make significant progress. It’s not really something you can rush through. Can anyone really rush at anything for two, three or more years? Of course not. There will be ups and downs. Work or school will be busy. You’ll get sick. You’ll go on vacations. Instead, strive for slow but consistent progress. It often will not feel like you are progressing at the time, but if you review material from the year before you will be pleasantly surprised.
Keeping that in mind, I can’t really think of many scenarios where it makes sense to get a monthly subscription instead of a lifetime membership. The latter approach frees you up to take things at a pace you decide without the pressure of “getting your money’s worth” tempting you to go too fast.
2) The importance of taking it slow
" Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence" – Ovid
If there’s any dead horse I’d beat, it would be this. I’ve been on these forums for three years now and think that going too fast is probably the number one issue that trips people up when using the software. Once you’ve gotten to level 10 or so (I don’t recall exactly when it happens), the apprentice, guru, and master queues will have filled up a bit and your review count will start creeping up. You’ve got to find a way to control this or you will spend too much time on Wani Kani.
Going too fast manifests itself in several different ways. I’ve seen threads where users were whizzing though the levels in record time, with heavy daily loads, and then got sick or woke up and didn’t feel like doing reviews that day. Their aggressive pace offered them little to no wiggle-room for such days, and soon they were looking at 400 items to review and burn out kicked in setting them back further than if they had taken a less aggressive approach.
My recommendation is to do all of your reviews as soon as they are available, and regulate your overall workload by varying the number of new lessons you take each day. Each of us has a different life outside of Wani Kani, so you’ll have to settle upon your own. I would recommend no more than 10 new items per day. I’ve experimented with 5 a day, 10 a day, 10 on weekdays and 5 on weekends, 10 a day unless kanji were involved in which case 5 a day, and other approaches and finally settled on 5 a day for the final 20 levels or so. When you change your rate of taking new lessons, it will take several days for the workload to adjust to the new level as the queues reach a new equilibrium.
3) Keep your studies well rounded
Remember, Wani Kani was developed with a very specific goal in mind: to teach you kanji. I think it ends up doing more than that, such as teaching some vocabulary, and reinforcing the heck out of your kana skills, but still it is only one piece of a well rounded plan for attacking Japanese.
We all have different reasons for studying Japanese, but I think it is fair to say that almost every serious student of the language will need to develop skills in grammar, listening, vocabulary, slang, reading, and several other areas.
Over the past three years, there have been times where I felt like my WaniKani level was too far ahead of my overall Japanese level as well as times where it fell behind and also times where it was just about right. When it is just about right, you will start seeing your WaniKani items starting to appear naturally “in the wild” during the other aspects of your study like listening and reading. Reinforcement from several sources with context, can really drive home a vocabulary item.
I’d say that WaniKani can be a significant part of your study regimen early on, but once you reach level 20 or so you should really branch out into reading and just try and get as much exposure as you can. You really want to solidify the basics as a platform towards getting over the hump into intermediate Japanese which is all about exposure. Follow your interests and find a native language blog you are interested in, or read reviews for music, books, and movies you enjoy on Amazon Japan. You will start to develop a word cloud in your head filled with vocabulary that matches your interests.
Once you reach level 40 or so, you’ll start learning more organically, and will even start to have items coming up in your new WaniKani lessons with which you are already familiar. What a great feeling that can be!
4) Quick tips
- Use the cellphone app: rattle off a few reviews while you’re in the line at the grocery store, etc.
- Turn on the Jitai font randomizer script so you will recognize kanji written in various fonts.
- Take time to drill deep on leeches
- Get your money’s worth: if you don’t recognize an item within a reasonable mount of time, go ahead and get it wrong.
- Realize that you’ll have many items that get up to enlightened, and then move back down to master, and even guru a couple of times before being burnt. This is good and what you are paying for.
- In addition to WaniKani, keep your own home-made deck of vocabulary you encounter using a SRS like Anki, Memrise or similar.
And remember not to lose sight of the real goal for all of us here: Learning Japanese! (Not finishing Wani Kani as fast as possible.) Overall I think the best approach is to start Wani Kani at a pretty quick pace, then start slowing down and widening the scope of your reading and immersion.
5) Specific Recommendations on supplements
There are a lot of threads on this already, but here are some of my favorites:
Levels 0-10: Contrary to everything I said above, now is the time when it’s OK to go fast. You’re really just filling up the queues, and most of what you learn will be reinforced by your grammar studies. Everything will seem like wine and roses, and you’ll feel like you’re going to be fluent by the end of the year. Enjoy this false optimism while it lasts. Check out the Genki book if you can afford it. Start familiarizing yourself with the main online resources like Maggie-Sensei and Tae Kim. You’ll feel the rewards of progressing quickly. Focus on really drilling the simple grammar, as opposed to trying to learn every type of verb conjugation. There are plenty of “beginner Japanese phrases” videos on youtube that will be worth your while at this point. Start picking your favorites.
Levels 10-20: Time to slow down on Wani Kani. Stick with the same resources as above. Maybe add a verb conjugation or two, but really drill them. Learn these basics well. Maybe move on to Genki II. I’d recommend investing in the Genki Conjugation Cards app. It will serve you well until level 40. Explore the free features of Japanese Pod 101 for listening and grammar.
Levels 20-30: I’ll echo the Wani Kani guide here. It is time to start reading. It will be ugly, but you’ve got to face the beast. The honeymoon is over. It may be time to slow down on WK once again. You’ll probably start encountering the same things in your reading, listening and grammar studies. Try NHK Web Easy (everyone does it), listen and shadow with The Cut-tongue Sparrow on Spotify, or delve into your first manga with Samezu or Shirokuma Cafe.
Levels 30-40: Your vocabulary should be exploding at this point. You’ll start to find several different sets of words that mean the same thing, but with subtle variations. Probably a good time to pick up Tobira if you’ve already made it through Genki II or equivalent. You’ll want to really master the causative and passive causative forms now and make them intuitive. Start reading through the example sentences in your favorite dictionary for exposure to a variety of short sentences.
Level 40 and up: Now you’re cooking. Start poring through native material like an archaeologist. Read anything. Some of it will be very hard, but try it anyways. There is almost too much material available at this point. Find your favorite reviewer on Amazon Japan. Pick up your first Light Novel, or join one of the reading clubs here in the WK community. Definitely check out my favorite blog, where you get a two-fer; reading about Japanese grammar while immersing yourself in the language.
I hope this helps some of you newer students out there.