Hello! I am a WaniKani user and long-time advanced student of Japanese (20+ years) who currently works with Japanese professionally. Over time, I’ve seen posts saying that WK is useless to users starting at a more intermediate or advanced level. Personally, my kanji comprehension is better now than it has ever been in my 2 decades of studying Japanese and I credit this singlehandedly to WaniKani. So I wanted to add my voice to the conversation and share my experience.
A little bit about my background in Japanese:
I started learning Japanese on my own in my early teens as an anime fan in the 90’s. Dubs were notoriously bad so I would hunt down fan-subbed VHS tapes of my favorite series. Listening to so many hours of subtitled Japanese helped me pick up bits of the language naturally. Many manga series were only available in Japanese so I’d buy them wherever I could find and translate them. This is when I fell in love with the Japanese language.
I was lucky that my parents supported my language learning and got me an at-home Japanese tutor in high school because my school didn’t offer Japanese language classes. (It does now!)
Japanese Language & Literature was one of my majors in college, which means I took somewhere between 14-18 credits in both language and cultural classes.
I would’ve killed to have tools like WK, KaniWani, and Bunpro when I was in high school and college. I learned most of my kanji by handwriting characters and vocabulary words over and over again. It was grueling and kanji remained the weakest part of my Japanese for over a decade.
I studied abroad and lived with a Japanese family for 4 months in Kyoto, after which my language skills and especially my speaking and listening comprehension were the best they had ever been. I entered that intensive program at an intermediate-low level and left testing at advanced-low.
I work professionally with Japanese as a lawyer reviewing documents for international cases involving Japanese companies. I’ve done this part-time for the last 5 or so years. I have and continue to maintain professional fluency in Japanese. WK plays a big role in keeping my skills from getting rusty between projects. Whenever I get on a project I usually put WK on vacation mode because I end up reading Japanese documents for 8 hours per day. It takes a lot out of me but working in Japanese makes it enjoyable.
I did not plan to do this type of work before I became a lawyer. In fact, I had no idea this type of work existed at all. I reconnected with a friend 10 years after we studied abroad together and she told me about it. I wouldn’t recommend becoming a lawyer specifically to do this type of work because there isn’t a ton of it and the market for projects has slowed recently even before the pandemic.
About my experience with WaniKani:
I can’t remember how I found WaniKani. Previously I was using iKnow.jp to maintain my proficiency. There’s nothing wrong with iKnow. In fact, I recommend it if you want to level up your vocabulary after you complete WK. (Doing both at the same time would be too much in my opinion.)
I started WaniKani mostly because I was bored. I knew 80% or more of the kanji/vocabulary up through levels in the high 20’s. But the process of relearning and drilling radicals and mnemonics made a huge difference in better solidifying kanji that I already knew. I felt like I was plugging in the holes in my kanji knowledge. I’m in the mid-40’s now and I still know over 50% of the kanji and vocabulary in each level but WK remains as helpful as ever. Because of the learning I’ve done with WK, I’m much better at guessing a kanji’s pronunciation or meaning even when I’ve never seen that kanji before. That makes it much easier to look for the word in a dictionary like jisho.org.
If you look at my WK Stats, you’ll see that I’m not the fastest WK user. Especially recently – I started my own business right around the time I hit level 32. I am a strong believer in going at your own pace no matter how long that might take. Seriously, ignore anyone who tries to make you feel bad about how fast you’re leveling. Just keep swimming and soon you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.
Last year I bought a lifetime subscription to WK since I am progressing on the slower side. I plan to keep WK part of my language maintenance in the long-term, even after I’ve burned all 60 levels.
TLDR: Everybody is different but I strongly suggest any intermediate-to-advanced students who are frustrated by the easier lower levels to keep going. Up through the end of level 39 I knew anywhere between 50% to 100% of the kanji introduced in each level. Now at level 45 I still encounter kanji and vocabulary words that I already know. But WK does an amazing job filling in blanks I may have in my knowledge while strengthening the parts I already know to be even more solid.
I hope this was helpful. I am happy to share more about my experience if anyone has questions.