I’ve been living in Japan for four years now and I’ve been using wanikani for almost a year. The app is fantastic, I love the method and it’s exactly the type of system I want to shore up my kanji ability, which is far behind my speaking/listening. However, I think there are serious issues with the way and in particular the order in which kanji are taught, and it’s gotten so bad that I won’t be continuing my subscription next month. Yes, I will email the staff directly, but also wanted to share this with the community in case there are others in my situation.
Basically I can’t figure out who wanikani is specifically designed for. It’s definitely not people wanting to learn real-world Japanese effectively. I’d say 60% of the kanji/vocab in the first 10 levels is not useful in daily life, and I don’t see a reason why the kanji have to be presented that way (because they don’t).
Here’s some examples. I was thrilled to start seeing kanji I didn’t already know around level 4/5, like 里 (home town, level 5). While I was reviewing the associated vocab 里心 (homesickness) my native Japanese girlfriend was looking over my shoulder and said “you can forget that one, we don’t use it”.
I had already known that 里 wasn’t what Japanese people use for “hometown”, that word is 実家 (じっか), though I have yet to see that kanji in wanikani. Why? Is there a reason? “Hometown” is a useful word to know, yet a virtually unusable version of it is taught in level 5.
In level 3 you learn 友人 (friend). Super useful word to know, unfortunately the word for “friend” is 友達 (ともだち). Still haven’t seen that one either despite being something you’ll learn within a week of being in Japan. Of course I realize 友人 does mean friend, only it’s a very formal way of expressing it. You’ll see 友達 20 times before you see 友人 once. Why is that in level 3?
This is extra frustrating when you consider that actually super useful, very important kanji/vocab like 食べる (to eat) are taught after these essentially useless (to a beginner) kanji. I’m level 11 - yes I realize I’m going slow - and I just “learned” 飲む (to drink) and 起きる (to wake up), phrases I’ve been using on a weekly if not daily basis since I got to Japan.
Another one my girlfriend told me I might as well forget - 自決 (suicide). The word Japanese people use is 自殺 (じさつ). There were many, many others she said were not worth memorizing. I’m all for learning the formal, more esoteric versions of kanji by the way, but they should not be taught before the primary, real-life ones. I still haven’t seen 好き (like), as in "I like ____ (anything), also a week 1 fresh off the boat word.
Despite these misgivings I pressed on with wanikani because again, the app is wonderful and it takes relatively little effort to learn some kanji. And don’t get me wrong, there are useful kanji in there that I can now recognize. But it could be soooo much better just by reordering the kanji.
I’ve burned 1276 items so far, which in theory means I have them memorized and know them on a deep level. Absolutely untrue. 60% of them I have never seen once in daily life since learning them at apprentice level, so if I don’t see them again I will eventually forget. I only knew them within the app and barring some miracle it’s going to remain that way.
Anyhow, the thing that finally spurred this post is that for the past six months I’ve continued using wanikani without that voice over my shoulder telling me that various words weren’t useful (my girlfriend and I broke up). But the other day I was going over reviews while with some Japanese friends, the first time I was doing reviews in the company of Japanese people since my ex-girlfriend. Immediately one looked over and said “I’ve never used that kanji before”. It was 算定する (to calculate). Japanese people use 計算する (計算). Can you imagine how demoralizing it is to know that you’re learning things you will likely never use? When you could be learning useful vocabulary instead?
I really just don’t understand how the creators, who I have plenty of respect for, can go through the time and effort to create this great piece of tech, a fantastic system and app and then populate it in a… I don’t know, arbitrary way? I do not know what they’re basing their kanji ordering on. Was this order created by Koichi and co? I doubt it, I have to assume Koichi is fluent in Japanese, but if so then he of all people would know which kanji are most useful for leaning the language.
My best guess is that the kanji taught are geared towards people wanting to take standardized tests like the JLPT, which are good to show on a resume but do not equate well with actual Japanese ability. Maybe people taking those tests will benefit the most from wanikani, but unfortunately I don’t despite being perhaps the ideal target audience. At the end of the day while ultimately beneficial it’s not worth the cost knowing that 60% of what I study is going down the drain. It’s so frustrating because it’s so close to being perfect!
How to fix this? How about have different kanji orders available. Upon signing up you can chose things like “my goal is to take the JLPT” or “my goal is to live and function in Japan” or “my goal is to read manga”. Just reorder the kanji and you have my business back. Seems like relatively little work (compared to building the app) for a huge reward in more subscribers.
Or hell, open up the app to community customization, I’m sure there are others like me dying to learn Japanese effectively.