WaniKani isn't School

A lot of the criticism I see laid at WaniKani’s feet (six + two claws, if claws count as feet) seem to fall into the same couple categories; it doesn’t let you go back and fix something you got wrong as a typo, lets your review stack pile up until it’s formidably tall, has a gargantuan difficulty spike around 15-30…the list goes on and all things I thought and 100% agreed with until I realized that maybe I was using it wrong. (Not that you are using it wrong, but hear me out.)

I’m level twentysomething (I don’t remember off the dome, I think it’ll say next to my icon, but not remembering is part of my point) and used to feel super intimidated by my review and lesson piles. I’d write in my Hobonichi “get to x level by y day” goals for myself - just like in college - and would beat myself up if I missed them. If I got too many words wrong I’d close the tab and reopen it to restart those lessons before the crabigator tallied the score, as though an arbitrary percentage would get me a Personal Pan Pizza like the old days and failure would bring mother’s wrath.

But the personal pizza never came…

I originally started studying Japanese a couple of years back to better communicate with my wife’s Okinawan besties. Earlier this year, we went back to visit them and realized that:

a) My knowledge of Kanji was way better than I thought! I could read hand written Izakaya menus, navigate trains, was seeing my recently studied Kanji everywhere,
b) My spoken Japanese was still total 糞 and that my kanji reading skills (i.e., WaniKani) came at a cost, and finally that,
c) I forgot to turn on vacation mode.

I was trying not to guzzle a Kodawari Lemon Sour and waiting for my laundry to finish in a business hotel in Toyohashi, when the Flaming Durtles notification rudely alerted me that I had about 120 lessons and 1200 reviews to do. Some mixture of these things broke my brain in such a way that, in the following months, actually really improved my relationship with WaniKani. If I get a typo, who cares? The word’ll just go somewhere back into my already massive pile. It’s just one more word! If I miss a few days and my pile goes up another couple hundred words, then I’ll catch them on the flip-side. And if I have a review session where I get 40% right, it doesn’t matter, because 鰐蟹先生 doesn’t care, and I’m not getting college credits either way. All that matters is that, one way or another, I internalize this mixture of lines and begin to associate them with ideas and sounds. I was first attracted to WaniKani because I’m a total console gamer who didn’t want to mess with Anki decks and just wanted to hand over money in exchange for some structure, and WaniKani’s been great for that.

If you went to school in the US - though it’s probably just as true anywhere - standardized testing probably wormed into your brain too. When we see red text and 70% we feel like failures. There was some Koichi quote in an email or something where he said “studying Japanese is a race to see who makes the most mistakes first” or something along those lines. I think that often when we struggle with WaniKani, it’s because it was made with that mindset. When I wasn’t going in with that mindset, I often felt overwhelmed and that didn’t actually help me learn. I actually wish that perhaps WaniKani would hide the size of the review and lessons pile, or made it a bar you fill instead of (number/bigger number.)

So I guess the tip is that If you don’t like WaniKani, go to Japan and forget to turn off vacation mode and just live with the consequences and discomfort of a big review deck. It’s not a grade. Take the L. There is no timer. Nobody is judging you for how fast you go and, most importantly, Kodawari Lemon Sours are really good. Do not sleep on Kodawari Lemon Sours. The Orion Shiquasa one is good too if you can find it and you like Shiquasa, which you should. It’s like a more complex lime, really tasty.


Well said. Also:

I think that’s the key. If you’re studying “on your own” in your living room at home, it’s hard to get realistic feedback on how you’re doing OTHER than the score. Whereas, actually wandering around in Japan, the bar is a lot lower. People help you. You can read more than you think. And wanikani is never going to help you with listening comprehension or speaking


Sadly for some people there is… so not having those options makes or break their ability to use the app.
It’s so funny, in my case the notion that WaniKani isn’t school is the exact reason why having the option to undo or skip can make all the difference.
I don’t care about not remembering I do care about how typos affect the time I put into making reviews.
I think that WaniKani is super effective, genuinely love this app, really helped me understand the whole kanji concept. I don’t care how long it takes me to finish a level, but typos has nothing to do with whether I memorized the item or not. That’s more of a shortcoming of typos recognition algorithm and the only thing that can help with it with short words is an undo button.

And it’s not like the content is really gated by levels or anything - you can read the entire content just not in the gamification mode, but the brilliance of wanikani is the structure and the portioning and the content all together, just giving their user a little more freedom within the app would make for a more useful app for many users.

Still funny how the same idea led us into opposite conclusions, ‘cause life…


That’s true, and I don’t think an “undo” button like Durtles has got is a bad route either. And now that you’re saying it, yeah I had a timer up until that point. I wanted to learn as much as humanly possible before going to Japan and, voice cracking, make an awkward bow and thank these strangers my wife loves for letting me into their home before sitting down for tea. I needed to, and that got in my way too.

I keep rewriting this because it’s a thought in progress. And thank you for what you said because it unlocked part of what I think I was trying to arrive at.

I think what I was trying to say is that, to your point, WaniKani the dictionary exists as a complete service for free. We all paid for WaniKani the game and, as a game, it can reinforce good or bad habits. Until “winning” was unreachable, I struggled with feeling like I was doing a bad job, which meant I focused too much on WK at the expense of other areas, and that I underappreciated how it had actually been effective.

I agree that giving the user more freedom is probably the solution to many of these issues because ultimately it’s all psychology and everybody’s psychology is different. (In that regard, leaning a little too hard on the community to make plugins probably hasn’t done the core product’s evolution a ton of favors, but the tools are often there with some legwork.) The “tip” was basically to acknowledge WK as a game, specifically a game with some problems. Personally, it did me more harm than good when I was trying to “win”, and the realization that I was simultaneously already “winning” and couldn’t possibly “win” relieved some of the pressure of a lot of the very real pain points that myself and other very real people have.


Yep, gamification is a double edged sword. It’s a journey getting to a point where you are able not to be influenced by the prompts you see on the screen and make your own choices and stick to them, otherwise you get stuck in a negative feedback loop which can be really discouraging and even harmful when it comes to learning. People have different levels of awareness and gamification at its core manipulates the punish and reward system in the brain and combined with being exposed to extreme personal views on what is the right way to learn Japanese or using WaniKani it can really push you in the wrong direction sometimes (I need to win, instead I want to learn, I need to be fast, instead I need to be mindful etc. etc.) I had to go through it myself.

I think the version they have now compared to the one I started with in 2017 is a real improvement, I do the lessons on wanikani using the Lesson Picker and the reviews on Tsurukame (that’s the Apple third party app for wanikani) and it’s easier to concentrate on the learning itself because I have enough control on how and when without irrelevant penalties interference. Would be interesting to find out how those recent changes will influence the overall users drop rate.

You know, I had a thought about it, that even with games, you usually have three options, easy(casual), normal and hard. Some gamers care for the story, some gamers care for the win some gamers are completionists, and all of them are paying costumers. It’s so simple. Put these buttons and make it optional, the purist will have their choice too.




I don’t think the issue with typos is that it brings down your score. It’s that it brings down your mastery, which means that it’ll take you longer to level up, which means it’ll take you longer to unlock new lessons. Which is really annoying, when the reason for the delay is because you’re using WaniKani on your phone and you fat-fingered the keyboard buttons a few times, turning “ri” into “ru” and “shi” into “sho”.


I feel like for me learning Japanese became more fun when I stopped treating it like I was in school. It was miserable trying to learn Japanese when I was in college. There was a very heavy emphasis on writing and speaking in the classroom. I’ve been sick for a few years so had to take a break and slowly get back into it. Very slowly been leveling up, but I can tell my reading ability has been getting better since I practice reading almost everyday so WaniKani definitely works for you. This year was the first time I got comfortable enough to play a video game in Japanese with minimal lookups.


Very entertaining advice! Always a good reminder too, thanks for the read.

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I tend to agree. :laughing:

So now I just buy myself the pizza. And though I had no idea that “shiquasa” was a word as I’d only ever seen 「シクワサ」 (and according to the dictionary 「シークヮーサー」seems to be correct!) it is certainly delicious. Cheers! :slight_smile:

I’m not catching this at all. It’s okay for it to do stupid things because it’s not school so it doesn’t matter if it sucks. Why am I using it at all then? I paid for something so trivial that it doesn’t matter if it sucks. That’s not comforting.

Not trusting me enough to let me say something was just a typo would actually make more sense if it were school, because I’d actually have motivation to be dishonest if it were school. But it’s not.

WaniKani doesn’t save wrong answers right away, so when I get an answer wrong for a typo or because I wasn’t thinking straight, I just hit back on my browser and start the (remaining) reviews again.