When you’re (half) Japanese but never learned Japanese 😅

Well I’m here! Roughly 400 days later and I’ve finished level 60! Also my first 400 days of learning Japanese too! Crazy to think just last year I knew zero Japanese :smiling_face_with_tear:.

Immediate thanks:

Can’t thank a service like WaniKani enough honestly! The Tofugu team have my eternal gratitude for being a catalyst in helping me reconnect with my heritage.

Stat Screenshots

What inspired me?

I’m half Japanese/half Vietnamese (parents 1st gen immigrants). I was taught neither of those languages growing up lol. Completely English upbringing. Always wanted to know my parents’ languages so I started with Japanese since there is just so much high quality self-study materials, AJATT/MoeWay guides and services like WaniKani.

My biggest motivation is that the entirety of my Dad’s side live in Japan and I realized now as I’ve gotten older that I’ve never really got to know them that well. They don’t know English and everything I know about them is so surface level. I want to make these deeper connections while everyone is still alive and healthy. Basically making up for lost time in my view.

I found WaniKani after a very brief and unsuccessful stint trying to learn with pre-made anki decks. With WaniKani I was immediately hooked and went full steam with it. And here we are today at the “end”, though I feel and know that I’m just getting started.

My Japanese progress

Input:
Like most AJATT/immersion learners, I’ve had a very heavy input focused routine.

I started studying grammar as soon as I started WaniKani. I’m in the middle of Quartet 2 right now and will be done with it within the month so that’s exciting. Highly recommend the Quartet textbooks btw (for anyone post-Genki).

Outside of grammar and WaniKani, it’s sorta hard to gauge an exact measure of my progress. I read the news daily, I read short stories, I watch anime and a lot of Japanese Youtube. With the help of a pop-up dictionary I’m kinda doing what I’ve always wanted to do with Japanese. I’m in the intermediate stage where the name of the game now is putting in as many hours now to refining what I learned and expanding my vocabulary, slowly increase reading speed, sharpen my listening comprehension.

Output:

Outside of shadowing and reading out loud, I don’t really get the chance to speak Japanese off the cuff in a conversational setting. My dad is a tough nut to crack. He’s that sort of immigrant parent where if you try to speak in their native language, they just respond back in English lol. I try to hold small imaginary conversations in my head when I’m idling around. Not sure how much that is helping haha.

The only writing I’ve practiced is hiragana/katakana LOL.

Routine/Resources (Past & Current)

There are three “eras” that my routine has gone through. I like to keep my routine very simple, the fundamentals are always centered around Vocab/Grammar/Reading. Roughly 2-3 hours a day of active studying.

Level 1-30 WK/Genki I and II

The GOAT TokiniAndy and Seth Clydesdale. TokiniAndy lectures and the Seth Clydesdale Genki port is basically an upgraded replacement to owning Genki. Not much external reading during this time. I took the N4 during this era.

TokiniAndy

Seth Clydesdale Genki Site

Level 30-60 WK/Quartet I and II/Light immersion

Still watching TokiniAndy lectures for Quartet. Around the end of Quartet 1 is where I started reading the news everyday from Yahoo Japan and sentence mining with Yomitan-Anki. I’m reading from this book of short stories called 死ぬかと思った. It’s a collection of real-life near death experiences and embarrassing situations. A fun read for the macabre-minded haha.

(Current) Post WK-Quartet II/SKM N2-N1/Deep immersion

In this era now. My plan after Quartet is to use the Shin Kanzen Master N2/N1 grammar books to top off what I need to know for the JLPT. I’m more interested in diving fully into immersion with regular native material and expanding my own personal anki deck.

I also just ordered the light novel 夏へのトンネル、さよならの出口 to christen this Level 60 graduation!

Passive immersion

Since the very beginning, I just AJATT for the rest of my time. None of this is active studying. I just do what I already do with English content but with Japanese content now. For youtube, I like to watch random cooking, gaming, vlogging channels. I really like watching channels like かまいたち when I’m eating dinner. I love drinking whiskey and watch this channel called “CROSSROAD LAB”

かまいたち

CROSSROAD LAB (Whisky Channel)

I’ll watch anime with JP subtitles. It’s been really fun re-watching animes I grew up with the English dub like Death Note, Naruto, and FMAB, and seeing them again completely in Japanese.

JLPT / Short & Long term goals

I took the Dec 2023 JLPT N4 test. 5 points away from passing haha. Completely bombed the reading section specifically (passed everything else which was a positive to me). My reading speed was super slow at the time.

My current goal is doing the JLPT N2 this December. I feel more hopeful for the N2 than I did the N4, not in that I think I’ll necessarily pass, but more so I’m not scrambling to know all the grammar that’s needed. I can take these next 5-6 months to continue my deep immersion and we’ll see if it’s enough haha.

Long term goals, I guess just do what I’m doing now but better lol. Enjoy more books, build my vocabulary, read faster, listen better. Speaking fluency is definitely my biggest end goal. I can’t wait for the day I can just chat with my relatives in Japan.

My general thoughts on WK / “WK shouldn’t be the only thing you use” / Is level 60 worth it? / Speedrunning WK

“WK shouldn’t be the only thing you use”

If you’re trying to learn Japanese, WaniKani should not be your sole resource. Ultimately, WK is an incredible supplemental resource. But you might ask how could something be “supplemental” if you’ve spent more than 13 months using it?

Engaging with native texts is what has ultimately solidified what I learned from WaniKani. Even burning items doesn’t fully cement these terms in the long run. If you didn’t have WK, through reading alone and looking up everything, you would eventually learn kanji/vocabulary/grammar. It would be a long and painful process, but one would achieve a level of literacy and a comprehensive knowledge of Japanese eventually. I can’t say the same if things were reversed and you only had WK.

None of this is to admonish WK, but to help shape the mindset and “relationship” you should have with it. It has made everything less painful and has been instrumental to shaping how I study and acquire new kanji/vocab.

Is level 60 worth it?

In my personal opinion, yes. Now that I’m here, I think getting to end was worth it. I’m kinda surprised by the discourse here about when to stop WK early. While one could argue that at a point you could just immerse with a pop-up dictionary at a certain baseline of words; I don’t know, it’s just been super useful to already intuit a lot of the meaning of unknown words because I already know the kanji. It’s made things “feel” faster, at least for me.

I recognize the bias though, I only know of this one method. I can’t go back and compare to the alternatives. I know there are plenty of people who have learned without doing dedicated kanji studying to begin with.

I’m definitely sympathetic to those that take their time with WK because costs, in both money and time, becomes a larger factor to consider. While I wouldn’t outright stop WK, I would definitely pivot towards more immersion than SRS in those situations.

Speedrunning WK

I was lucky to be in a career circumstance where I could do WK relatively quick. I would have finished it a little earlier too in 393 days, but I took a whole week off after the N4 JLPT as a mini-break (no lessons, only did reviews).

If you’re able carve out the time and commit to it, I think it’s a fun challenge. If you’re happy with the pace you’re at, that’s also awesome! For me, I didn’t even think I was doing WaniKani “fast”. I had the time and this pace fit my needs.

My own advice to new learners

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the meta of studying Japanese, is that at least 50% of it is the mental game. It sounds hokey but you have to believe that you can do this. There were a lot of days that felt like I wasn’t able to do this. I’m in my 30s now and at any point in time before I would have said that it was impossible for me to learn Japanese.

I see a lot of other people starting out or in the level 10-20s internalize that impossibility. I see people here who are a decade younger than me think it’s impossible. Don’t give in. If this is something you truly want to pursue, it’s possible. It’s just time and effort. It’s a battle of attrition where an inch of progress is a victory.

Another thing is to have fun! This whole entire experience has been as much fun as it has been challenging. I get so excited to wake up and do a full session of reading/mining. It’s a tough road when it comes to starting out, but I can assure you, it actually does get better! Everything you learn starts to snowball and things start to feel less harder.

Advice corollary: Don't compare yourself to anyone else

I wanted this to be it’s own section. If negative self-talk is the worst thing you can do internally as a language leaner, comparing yourself to others is one of the worst things you can do externally.

I work in a creative art field and it’s basically an occupational hazard to compare yourself to others. I’ve known amazing artists ride the line of retirement because they could never stop comparing themselves to other artists. I see the exact same trap happen to language leaners. We’re so inundated with stories of “N1 in under a year” that we forget that language learning is an incredibly personal journey.

Like, I’m Japanese and don’t know Japanese lol. This is low-key embarrassing for me and I’ve had to fight my way through to the other side to find the confidence and self-worth within myself.

You’re living your OWN life.

The only recommendation I can give is that if you feel like you can do more, then do more. Push yourself not because some AJATTer read 50 nukige/VNs, but do it because you want to be better than the person you were the day before. That is where true motivation lies.

Scripts I used

Whether or not you think it reflects poorly that WK doesn’t have some of these functions built in already, it’s a superfluous discussion to me and you should have them installed regardless.

The Double-Check/undo script

[Userscript]: Double-Check (Version 2.x)

Goes without saying at how useful it is. I made a habit to read aloud cards when reviewing so I know when I genuinely make a typo. Lightning mode shaves some time too.

Reorder Omega

[Userscript] Reorder Omega

While you can choose your lessons now, it’s still very valuable for reviews. If you’re trying to Guru new kanji to get to level up, then setting things to Speed Demon/Sort by Type is very useful.

Pitch Accent Chart

[Userscript] WaniKani Pitch Info

I am so glad I installed this when I started. After getting to level 60 and reading every vocab card with a pitch chart. I can hear pitch accent very clearly. I took a minimal pair test here and was about to get 100/100.

Kotu Minimal Pair Test

It’s not about memorizing pitch of each word, but having a guide that traces out pitch for each word that will build your ability to hear it for everything else. I swear by this after seeing the results.

Kanji Keisei Phonetic Script

[Userscript] Keisei 形声 Semantic-Phonetic Composition

Also incredibly valuable. Kanji with a phonetic component are highlighted and shown with other related kanji. This will help with memorizing future kanji and building reading intuition.

Not a script, but if you ever find yourself in a situation where you have hundreds of reviews piled up

The app Tsurukame, set to [anki mode+combine meaning/reading into one card] is a god-tier way to get through a mountain of reviews. I usually wake up to around 150-200 reviews and I can get through them in a fraction of the time while in bed. And then when I’m at my computer I do my reviews normally throughout the day and type them out, but now there isn’t a mountain of reviews that accumulated while I was sleeping.

Final thanks and acknowledgements

Thanks for checking out my post! I wanted to make two additional shout outs. One is for @jprspereira for the quintessential WK starter guide

My Journey of 368 days (+ The Ultimate Guide for WK open_book )

And @reahz for their level 60 post

My 10 Year lv60 Journey and Reflections

I loved reading reahz journey with learning Japanese and it taught me a lot about what it means to persevere when learning a language and to see things in the bigger picture.

Cake!

Just kidding it’s cinnamon rolls I made! I actually made these for buddy’s birthday in lieu of a cake, so they are cake to me in spirit :slight_smile:

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I’ll be the first to say congratulations! Never thought I would get a shoutout!

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Congratulations! Some great tips too - thanks!

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I clicked the post and sure enough it was made by an acquaintance of mine lmao. He’s a pretty cool dude actually from the interactions I’ve had with him on discord.

But yeah, I mean people like that (and me to some extent) are just on a completely different level of obsession with what they want to use the language for. It’s stupid to compare yourself with someone who is truly obsessed, disciplined, and has a routine for some endeavor if you’re not in the same boat. It’s just not possible to keep up and maintain quality of life. The only reason they can is because their perception is being influenced by the obsession.

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I hope my joke didn’t come off as too mean! I’m gonna revise it.

Honestly, I wrote that because I’m basically calling the kettle/pot black too. I work remotely and can devote as much possible time to this as I can. I’m grateful that I can in this moment of my life.

But there are a lot of people who just can’t and/or also don’t want to go that extreme with this. And that’s something we can all be cognizant of. Everyone’s doing their best.

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