Worth starting WaniKani after years of SRS?

Hello, I just signed up for the free trial today but would like to ask about your experiences.

I’ve been doing Anki SRS for Chinese + Japanese for literally almost a decade–about 9.5 years with a 3000-character Heisig mnemonic-based hanzi deck, plus other decks from 3 Japanese textbooks, some cloze passages, etc. I’m… mostly diligent with my studies but have had maybe 8-10 lapses of a couple months over that time.

But it’s just not going well after this long. Across the 8888 cards I have (funny number), almost a full 10% are leeches, and I’ve got to study about 1.5-2 hours a day just to zero out each day–before I can even study grammar or do other language practice. Some cards have dozens and dozens of failures/lapses. I try retooling my mnemonics to make them more vivid, but the amount is just getting so tiring that I really can’t take the time to relearn every failed card, especially when you hit “again” on the same card you’ve “relearned” a dozen times.

I’m reluctant to start something new like WaniKani because I’ve just invested so much time into these decks and many existing mnemonics. (And also I based my kanji learning for Japanese on Chinese character mnemonics…) I’ve done almost 150,000 reviews total, and starting over from scratch just sounds awful. But I’m hitting a brick wall (and have been for the last like 5 years).

Has anyone started over from a large amount of previous SRS experience? Has it been worth it? Does WaniKani really feel more efficient than self-progressing through Anki SRS? Do you just stop doing Anki kanji SRS, or do them alongside?

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At this point, it sounds like you don’t have much to lose. I would see how it goes through the free trial and maybe sign up for a month or two and try to get through the first ten levels. That should give you an idea of whether it works well for you or not.

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In your case I would just wanna consolidate my kanji knowledge (like make a list of those 2000s kanji from those Hanzi you’ve learned and match them with the Japanese language).

I think you are quite solid with those kanjis and start wk just messes up the mnemonic which is not a good idea imo.

Now maybe the part you lack should be reading and other part of the language. Kanji should not be a hard things for you. Even if it did I still don’t recommend using wanikani based on what you’ve shared.
My two cents is that you should really put things into real practices (like you know more kanjis, but if you cant read it’s just a waste and you will forget. Same with other skills)

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I also use Anki (basically since I started studying Japanese). In the beginning I was like you and I tried and tried to relearn those words that would not stick, which was very tiring for me as well. But recently I am trying out a different strategy by allowing Anki to suspend cards I fail often enough. There is simply so much stuff to learn out there; why get stuck on one word if I could successfully learn ten others in the same time? Also, I found that over time (with learning more unrelated stuff) I am able to make more and more connections, and that over time I will also know more and more kanji, which might at some point in the future make it much easier to learn that stubborn word.

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Something about the best time to do something was years ago, but the second best time is now.

Seriously though, I spent a bit of time on other methods before diving into Wanikani, and like you it just did not stick. No regrets about finally plunging in.

The upsides are you get battle tested mnemonics (some are wonky, no doubt but :man_shrugging:) , and a community to commiserate with. It’ll probably be a cinch as well given your existing experience. It will take a heck of a lot of time though, not going to lie.

If you know enough though, I would say focus on reading / real world experience instead. Then you can really find out which kanji are worth the trouble of memorizing.

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Would you say you can you read Japanese? Like a newspaper, for example?

I hope (at some as yet undetermined point) to move from SRS to reading books and magazines. I mostly learn by reading, so the kanji and kana have been a massive obstacle for me personally. Hopefully, once I can read, my progress in other aspects of the language will accelerate.

Do you try to read on a regular basis?

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If you decide not to follow the wani kani route keep the community forums. It’s a really great place to ask other learners for advice and get support.

I started anki after wanikani. Wanikani helps me build up kanji.
I use anki for other Japanese that I come across but I find it is hard to memorize difficult vocabulary.
I use both still.

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At this point, you have lost that time you invested anyway. It’s just a case of deciding which of your future options would be better.

The best advice I could give you would be for you to try it.

Your post told much, but what you did not mention is how much you have actually learnt from Anki. That weighs heavily on whether I would recommend WaniKani to someone like you. From my personal experience, I tried many things before WaniKani and I have a fair basis of kanji which I already know and am encountering in WaniKani from time to time. This does not matter to me though for the simple reason of how much vocabulary I’m learning. This was an issue for a long time, I couldn’t remember the vocabulary, nothing would stick. WaniKani has really helped in that regard and that is why it was worth it for me.

Also, learning kanji in isolation without the vocabulary does not work, you should be studying both simultaneously and that is what WaniKani does really well. I assume the reason you’re doing this is so you can learn Japanese and Mandarin together? Well, to be brutally honest, I doubt that will work. They’re used very differently in the two languages and whilst it may seem that sharing kanji is a major connection between the two, it doesn’t work out like that in practice. Learn one and then the other, it will be 1000x faster being able to dedicate yourself like that. With all that being said though, this is from my experience and you may be a better multitasker than I.

Another thing is the mnemonics, others have already mentioned this, but the mnemonics you’ve already learnt may conflict with the WaniKani ones and that may hinder you progress.

Finally, if you do decide that you would like to continue with WaniKani, I would suggest considering the winter sale for Lifetime that is on at the moment. It ends on the 6th of January (this month) so I would hate for you to miss it if it were something of interest to you.

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I have been using Anki mainly to learn vocabulary, but I did use it for about three months with RTK before starting WK. Does WK feel more efficient? No. With Anki you can set yourself as high a learning load as you want and you can theoretically have it do everything WK does and more, including showing you visually similar kanji, managing leeches, and all the other stuff WK can do with the help of user scripts. For me, the advantage of WK is more that of convenience – you have everything set up for you and you just have to show up and do the work.

However, WK’s “inefficiency” also allowed me to focus on other things like immersion, grammar, and vocabulary, as the workload is quite small for a while and pretty manageable at the middle of it. At the end, though, there were a bunch of fast levels that led to me doing nothing but reviews day in and day out. This was completely avoidable and entirely my fault, as you can set the pace yourself by the number of lessons you do, but, like Anki, WK also easily lets you shoot yourself in the foot, if you’re not careful or focus more on going fast than actually acquiring things.

When I started over with WK, the mnemonics didn’t pose a problem for me, because I mostly made my own. Sometimes I took inspiration from WK’s stories and component names, but most of the time I simply went with what was more memorable for me. The way you learn the items on WK is wholly up to you. The only constraint is that WK is focused on recognition/comprehension, not recall/production, so that will have to be practiced separately, if it’s important for you.

After I finished WK, I’d say there were about 1000 kanji I remembered well most of the time, about 500 that I frequently misread or mistook for another kanji, and about 500 I was quite bad at, maybe occasionally got the meaning or the reading right. The reason for it, I’d say, was that I didn’t really read enough books. I only really started that after WK, as my reasoning was it would be much easier, and while that was definitely true, it also hindered my learning, I’d say. For kanji to really stick, you need to encounter them frequently in many contexts. First, the repetition itself helps solidify them. Mnemonics can help you recall or recognise something, but you need to get to a point where you just instantly know things. Secondly, sometimes when you learn something in a particular context, it is more because of that context that you remember it, so just something as simple as a different background or a different font might throw you off (there’s a script in WK, btw, that changes up fonts). Thirdly, you are able to much more easily form connections and make things memorable when you have some actual knowledge about Japanese and Japanese culture.


As for my advice… On one hand, it could be that reading practice might do you a lot more good than refreshing your knowledge with WK, especially as you have already learned a large number of items. Maybe try taking part in one of the book clubs here at the forums, for example. On the other hand, starting anew with a somewhat different system might help solidify existing knowledge and change up the way you’ve been learning things, helping you to break through the rut. Falling into a routine of course helps, as you do need to put in a large number of hours in language learning and nothing is more effective for that than regular engagement with a language, but it can also be demotivating and prevent you from taking a step forward, as you tend to cling to the same comfortable things and as a result feel as if you’re not making any progress, since you’re doing the same things over and over again. On the third hand, maybe you just need to shake up your existing study routine. These 10% of complete leeches that you mention, if you have such a hard time learning them, do you really need to? Maybe spend your time instead on things that you can learn more easily? And for those items that you already know well, do they really need to be in Anki? I realise that it might be difficult to throw away things you’ve painstakingly accumulated over a long time and worked hard on, but are they not just means to an end? That is, to learn Japanese, not to acquire a large Anki deck.

As for me, I’m doing a second round of WK alongside with ramping up my reading practice, because I feel like it’s more effective than doing either of them alone and that they tend to reinforce each other. But I’m also varying things up, from time to time. SRS is just one tool in the toolbox after all. I might read books intensively for a couple of months, but after that I might focus more on listening podcasts or watching shows with Japanese subtitles or doing speed reading practice or shadowing or studying with a textbook or translating. And I’ve found that if you set yourself priorities and focus on them for a short period of time, you also tend to see a more immediate improvement and it helps you to stay motivated. Here’s a somewhat lengthy video on this topic that inspired me: Lýdia Machová – The Power of Setting Priorities in Language Learning [CC English/Español] - YouTube

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I cannot like this comment enough. Super important advice!!!

I’m not the one to give advice here as I’m just starting learning Japanese (although I speak fluently 3 other languages and 3 more on advanced/intermediate level) but this seems a lot more sensible strategy than just re-doing SRS decks over the years. I think it is good to step back and realize that a few missing kanji are not going to matter in a big scheme of things… The definitions will come to you naturally when needed as you encounter them in your readings. Hopefully, in sentences and/or context that will eventually make them stick.

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Have you heard of the “sunk cost fallacy”? It’s a psychological fallacy wherein one continues to do something because they have previously invested time, money, or effort into it. This often results in one sticking with something that isn’t working, because they’ve put so much into it already. Sometimes it’s better to cut one’s loses, and switch to something else.

That said, I don’t know if going the WaniKani route would be beneficial or not for your situation. Are you able to take a list of WaniKani’s kanji, and compare it with the Japanese kanji in your deck, and produce statistics for how well you know each kanji that WaniKani covers?

I don’t think first three levels of WaniKani will be enough for you to gauge its usefulness for you. If you could chart out stats on which kanji covered by WaniKani you don’t know well, that would give you an idea on what the earliest level is that WaniKani could potentially benefit you, and you could work out the time/cost benefit of using WaniKani up through that point.

This is me, as well. Early on, I didn’t like Anki marking things as leeches and suspending them when they are things I was trying to learn. Getting back to Anki now, I plan to embrace this. If Anki suspends something as a leech, then it’s something I don’t want wasting my time (for now).

This is an important takeaway as well. If one knows the kanji, but not the vocabulary, absolutely give WaniKani a shot.

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Yep, the WK community aspect is what won me over. So many people to learn from, and/or get inspired, even pushed a little, to keep my eyes on the ball :wink:

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Same here. I’m approaching it the same way. From my past adult language learning experiences I realized that the biggest jump in my ability to understand, outside of outright moving to and living in countries whose languages I was learning, was to start reading, watching, listening to stuff I was interested in. Plus, the sooner I stopped using dictionaries that translate definitions, the faster I advanced.

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I am so happy someone told me about the suspension feature in Anki early on. Some words just don’t stick and if it’s not a word I think I’ll use often, it gets suspended. No need being hung up on 1 word, makes it a lot more enjoyable to study Anki as well.

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I used to use the Japanese Core 2k/6k deck on Anki, starting and stopping several times because of leeches and just getting burned out from the long reviews deeper into the deck. I tried out WaniKani after getting 70% through the Core 2k/6k deck, and I was hesitant because I thought too many things would be remedial. That deck is organized in terms of frequency/commonality in Japanese (I believe newspapers), but that also makes it a little more random with a little less structure to learning kanji, and I never developed solid “definitions” for individual kanji because it simply has you dive head first into many jukugo words. I often felt like I was just getting lucky when I’d sometimes get some jukugo words correct, and my pile of leeches and accuracy dropped over time.

After using WaniKani for several months, I put the Anki deck on hold and focused 100% on WaniKani for kanji, and it was probably the best decision I’ve made in regards to my kanji study. The way vocabulary is ordered after you are taught the individual kanji with their onyomi and kunyomi readings has really solidified my memorization. The opinions on the mnemonics used on this site vary widely, but I personally have found them very useful, and the consistent themes for the mnemonics (e.g., the characters such as Jourm, Ms. Chou, Koichi) work for me. I do have some leeches here, and some of the mnemonics aren’t great, but I am doing much better with WaniKani than I did with the Anki deck.

I would recommend doing something similar to what I did and doing the free levels and then continuing with just a monthly subscription if you’re still unsure and don’t want to make a bigger monetary investment. Your past experience with Anki will be helpful and will make it an easier journey than someone just starting out with kanji, although you will have to adjust to different definitions than what you’ve previously used (I worried at first about this as well but found that prior experience was often more useful than harmful). It did not take too long for me to realize that the organization and method here was improving my recall that I would not have gotten with the the brute force memorization method I was using on Anki. The gamifying aspects of WaniKani and the resources on the forums (e.g., scripts) also made it easier for me to remain motivated and disciplined in my studying habits.

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Thanks very much for the advice. I actually turned off “suspend leech cards after x lapses” for all my decks because I felt like it was “cheating” and I just needed to retool my mnemonics or spend more time with the words, but the way you’ve described it is quite eye-opening to me. Ultimately my goal should be “understand and use the language in general everyday usage” more than “know every single word in isolation,” so I think maybe I haven’t been thinking big-picture enough.

I’m going to turn auto-suspend back on and see if it helps me get through more study more efficiently. I appreciate the guidance!

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The reading question is interesting.

Basically in Japanese, I can read a kinda middle-school level comic without specialized vocabulary and understand maybe 80%–90% with a dictionary. For Chinese, I can read a kind of middle-high-school level comic and understand maybe 65%, 80% with dictionary (which is a bit sad, because I consider my Chinese much stronger than my Japanese). But basically, change the study materials to any kind of formal report or the news or something, or even just slightly more complex entertainment, and my comprehension falls off a cliff.

It’s hard for me to totally grasp why the disparity is just so wide. I guess I can understand the words and simpler sentence structure used in dialogue and that’s about it. So sometimes I really wonder if I’m truly learning more when I’m reading–it feels like either “I understand this okay and am picking up a couple words here and there but extremely slowly” or “I can’t begin to understand this at all.”

But I do think I need more practical skills so maybe I should try to focus on reading more even if I feel like I’m not learning new words from it much, I suppose.

Regarding how much I’ve actually learned, hmm. Anki says I have 7865 mature cards but my retention seems low and I only get about 70% right. So I guess 5500 cards or so, or only 60% of my whole collection. (And some of those are multiple cards off the same note.)

I do actually feel my Chinese + Japanese has worked okay, but that’s because I started on the 3000 common use hanzi for a couple years before my Japanese. That’s made it a lot faster for me to learn Japanese words since the kanji were familiar and the meanings are close enough (and a lot of kanji compounds are identical to hanzi compounds). But I think my problem is more that I don’t really have the hanzi/kanji down pat, so learning compounds is kind of building on a shaky foundation.

I am a bit worried about “overwriting” my mnemonics and getting confused. Based on the advice here, it feels like maybe 50/50 on whether that will work or be a problem. But I think perhaps I should just try for a little bit and hopefully I’ll notice if it starts to be a problem…

Thank you for the advice!

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Honestly i dont think WK can help you.
You appear to rely heavily (too heavily in my opinion) on an isolated drilling system.

It’s essential to piece it all together and have context in language learning. If you dont practice reading, you will not get better at reading, its that simple.
No amount of SRS will ever bypass that fact.

WK will not improve your retention if you dont do any activities that support retention (reading)

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