WaniKani is a web app for learning Japanese Kanji. In this WaniKani review I will let you know what I think about the spaced repetition, and the mnemonics used for the kanji and radicals.
After 2 years, I have finally made it half-way through the 60 levels of WaniKani. In reality, it has only taken 14 months to reach level 30, as I reset and started over from the beginning a little short of a year. At this point, I figured it was time to take a break, as the number of item reviews that I was doing daily was getting overwhelming and leaving me no time for anything else. I have had daily reviews of between 100 and 300 items, and it is starting to get unmanageable. I needed to slow down for a bit and ‘regroup’. But, if at any point there is a day with no reviews, I will learn some new items so that I at least keep progressing. Hopefully, this WaniKani review will help you decide if you are going to use it or not. Give it a shot, the first 3 levels are free! But, keep in mind that the ‘speed’ of the first 3 levels is slower than the rest of the levels (especially if you use a ‘re-ordering’ script that changes the order in which you learn).
**I wrote this post a while ago** My break was a little too long! It took me over 3 months to finish level 30, time to get back to learning…
Check out my Tips for using WaniKani.
First of all, I love WaniKani! It is the right program for me to learn kanji. Is WaniKani right for everyone? Of course, not. No single program, or method, is right for every single language learner. It all depends on what your goals are, why you are learning Japanese, and how you wish to use what you have learned. My goal is to be able to read Japanese on my own; in order to increase my learning possibilities. I figure the more Japanese that I can read, the less that I need to study grammar and sentence structure. After all, we don’t sit down and learn grammar and sentence structure when we learn our native language. We learn our native language before we start going to school. We do that by listening to others talk, and having books read to us, and reading books ourselves. So I use WaniKani so that I can learn how to read Japanese, without having to rely on furigana or only reading kana.
WaniKani works for me because of the mnemonics used to remember the kanji and vocabulary. When reviewing items, you also need to type in the answers. It is much different than flashcards or other programs, where you only click a button to indicate if you got the answer correct or not. I need to have some additional input to help me remember things, especially vocabulary. It does help me a lot to either write, or type, the answers; which I believe is additional input for your brain that assists with remembering/learning. Besides learning kanji, WaniKani also has vocabulary words which use the kanji you have just learned. In addition, example sentences that use the vocabulary words you just learned are provided, all in Japanese. This helps reinforce learning, because you see the kanji you have learned more often.
One thing to mention before you start using WaniKani: You will need to have already mastered kana. For the vocabulary words especially, you will see some hiragana and katakana that are attached to some kanji to make a complete word. You can use an English keyboard to type your answers and WaniKani will convert your typing to kana. The same as using IME for Windows, or a foreign language input in any operating system. So, you will need to be able to know how to read kana. I know the company that made WaniKani also has something called “TextFugu”, but I have not used it. There is a guide for free on Tofugu.
WHAT DO YOU LEARN?
WaniKani’s purpose is to help you learn over 2000 kanji and over 6000 vocabulary words. (There are currently 2,136 Joyo Kanji, or “regular use” kanji. Note that the Joyo Kanji list is only a baseline for measuring literacy at the conclusion of compulsory education. Although most of the kanji in the list are among the most frequently used kanji, some are not.) You will also learn a number of kanji radicals, I just don’t remember how many at the moment and am having difficulty finding the answer. Radicals make up parts of kanji characters, and are often basically simple kanji characters themselves (although not always).
WaniKani has it’s own order of learning radicals and kanji. This is a complaint that some people have about WaniKani. It doesn’t teach kanji in the order that Japanese students learn them. It also doesn’t teach you the most frequently used kanji first. Mainly because it is organized in a way to build on the radicals, kanji, and mnemonics that you learned earlier in the program.
The program uses a Spaced Repetition System (SRS), and mnemonics, to help you learn. Spaced repetition is a proven method of learning that involves reviewing items repeatedly, but with the time in between each review increasing after each correct review. (escholarship.org) (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Mnemonics is using additional cues in order to remember something; like using extraordinary visual imagery or retrieval cues to assist with remembering. So for example, WaniKani relates kanji radicals to a visual image that looks like that radical, or uses a made up story to easily help you remember the radical. Kanji can be made up of one radical, or many, and thus you can use multiple mnemonics to make up a story or visual image to remember the new kanji that uses those radicals. It is difficult to explain, but it has helped me a lot while learning kanji.
Generally, the SRS time intervals that WaniKani uses are as follows: 4 hours, 8 hours, 23 hours, 47 hours, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, and 4 months (except that levels 1 and 2 of WaniKani skip the 47 hour interval). Each time you review an item correctly (both the meaning and pronunciation), that item moves to the next time interval. If you answer incorrectly for either the meaning or pronunciation, you will drop a time interval (or two). Thus, if you are doing poorly at remembering a kanji meaning or reading, you will see it more often in your reviews.
WaniKani organizes all of the radicals, kanji, and vocabulary that it teaches into 60 levels. The program also organizes the spaced repetition system (SRS) time intervals into 5 levels. You must get each radical, and kanji, to the 2nd SRS level before you can advance to the next WaniKani level, which unlocks the next level’s radicals and some kanji. So you must get most of the kanji in a level to SRS level “Guru” to unlock the next WaniKani level. Advancing a level in WaniKani makes all of the next level’s radicals, and some of the kanji available to learn. The first SRS level is “Apprentice”, which contains the 4h, 8h, 23h, and 47h intervals. Complete these 1st four time intervals, and you move to the “Guru” level. The “Guru” level contains the 1 week and 2 week time intervals. Then the “Master” level contains the 1 month time interval. And the last level is a 4 month interval. If you answer both the kanji meaning and reading correctly, you will move the item (kanji, radical, vocabulary) to the “Burned” level. This final level means that you now “know” the radical, kanji, or vocabulary and you won’t see it again in your reviews (unless you install one of the many independently developed scripts that add many features to WaniKani).
Many people complain that all of the items (radical, kanji, and vocabulary) are not available from the beginning, and that you can’t progress at your own pace. Even though you need to unlock items to progress, and it starts off a little slow, you can finish all the radicals, kanji, and vocabulary in a little over a year. Learning 2000 kanji and 6000 vocabulary in about one year seems like a pretty decent pace to me. Consider that Japanese students take all of their compulsory education years to learn the Joyo kanji. There are posts on the WaniKani community board from more than a few people that explain how they made it through level 60 in just over 1 year. Here is an example (Ironically, the OP is complaining that it takes too long to level up). And another from someone that finished in 361 days.
This though, involves learning everything new that is available everyday, and reviewing at least 2 or 3 times a day. And, I also imagine that you will need to have a pretty high correct answer rate during your reviews to keep progressing at a fast pace. I started (my 2nd time) on 1 October 2018, and made it to level 30 on 24 December 2019. So it took me 14 months to reach the halfway point at level 30. I did take longer than usual on a few levels, it took me over a month to do levels 21 and 29, but I am now averaging 14 days per level (every level up to level 20 took under 14 days, with the shortest being 7 days.) Going through at this pace, I was seeing around 150 reviews a day, with some days reaching 250-300 reviews. That many reviews a day is unmanageable for me, but you may find the time for it. There is at least one app that can help with reviewing multiple times each day: “Flaming Durtles”. This app makes it much easier to do the reviews on your smartphone, and it also has a lot of information about your progress with learning each kanji.
WaniKani does cost money. What? You thought all this learning was free? However, the first 3 levels are free for you to try out the program. WaniKani is $9 per month, or $89 per year, or $299 for a lifetime membership. Although, every year around Christmas through New Years, they usually have the lifetime membership on sale for $199. I went straight ahead and got the lifetime from the beginning (during the sale), as I knew it would take me longer than 2 years to complete level 60. And, through the use of a user script, you can still review all of your burned items that you no longer review once you are finished. So, you can keep using WaniKani as a review tool as long as you want after you have learned all the kanji, vocabulary, and radicals that are available. And yes, periodically they do updates to add more kanji and vocabulary.
I can’t believe how much WaniKani has helped me advance my kanji, and even vocabulary, knowledge. I ‘knew’ a fair amount of kanji prior to starting, probably somewhere between 100 or 200. It is really satisfying and surprising to learn the kanji for a word you already know. And once you see the kanji that some words use, the vocabulary word makes total sense based on the kanji meaning. That is not a real good explanation, but you’ll see what I mean once you start using it. It is also surprising how mnemonics work to assist memory. There are many times, when reviewing something, that I don’t recognize the kanji and I don’t remember the mnemonic; but after a few seconds the meaning or reading will just “pop” into my head. I am still not sure that it is the correct answer, but it is the only one that I can think of, and it is often correct. I really love using WaniKani and I recommend it to anyone that wants to learn how to read Japanese.
Since the first three levels are free, why not give it a try: WaniKani
**WaniKani does not have an affiliate program. I was not compensated in any form for writing this review (as you can probably tell by the quality of the review)**