Now that we are in 2022, this marks little over 10 years trying to learn Japanese. While I gotten a bit lazy in the past few years, I felt I am not progressing at all, although I still know most of the Japanese grammar. The Kanji remains an area that I am still struggling.
However, with a new year, I want to do things differently. With that, I want to share what I am up to in my Japanese studies and the change in approach I’m taking.
After watching a few Seiyuu live performances, namely Inorin’s, Akarin’s and TrySail’s, I want to improve my listening and reading abilities. Not to mention, one of my goals is to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N3 and eventually N2 and N1. While taking these tests and earning a certificate won’t do anything to advance my career, it’s mostly for bragging rights. Moreover, I want to show my achievement that I know the language.
My goal is to take and pass the N3 in 2023 and later N2 and N1. Thankfully, I won’t have to travel far since I now live in the DC Metro Area and there is a test location there.
Of course, from some research in trying to figure out the struggle with Kanji. I just found the solution to deal with this aspect of Japanese.
Tackling the Kanji with WaniKani
WaniKani is a recent web application that wasn’t available when I started learning Japanese in late 2011. WaniKani is just a better version of Remembering the Kanji series. While both series use mnemonics to help you remember the character and the meaning, there are differences. Remembering the Kanji doesn’t really teach you the readings, which you need to do on your own. Also, writing the Kanji is not that important nowadays since most people use the internet to communicate.
WaniKani works by having the user memorize the radicals, which are components of each Kanji. After you reviewed the radicals correctly at least five times, it will unlock Kanji. By knowing the radicals, you can identify each Kanji, the meaning, and the primary reading. This can be the On’yomi (音読み, sound reading), which is based on the Chinese reading and Kun’yomi (訓読み, Japanese-style reading), which is the Japanese reading for the Kanji.
After answering all the Kanji reviews correctly, it will unlock vocabulary, which reinforces the Kanji you just learned. Each level has a set of radicals, Kanji, and vocabulary. There are currently 60 levels in total, which covers 2000 of the most common Kanji.
WaniKani uses an SRS (Spaced Repetition System), which you will find in Anki and Memrise. The difference here is that you need to type the answer instead of looking at the answer and selecting the difficulty. I feel that typing the answer helped in remembering the Kanji and words better than just looking at it. Of course, each person will have a different way of learning things.
As expected, there is some downsides to WaniKani. One of them is that it doesn’t teach you kana only words. That is important since they are a main part of the language. Not to mention, there are a handful of vocabulary that is there that will rarely use. Also, the reviews can pile up quickly if you progress the lessons too quickly. Thankfully, you aren’t forced to do the reviews right away and go at your own pace.
After nearly two months of starting WaniKani, it’s becoming easier to read stuff in Japanese like manga and video games. Of course, I created my own SRS flashcard program, KaniManabu, which uses almost the same system as WaniKani, but easier to use and a better interface than Anki. This allows me to memorize vocabulary not covered in WaniKani. I just dumped my Anki decks filled with vocabulary I found in the past into a CSV file.
Afterwards, I imported them into the program I developed. That said, I only intend to develop this app on macOS and iOS as I simply don’t have the time or the willpower to bring it to other platforms. However, there are alternatives that work the same as Torii and Kitsun.
While WaniKani is not necessarily free as you only get access to the first three levels, it’s a good tool. If you are serious about learning Japanese, I highly suggest opting for the lifetime subscription. It usually goes on sale during the Christmas holiday for $200 instead of $299. Still, it’s worth it as it makes learning Kanji effortless as everything is already done. There is no need to create flash cards and create my own mnemonics.
Do you really need a Denshi Jisho (Electronic Dictionaries)?
Back in 2016, I decided to buy one of those Japanese electronic dictionaries. My 26-year-old self-thought that they have better dictionaries. Of course, I mostly want to buy one for the Kenkyusha’s New Japanese to English Dictionary since it has better meanings and examples.
Of course, I ended up spending close to $400 to buy a Casio Ex-word XD-U6500 and the microSD card with the Kenkyusha dictionaries on it. The thing is I didn’t really use it that much since it’s difficult to use due to my lack of Kanji skills. Also, there is no radical lookup, although you can draw the character. Even in 2016 standards, the user interface is just clunky and it’s something that came out in the 90s and 2000s. The only place I see it being useful is in a classroom setting where you not allowed to use a smartphone.
Nowadays, you can now get the same Kenkyusha’s New Japanese to English Dictionary on iOS devices through Monokakido’s Dictionaries app. While it’s a little bit more expensive than buying the dictionary addon bundle, but the usability is way better. Not to mention, the app works on macOS as well. Of course, this doesn’t help if you use Android and Windows, but they probably also have the same dictionaries on Google Play store.
Thanks to Apple’s transition to Apple Silicon, I have access to apps like Yomiwa. Yomiwa is a dictionary app that uses OCR to recognize text in real life. It can work with screenshots as well. Besides the OCR functionalities and built-in dictionary, you can add Furiganas to webpages. This eases the burden of looking up words with Kanji you haven’t learned yet.
If you aren’t studying Japanese in a classroom setting, I suggest just download the paid dictionaries off the App Store. Don’t rely on JMDict as the definitions and examples are garbage. It’s okay for a beginner, but if you are serious about learning Japanese, I suggest looking into getting the Kenkyusha New J-E dictionary. If you can’t afford it, Wisdom 3 or Genius 4 E-J/J-E dictionaries are okay alternatives. I only really use Imiwa, which uses JMDict just to track words I looked up already and look up Kanji by radicals.
What I’m Doing for Immersion
Generally, I play video games for immersion. In addition, in 2018, I started reading manga as part of my immersion. Believe it or not, I do not depend on anime for immersion, nor I believe you can learn Japanese from just watching anime for obvious reasons. It might become useful once I know enough vocabulary and improve my listening comprehension skills.
Believe it or not, I focused mostly on slice of life series. It’s mostly because these series will use Japanese vocabulary and speech patterns close to real life conversations. Not to mention, I tend to enjoy schoolgirl slice of life stories. Most of the series I read do not have Furigana, but the dialog is easy enough to comprehend with a dictionary for words I don’t know yet. Book Walker, even if you create an English account allows you to buy manga from the Japanese store quite easily. I have a bunch of digital manga from CDJapan’s Ebook service going to Book Walker, but we’ll see if I lose anything or not.
Here is a list of series I am reading/planning to read soon (in the coming months)
- Slow Loop
- RPG Real Estate
- Akebi-chan no Sailor Fuku
- Bocchi The Rock
With that, this covers the state of my Japanese studies. For those who are actively learning Japanese, I wonder what methods are you using? Also, feel free to share what media you consume to help reinforce your knowledge of the language in the comments.