Japanese Progress Update 2023

Anki screenshot


I’ve tried a few times to learn Japanese. All of those attempts have ended with me quitting after a few months and feeling pretty bad at it. This year I began a final attempt after I visited Japan and found new motivation. This attempt (the final attempt) began on 3/9/2023 starting from nearly zero (I could remember most of the kana and a few set phrases). This is the first yearly update which documents my experience learning the language this year.

2023 Milestones

  • Completed Genki 1 on 8/18/2023 (took 170 days)
  • Completed Tango N5 on 9/4/2023 (took 78 days)
  • Completed Genki 2 on 12/30/2023 (took 109 days)
  • Learned 1970 new words

7/5/23 entry

I began 3/9/2023. I reset my WaniKani level back to 0 from 10, which hurt. It felt like I was finally admitting to myself that I had failed in my last attempt. Level 10 wasn’t even that high, but it was still several hundred kanji that I spent many many hours learning. After I got going again, I realized that I hadn’t really failed, it was only a setback. I may not have remembered every kanji, but I was certainly learning them much faster than last time. As of writing I’m back up to level 8 already.

Apparently this covers 94% of the JLPT numbers, but I’m still having trouble seeing new kanji in the Tango N5 deck I use. Perhaps this is because there seems to be some sort of disconnect between kanji JLPT levels and the JLPT levels for words that use those kanji. For example, the Tango N5 deck contains the word 辞書, “dictionary”. I haven’t seen either of those kanji, because 辞 is an N3 level kanji but the entire word is considered N5 level. I don’t fully understand why this disconnect exists yet, maybe I’ll have a better understanding in the future.

Either way, I’m actually attempting to slow down my kanji learning speed. Previously I’ve been doing 10 new lessons per day (and all of the radicals at once). This has been great for learning kanji, but it takes up a lot of time and I feel now that I’m falling behind on grammar. I’ll be moving to 5 new lessons per day in order to give myself more time for Genki.


8/18/23 entry

I started with Genki 1 pretty much as soon as I got back from Japan, 3/1/23. I was able to recognize all of the kana after a day or two of re-learning. I signed up for the Seattle Japanese Language school classes, which ran 4/4/23 - 6/6/23. These class covered Genki 1 lessons 3 and 4. During this time, I felt like this progression was too slow for me. I enjoyed getting a chance to speak in class and I think this format probably works well for a lot of people, but I would have preferred a faster format. These classes were primarily useful for making me feel accountable for learning and helping me to form some discipline. I did not study ahead during this time.

After these classes ended, I began working through Genki 1 on my own and at a much faster pace. I completed Genki 1 on 8/18/23, meaning I spent roughly 5.5 months on it. I did the exercises in both the textbook and workbook. Towards the end I felt that writing was slowing me down too much, so I transitioned to using https://sethclydesdale.github.io/genki-study-resources to answer the questions. I did not practice the kanji or study the vocabulary from the textbook, so when I encountered a word I did not recognize I just looked it up in a dictionary.

I noticed towards the end of Genki 1 that exercises would involve lots of grammar points and I wouldn’t always be able to recall them, so I had to look through my notes. Now that I’ve finished working through all of the exercises, I’m planning on adding the grammar points to Bunpro so that I can etch these into my brain via SRS. I tried doing this as I went through Genki 1 but the exercises would use grammar points that I had not encountered yet. I found the casual (short-form) stuff particularly frustrating because I hadn’t gotten to that part of the book yet.

I plan on picking up Genki 2 soon and I’m hoping to finish at around the end of this year.

I started by using an Anki deck to SRS the Genki 1 vocabulary, but I found that to be frustratingly slow and I think a lot of the words weren’t very useful, so I stopped doing that. On 6/19/23 I started the Tango N5 Anki deck and as of today I’ve got about 270 new cards left. I’m working at a pace of 15 new cards/day which feels about as fast as I can go. I feel like this is significantly more enjoyable than learning vocabulary on WaniKani or through the Genki 1 Anki deck. I feel like the sentence context helps to read the unknown kanji and this process has made me question whether or not it even makes sense to learn kanji in isolation, more on that in the kanji section.

I’m going to continue through the Tango N5 deck and then tackle Tango N4. I have a copy of よつばと! sitting on a shelf next to me that I’d love to start reading. I don’t think 1000 words is going to cut it though, so I may end up using the Yotsubato! reading pack (https://livingjapanese.com/pages/yotsubato_reading_pack1.html) to help me out. I think I’ll try this in tandem with Tango N4.

I really want to get started consuming native materials ASAP. Lots of folks online recommend anime, but I’m not the biggest fan of it. I’ll probably try it out to see if it helps me learn. I do really like Ghibli movies though, so I want to try to learn enough vocab to watch Totoro. I found jpdb.io which has has a vocabulary deck for the movie that looks promising.

I haven’t made much more progress on WaniKani. I do my reviews every day but this is easily the least enjoyable part of my learning. I feel like learning kanji in isolation isn’t helping me nearly as much as just learning the vocabulary directly. I’m going to keep doing my reviews, but I think I’ll put a hold on new lessons for a bit. I don’t want to fall behind, but this feels pretty inefficient and doesn’t motivate me very much.


9/4/23 entry

Today I finished the Tango N5 deck! Or, at least I’ve gone through all the new cards. It ended up taking me 78 days. I averaged 25 mins/day and it took about 33 hours in total. I answered a little over 10,000 questions. I feel great having completed it and I’m excited to move on to the N4 stuff! That’s +1171 vocab and with my Wanikani progress I estimate I’m around 1500 vocab. I took a look at Satori Reader yesterday and despite learning soooo many new words every day, I can hardly recognize any words in the beginner stories.

End-of-year entry

I’m wrapping up Genki 2 right now. I’ve got 2 or 3 remaining grammar points to work on and then I’ll have finished Genki! For Genki 2, I read through the grammar point explanations in the book, but instead of working through the book exercises I added the grammar points to my Bunpro SRS reviews and have worked on the reviews for those daily. Each day I’ve added 1 or 2 grammar points, with and exception for a month or two where I did not have much time for learning new material.

As I’ve added more grammar points, I’ve noticed that the examples in Genki have become more difficult as there are more past grammar points that they build on. I think the Bunpro reviews are helping me to retain a lot of this, but I feel like I haven’t really “nailed down” a lot of due to the lack of reading. Since I’m just doing a bunch of SRS exercises, I get exposed to a lot of quizzes but not actual usage of the grammar points which is making me feel like it is difficult to read longer sentences.

According to Anki, I’ve got about 158 new words left in the Tango N4 deck. As of this writing (12/24/23) I’ve put 1930 words into young/mature. As I started Tango N5 on June 19th that comes out to a little over 10 new words per day. My pace for the N4 deck has been slower at 10 words per day, and I missed about a month of new cards due to time constraints, but I’ve kept up my reviews. I’m looking forward to wrapping up the new cards in this deck so that I can move on to creating my own cards through immersion. The Tango decks are marketed as i+1 on forums online, but I have found that the ordering of these cards is often super weird. I’m seeing cards for words at the end of N4 that showed up midway through N5. I’m also finding that the whole-sentence nature of these cards makes it so that reviews take longer as I’m reading through the entire card and checking against multiple words.

Again I’m worried that the sentence nature of the Tango deck is causing me to remember positions of words rather than the words themselves. I’m hoping that I’m actually learning something here though, and I think that will be put to the test when I move onto word-only cards in January.

This is tricky, I haven’t been working on isolated kanji since I stopped WaniKani back in August. I’m not sure if I should pick this back up, as I have been noticing that it is becoming more difficult to differentiate the kanji I’m seeing in words as I add on more known words. This is especially tricky when reading sentences that aren’t part of the Tango decks as I don’t have the “muscle memory” for them.

I’m thinking of picking up isolated kanji learning again to help with this. Perhaps using the Migaku kanji god extension to build kanji cards from my vocabulary cards will make this process easier? I just don’t like using prebuilt decks very much and I don’t think I can make myself do much more WaniKani.

Listening / Speaking
I’ve still not put much practice into this yet. I feel like I’m too far behind everywhere else to get much out of this. Though I have explored using SuperNative.tv a bit. Currently my MMR on the Listen + Recall section is 1614. This seems pretty fun and I think would be useful for boosting my listening skills. I’m a bit lost on figuring out speaking skills without doing an actual conversion though, which sounds very difficult right now.

I’ve made some attempts through both Yotsuba and Satori Reader. I found Yotsubato to be more difficult due to the colloquial language preventing me from getting much use out of Yomichan. Additionally I have come to rely on the kanji to help with many words due to the Tango decks, so having to figure out the words from kana alone is difficult. I haven’t made it through more than a few dozen pages and I want to put more effort into this next year (see below goals).

Satori Reader has been much easier. I have read through about 20 episodes now, mostly through 壁の穴. I think the episodes are pretty good on the difficulty, and I have noticed that overwhelmingly most of my troubles come from not knowing the grammar. Having to look up a few words per episode is fine, but I’m noticing there’s a huge rift between knowing how to answer the grammar SRS on Bunpro and being able to actually read real sentences that use the grammar.

Overall immersion has been kind of exhausting. I feel like it will continue to be for a little while until I’ve read enough though, but I plan on powering through it next year and I’m hoping that it will become enjoyable before long. Additionally, immersion will very soon become my main source of vocabulary as I’ll be mining for all future words starting in just a few days.

Goals for 2024

Theme: reach N3 level and then some.

  • Learn 1825 new words
    • At 5 words per day, this would bring my total known word count to nearly 4000, which is well beyond the 3000 reported words needed for N3.
  • Complete Quartet 1 and mature the grammar points in Bunpro
    • This should fulfill the grammar component for N3.
  • Read 1000 pages of manga in Japanese
    • Assuming I’ll read about about 10 pages/hour. This is 100 hours.
  • Complete 2 tutoring sessions
    • This is for practicing speaking and listening.