Learning Japanese with WaniKani

This post is about the web application called WaniKani that uses the Spaced Repetition (SRS) technique in order to learn Japanese. In this first article I will present an overview on how it's algorithm works and how to start. In a second article I will cover some some tips on how to make the learning experience better by adding plugins and additional functionalities to WaniKani (WK).

Space Repetition Basics

Spaced Repetition (SRS) is a learning technique that helps a person to retain knowledge. It is based on the theory that we humans tend to forget what we learn, but if the information is presented to us a number of times, after a specific interval of time, we will not forget it. Information that you don't know well will be presented to you in shorter time intervals, while information that you know will be presented in increasingly larger intervals until you have fully memorized it.

Information Retention

This technique is widely used to learn languages, mainly to help with vocabulary memorization. Several major applications aimed at studying languages, such as Anki, WaniKani and Memrise use this technique.

If are curious about this topic I recommend the excellent article in Wired magazine about this topic.

WaniKani SRS Algorithm

WK uses an SRS algorithm in order to help you memorize radicals, Kanji and vocabulary. There are 60 levels in WK.

According to the WaniKani FAQ, "WaniKani’s SRS spans nine levels, which are split across the five groups". The image below helps to understand a little better how these levels work:

WaniKani SRS Levels

From the picture above we can see the intervals necessary to complete each level. For example, to get to an SRS level 1 for a kanji, you will need to wait 4h after learning the kanji and correctly review the kanji. To get to level 2, you need to answer correctly the item that will show in the review after 8h, and so on. I you get an answer wrong, your SRS level will decrease.

SRS levels

  • 1 to 3: Apprentice
  • 4 to 5: Guru unlocks available associated items, like kanji that use a radical, or vocabulary that uses a kanji
  • 6: Master
  • 7: Enlighten
  • 8: Burned

Here is a quick overview of how it works:

  • For each correct answer, the SRS will level up 1 SRS level.
  • For each wrong answer it will drop 1 SRS level per grouped incorrect (meaning and reading answered incorrectly).
  • When reaching SRS level 4, Guru, available associated items will be unlocked:
    • Related Kanji when radicals that constitute that kanji reach Guru level
    • Related vocabulary for a Guru Kanji
  • You level up when 90% of the level's Kanji has reached Guru level

Example Let's say we want to learn a kanji. From the first time it appears, if we do all the reviews on time, in order for us to reach Guru level you will take at least 4.5 days:
4h + 8h + 24h + 3 days = 4.5 days

Mnemonics

Wanikani's approach is to introduce in each level radicals (parts that make a kanji), kanji and vocabulary. For helping remembering the Kanji, it assigns mnemonics to the kanji, which are small stories that will help you to remember both the meaning as well as the reading of the kanji.

I found that the more shocking the story associated with the kanji, the easier it is to remember it.

You may be familiar with Heisig's "Remember the Kanji" method. Wanikani has a similar approach for introducing the Kanji, but it also teaches you the reading of the Kanji.
I found that the more shocking the story associated with the kanji, the easier it is to remember it.

How to learn

The first step is to register in the WaniKani website.
They currently offer the first 3 levels for free and if you like the service you can subscribe to it to have access to the other levels.

After this you can start learning by using a browser or a mobile application.

Wanikani's approach is to introduce in each level radicals (parts that make a kanji), kanji and vocabulary. For helping remembering the Kanji, it assigns mnemonics to the kanji, which are small stories that will help you to remember both the meaning as well as the reading of the kanji.

Browser

The browser offers, in my opinion, the best experience for learning. Not only because of the slick interface but because you can add plug-ins that will increase your learning experience. I have used Opera, Chrome and Firefox with plug-ins and they all work well. According to their page, as of the writing of this article, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Mozilla Firefox are supported and Microsoft Internet Explorer 10 is not officially supported.

I write about my favorite plug-ins in a separate article.

Mobile Applications
I have been using WK both on Android and iOS. These applications are developed by third party developers and use the WK's API for accessing the WK site.

The apps are excellent and give you all the functionality of the site and more. Both of them include the plugins/user scripts to add extra functionality so, you don't have to install anything, you just need to enable the scripts in the Settings menu. My favorite ones, the "override" plugin and the "WaniKani improve" are part of the plugins you can use.

Android
WaniKani by İhsan Işık
Link: https://goo.gl/7YWFA6

iOS
Mobile AlliCrab By Chris Laverty
Link[Mobile AlliCrab] (https://itunes.apple.com/jp/app/mobile-allicrab-for-wanikani/id1031055291), which turned out to be excellent.

Conclusion

WaniKani, uses the SRS technique and gamification to teach Japanese Kanji and vocabulary. This and the use of mnemonics, makes it fun to learn and helps with memorization of both Kanji and vocabulary.

It can be accessed from most major browsers and from third party applications for both iOS and Android.

Image credits:
https://www.wired.com/2008/04/ff-wozniak/
WaniKani art: https://www.wanikani.com/api

  1. WaniKani FAQ mentions 9 SRS levels, but the image in the guide seems to indicate 8 levels