January 14

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Is WaniKani Worth It? A Look at the Pros and Cons

By Jake Hallows

January 14, 2021


If you’ve ever looked around for apps to help you with your language learning experience, then you’ve probably come across WaniKani. Advertising itself as a “Japanese radicals, kanji, and vocabulary learning web app”, it’s proven itself popular with many a Japanese learner. Yet many people still find themselves wondering, ‘Is WaniKani worth it?’

It’s a hard question to answer without spending a good amount of time actually experiencing the app. However, that’s where I come in! With my experience using WaniKani, as well as some of its competitors, I’ll be answering whether Wanikani is worth it, as well as giving you the lowdown on what’s hot and what’s not in the app.

The WaniKani logo

What can you learn from WaniKani?

First of all, let’s discuss what WaniKani is offering. The app says that you will learn 2000 kanji, radicals used in those kanji, and 6000 vocabulary. It says that this is achievable in just over a year, which is backed up by many user’s personal accounts.  

It teaches by using mnemonics for both kanji and radicals, which interweave to form stories to help you remember vocabulary. Users practice these via a review-based system, where kanji or words that you correctly identify appear less often. Do this enough times and the words get ‘burned’ (as in ‘into your memory’) and no longer appear.

The pros

It teaches you radicals

This might not seem like a big deal, but I think the fact that WaniKani teaches radicals is a huge reason to use the app. Whilst many textbooks gloss over them, learning radicals can really help with both learning new kanji, and retaining their definitions. By introducing radicals early on, WaniKani creates a great foundation to work on.

It makes results

There’s a reason why WaniKani has a strong community following, and that’s because it works. If you can stick to the programme and keep up the daily reviews, then you will learn to read kanji. People learn kanji quicker through WaniKani than the alternatives, meaning you reach your goal quicker too.

Customizable with WaniKani scripts

A benefit of WaniKani that some people might miss out on is the availability of external support in its community in the form of scripts. These community made scripts can be used with the PC version of the app, and allow you to make changes to the app to improve your experience.  

This can seem rather complex at first, but by searching the official WaniKani forums you can find a lot of information as well as guides on how to install them. The scripts range from being as simple as allowing you to ‘ignore’ a mistyped answer or change the color scheme of the app, to giving you full control over how often you see certain flashcards appear. I fully recommend browsing the community forum once you’re comfortable with the standard app in order to improve the quality of life of your studying.

The forums are always busy!

The cons

The review system

The core review system that WaniKani uses isn’t bad. In fact, it’s actually very good, and will help most people fulfil their language learning goals. However, the problem I have with it is that even a single day away from the app can leave you with a mountain of reviews to complete. Coming back after a day to over 300 reviews to complete can be discouraging enough to put you off the app altogether. There is a vacation option that gives you a break, but even so, I feel that the lack of control over the system is flawed.

Weird mnemonics

The majority of mnemonics used in WaniKani are pretty good. They’re logical and, more importantly, memorable. Yet some of them just didn’t click for me, which caused big problems later down the line. If you struggle to remember a particular kanji’s mnemonic, then you’ll likely struggle to remember the mnemonics for vocabulary that use that kanji too. It can have a big knock-on effect. Having no way to change the mnemonics is a big problem in my eyes.

Membership costs

Whilst the first 3 levels of the app are free, progressing further requires a subscription. At $9 a month it’s not terribly expensive, but with completely free competitors such as Anki you might think twice about subscribing. That money could be put towards Japanese lessons or other materials to help you learn.  

So, is WaniKani worth it?

Personally, I no longer use WaniKani.  I disliked how quickly the reviews built up, and I also struggled to remember a few specific mnemonics. However, despite this, I do believe that WaniKani is absolutely worth trying for any kanji beginner.

It’s accessible, gives results, and has a large community following to interact with. Whilst there are alternatives, with WaniKani being able to take an absolute kanji beginner to an expert in little more than a year, it’s hard to argue with.

And with the first three levels of kanji being free, there’s really no reason for a beginner not to give it a go. If you haven’t tried it, why not give it a go?

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