We’ve been moderately quiet about the kanji learning site WaniKani. Since it’s getting close to private alpha time (if you get the 30 Day Ebook there’s a link in there for previously said private alpha) I wanted to shed some details on the project that Viet’s been so hard at work on all these months. Of course, since it’s quite early everything I’m about to say is liable to change, but don’t you want to know more anyways?
All In The Name
Perhaps the hardest part about building WaniKani was coming up with a name. It seemed like every day in January we were just listing off name after name after name, trying to come up with something we liked. Here are some failed names:
Yeah. Those are pretty bad. On one fateful day, though, I opened a kanji dictionary up to the fish (魚) section (yeah, there’s a fish section, seriously) and wrote down all of the aquatic animal names since most of our stuff seems to be sea-creature themed. I was looking for two animals that had rhyming names. The only two I came across were a match made in heaven: Wani (alligator) and Kani (Crab).
Of course, the moment we tried imagining what the mascot would look like we were sold. CRABIGATOR. ALLICRAB. WANIKANI.
What Is WaniKani?
The idea behind WaniKani is nice and simple. Basically, we wanted to create something that we’d actually use to learn kanji and vocab. In order to do that, we would have to cover five main things:
- Kanji Radicals
- Kanji Meanings
- Kanji Readings (we narrow it down to the most important one for you so you don’t have to learn a million readings per kanji)
- Vocabulary Meaning
- Vocabulary Reading
That’s a lot of stuff, but each item on the list is helped by the item before it. For example, a kanji’s meaning comes from the radicals. A vocab’s meaning comes from the kanji that makes it. Etc. Learn them all and you’ll be able to read Japanese. Although this constitutes a lot of items to learn, our goal is to give people to ability to learn all of these within a year. We’re thinking 50 weeks, actually. That way you can take two weeks off for Columbus Day, or something.
Mnemonics, SRS, & Simplicity
As you might expect, learning kanji on WaniKani involves mnemonics, SRS, and a few pounds of simplicity thrown in for good measure. The mnemonics are all made in-house, and also cover the vocabulary (which, I think, is pretty unheard of). When you’ve proven to the computer monster that you’ve learned a new item (radical, kanji, or vocab), it gets put into your review pile. Once they’re in your review pile the SRS kicks in and then based off your answers it will show you the question more often or less often. We’ll definitely be testing and adjusting the “spaces” part of our “spaced repetition system” too when testing begins.
The most important thing for us, though, was the simplicity and ease of use. There are a few similar things out there, but usually it involves combining multiple (complicated) resources into one giant rat king of kanji learning. While combining multiple resource types into one application is a good start, we also wanted to be careful not to let that over-complicate things. Every time we try to add something (Viet’s very good at this) we ask each other what it will do and if it is actually necessary. If it’s not, we cut it. If it is, we then try to shave that feature down to the bare minimum while not losing its purpose. We want to make WaniKani a pleasure to use, above everything else.
Find Out More!
Over the coming weeks I’ll be posting more about WaniKani, but mostly on WaniKani-related sites (sometimes on Tofugu too, though). If you’d like to know more about this project, be sure to follow us via your favorite following service.
You can also sign up for access to the closed Beta (don’t have a timeline for that, but it’ll be after the Alpha) by going to the WaniKani homepage and clicking on the giant 鰐蟹. It’ll then let you put your email in. When the beta is ready, we’ll let you know about it. Of course, if you are dying to get in a little bit earlier, getting a copy of the 30 Day Ebook will give you a link to sign up for the Alpha.
In today’s post, I only went over some of the broad, general details on WaniKani. I’ll be diving into specifics over the next few weeks, but if you have any questions in the meantime put them in the comments below and I’ll answer the ones that I can!