Hi, my name is Sam Bleakly, and I’m the community manager here at italki.com. I’m also an enthusiastic traveler, and an amateur language learner. I am currently learning Mandarin Chinese, as I live and work in China, but I don’t speak Spanish, German, French or any other Romance language fluently – so I’m certainly not a linguist. I’m just a regular guy who is lazy at the best of times. In May, however, I finally got motivated to learn a new language. Read on to find out how I did it!
THE ORIGIN OF MY INTEREST
In May, I found out that I was going to have an opportunity to go on a short trip to Tokyo with some friends. I had always dreamt about going to Japan. Growing up in Milwaukee Wisconsin, my older brother, Mike, was crazy about Japanese animation, and in my teenage years I myself developed a similarly unhealthy obsession to a Japanese arcade game called “Dance Dance Revolution” [I'm pleased to report that I was able to cross playing DDR in Tokyo off of my bucket list].
At italki, we had an idea for a Japanese language challenge to see how much functional Japanese I could learn before I went on my trip. I decided to take on the challenge, because I thought that having a goal and a stop-loss deadline would help to keep me motivated and accountable.
For 30 consecutive days, I took casual conversational lessons with a Japanese community tutor on italki and studied hard for 5 days before I left.
I’m pleased to report that, as a result of 30 one-hour lessons, I was able to do the following with confidence:
- Take a cab and direct them to a subway station.
- Ask for directions to a subway station.
- Ask for directions to a park.
- Ask for directions to a bathroom.
- Ask people for their name.
- Ask people if they knew English or Chinese.
- Explain that I was visiting a friend.
- Explain what I did for work.
- Explain where I was from.
- Explain where I lived.
- Greet People.
- Ask for Tea.
- Order Food.
- Ask the cost of items.
- Ask if a shopkeeper had an item.
- Tell people that I couldn’t speak/understand Japanese.
While visiting YoYogi Park we were able to see an amazing duo of University Students who were signing and playing popular song covers on Guitar.
After their performance I asked to record a small video of me attempting to speak Japanese with her.
THE SIDE BENEFITS
One of the side benefits of learning Survival Japanese was the heightened level of service and respect I felt I received. This reminds me of the following quote:
When you speak to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. When you speak to a man in his native language, that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela
After this trip, I really believe in Mandela’s quote as it turned the people I was interacting with into fast friends who were eager to help and guide me in my travels.
THE TAKE-AWAYS FOR LANGUAGE LEARNERS
This trip and the challenge taught me a number of things that I think can be useful for other language learners.
#1 – Anyone can learn a language.
If I can do it, so can you !
#2 – Setting a goal is key!
Because I had a deadline [my trip to Japan], it really pushed me to learn. If you have no goal, and no pressure [be it a personal goal, or a real situation where you will need to speak a language], then the chances of you staying motivated and disciplined become a lot harder. Make your goal now [Some goal ideas: Record a youtube video in 30 days of me speaking in a foreign language; Plan a trip abroad and use that timeline to push you; Take a test in that language, like the HSK for Mandarin Chinese].
#3 – Learning a language can open up so many opportunities
Because I could speak Japanese, I was able to communicate with so many more learners that if I couldn’t speak a word. It made Japan more accessible to me, and made the experience unforgettable!
I hope that my experience can motivate other language learners to set and reach a goal. If you have interesting ways in which you keep yourself motivated, set them below.