How I Learned Survival Japanese in Under 30 Days.

July 18th, 2013 | Posted by Samuel Bleakly in Learning Japanese | Motivation

Hi, my name is Sam Bleakly, and I’m the community manager here at 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!


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.


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.


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.

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