Survival Tactics In Language Learning

The other week I got an apartment for myself in the land of the rising sun. The process was much more difficult than I expected it to be and it took every ounce of Japanese I had to secure the 30-meter Japanese apartment.

I can’t imagine how much of a train wreck this whole process would have been if I had no knowledge of Japanese. I probably would be living on the streets at this point, to be honest, hadn’t I started learning this monster of a language 4 years ago.  In fact, I remember coming here for the first time 2 years ago and wondering if the Japanese I had been learning and the Japanese I heard were the same languages.

This article will be about surviving in your target language country. Well let me not use the word surviving, it’s just that there are certain things you should be able to do before making the great migration to your target language country.



The What If’s

… what to buy in a convenience store

…you can’t read signs and you’re lost in the middle of nowhere

…there is an accident and you’re the only one on the scene

…you need to find a job

…you need to buy non-dairy foods because of an allergy

…someone tries to scam you out of your money because you don’t know the language

…you miss a stop on the bus

…you can’t speak to your taxi driver

…you want to go to school in that country

These are things that are either bound to happen or are certainly possible while you’re in your dream country. Some of them are avoidable but, others not so much. If you think you’re just going to set up shop in a foreign country and begin living your best life, then think again!

It takes a substantial amount of confidence and knowledge to get things going in when you arrive in your target country. It’s a big jump to make in terms of culture, lifestyle and habits, but that’s what makes it all the more worthwhile.


Survival 101

Now obviously there are thousands of things to be considered when talking about surviving in another country. Some of these things won’t be learned before you make the move, so learning what is essential to you and having a plan before you arrive would be best. Let’s say I planned a trip to Thailand, and I had previously been learning Thai for 3-years, what are some of the things I would WANT to do?

  • I could take a trip down the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
    • Maybe I’d want to brush up on my buying and selling vocabulary
  • Visit The Grand Palace
    • Maybe I’d want to brush up on my adjectives and scenery-related words.
  • Rent a scooter and travel up and down the streets.
    • First off, I have to get the scooter, then register it, then read up on road regulations etc… You get the point for this one – it can be tough if you’re not prepared.

But what are some of the things I NEED to do?

  • Eat
  • Find somewhere to sleep
  • Find a mode of transportation

With those examples, you can see where I’m headed with this “survival guide”. When language learning finally meets with immersion there isn’t an automatic sync button. There has to be some adjustment on one side or the next. I mentioned how my first trip to Japan was extremely difficult earlier in this article.

Looking back on the experience, this was because not only hadn’t I prepared for the trip adequately enough with my existing language skills but also because I hadn’t been exposed to Japanese culture previously. All of that kind of just blew me away at first, but now since I’m here for the long run I think I’ve got a better grasp on things… at least for now.

What You Need To Make It Easier

So you understand the basics of survival in your dream country now. There are some resources you can use to make your first trip easier. Here are a few things to get you started.

Phrase Books

Phrase Books are extremely helpful because they contain… DING DING DING, you guessed it- phrases! These set expressions can guide you through almost any situation if there aren’t any curve balls thrown into the conversation. Keep the conversation simple and learn to interchange between different phrases to cover more ground.

Youtube Videos

One thing I did before moving to Japan was watching different youtube videos of people interacting with various aspects of the culture in Japan. This benefited me tremendously because I could hear and see what was happening in multiple scenarios. Seriously, this is some powerful stuff – you’ll know how to conduct yourself in those scenarios, what to say and the proper steps to make to ensure the best. Here are some examples to which these videos can apply:

  • Getting A Train Card
  • Buying Groceries
  • Applying For A Credit Card
  • Opening A Bank Account
  • Signing Up For An Apartment

Learn From Experience

This ‘resource’ isn’t exactly the most enjoyable method, but it is the most memorable one. Nothing beats hands on raw experience when it comes to survival. Have you ever been in a situation where your survival depended on your experience on the situation at hand? Being in the heat of the moment can rapidly improve your comprehension. It’s as if you’re forced to make connections for the sake of your own life.

Cheat Code [ Have A Native Friend]

This resource is a major cheat code. Imagine you went on a trip in the woods stranded but every day you got a supply drop large enough to feed four people for six days. This is what having a native friend is like in these tough situations. Sure you can leave the supply drop untouched and continue to struggle to find food, but hey…it’s there. If the reference isn’t clear yet, I’m just saying that you should make a native friend. They’ll assist you every step of the way and correct your language usage – it’s a buy one get one free.

Even if you have a native speaker on speed dial, they can make one hell of a difference if you happen to come across a difficult situation.

Google Translate Voice Recognition

There is a small microphone button on google translate and you can speak and it will translate into other languages. I’d be careful with google translate though, often times if the pronunciation is 100% accurate the translation won’t be either. So, either have the speaker speak loud and clear or have them manually type in the information.

Right Attitude

Survival is tough and it’s essential you always keep a positive attitude. Have you ever seen one of those movies where people are stranded somewhere and that one person cracks under pressure eventually causing everyone to die? It’s unlikely that your freak out will cost every language learner their life, but it will certainly do more damage than good.



Don’t Worry You’ll Make It

Survival isn’t something to be underestimated. When it boils down to the nitty gritty you need to be able to do certain things to ensure your survival. That sounds intense and terrifying but it’s the shocking truth. We’ve all heard the phrase “Survival of the fittest”, and I think it’s safe to say that the same applies to language learning. Whenever you decide to make the move to your target language’s country either permanently or temporarily just remember that you’ll make it out alive… so long as you’re prepared to do so. Find out if you’re ready to make the jump or not in our Survival 101 Guide below.




Survival Guide 101

Posted by Kiandro


I'm Kiandro, the content creator here at L-Lingo. I'm an avid language learner and culture enthusiast. Feel free to leave any comments or thoughts you have on my blog posts.