We all know the feeling, right?
It’s been a long day at work and you just want to collapse in front of the TV and switch off your brain for an hour or two. Yet, at the back of your mind, there’s an insistent whisper that keeps you from relaxing: “you didn’t practice your target language today.”
Let’s be honest, it can be pretty easy to ignore that nagging little whisper after a hard day at the office or at school. So, you make a deal with yourself: “I’ll watch TV now but I’ll make an extra special effort to study tomorrow.” Satisfied with the compromise, you put your feet up and forget about language learning.
The following night, you return home and feel equally shattered. Maybe this time you have a couple of things to do around the house or a few emails to send. “Well, I guess, no studying for me tonight,” you tell yourself, “but I’ll make an extra special effort to study tomorrow.”
And what happens the night after that?
It’s no surprise, of course. Students who are familiar with this vicious cycle of procrastination and guilt often end up drifting away from language learning entirely. Who wouldn’t? We now associate it with a horrible feeling of ducking our responsibilities and failing to be the diligent learner we always wanted to be.
However, there is another way.
In fact, we’ve been approaching language learning the wrong way all this time. It doesn’t have to be work. It doesn’t have to represent a massive and onerous obligation that causes us to feel like undisciplined losers because we constantly fall short of our own high standards.
This article is going to enlighten you on some of the ways we can find time to study languages without them interfering with all our other important obligations. We’re going to look at ways of squeezing in micro-study sessions that, accumulated over several months, add up to dozens of hours of study time.
The whole point here is that learning a language should be fun. No, actually, language learning has to be fun. Why are we treating our studying obligations like heavy weights wrapped around our necks when we could be incorporating light-hearted and invigorating learning methods into our everyday lives?
This is not just trying to make learning languages easier, it’s looking at learning in an entirely new way.
So, read on to find out how you can incorporate fun learning habits into your everyday life and never have to worry about finding the time to study again.
Learning on the go
Do you have a mobile phone? What about earphones? Well, then you’re all set to take your language learning out of the house and onto the streets. Here’s an idea: the next time your teacher introduces some new vocabulary, take out your phone and record yourself reading out the language into a voice memo. It might be a list of new personality adjectives or it might be the various verb conjugations of a new tense. Whatever it is, you can probably learn it just as easily while walking to work as you can hunched over a desk.
And you’ll be surprised at how quickly you do learn it. Just five minutes of listening to your target language can be enough to get a good grasp of it. The advantages of this method are obvious: everyone has five or ten minutes free when they’re travelling from place to place and this gives you the chance to use that time productively. It might be on the morning commute in your car or while you’re on the bus, but learning on the go is a sure-fire way of taking the pressure off your precious spare time.
Listening to podcasts
Speaking of the morning commute, if you’ve got a little longer to spend listening to content, then podcasts may be the way forward. Podcasting has exploded in the last few years and you can find podcasts in hundreds of languages; and most are absolutely free. Depending on your level, you may be suited better to a specific language learning podcast than a general-themed show, but the point is to immerse yourself in listening to the language being used.
If you’re a beginner or at an intermediate level, don’t worry about understanding every word at first. You’re slowly training your brain to become accustomed to this strange language. As you progress in the language, you’ll start to find podcasts that really speak to you; whether they be about sport, comedy, science or politics. Before too long, listening to them will have become an addiction rather than a chore.
Sometimes language learning can just be a few words in your target language to prove to yourself that you can do it. This is where setting yourself tiny challenges comes into play. Learning Japanese? Call your local family-owned sushi restaurant to order some food in your target language. Don’t worry if your language isn’t up to scratch, you can always fall back on your mother tongue if things get a bit too tricky. The popularity of cuisines from around the world mean that you can generally find at least one restaurant from a country whose language you’re currently learning.
Of course, you can vary this exercise depending on how proficient you are at your target language. For example, you can add in a special request for them to make a dish in a certain way or explain how the delivery driver will be able to find your house. And think how impressed your family and friends will be when they realise you can order from that Argentinian steak house in Spanish or from that Lebanese restaurant in Arabic.
Keeping up with the news
Everyone should try to keep up with what’s happening around the world and online news media has made it easier than ever. In fact, many news organisations often publish editions in different languages in an attempt to extend their global reach. What this means for you, however, is that you can combine keeping up with world events with improving your target language. Because many of these news stories are duplicated in two languages (English and Spanish or Russian and English, for example), you can flit between the two, checking out the meaning of new vocabulary or learning how they’ve decided to translate a particular idiomatic phrase.
Most of us already have a regular time slot during the day when we cast our eyes over the news headlines, so why not combine it with language learning? A few minutes every day is all it takes to read through an article in your target language and, eventually, you’ll be able to converse with your friends on the world’s events.
Quite a few people will already be familiar with this one. Watching movies, or TV shows for that matter, has long been the study tool of choice for those who really don’t feel like hitting the books. However, if you think that’s a bit of a cop-out, you’re wrong. Watching films or shows in your target language is a great use of that time when you’re a bit too tired to do anything else but collapse in front of a TV. Why not take advantage of it?
The advantages of this type of “soft-study” are numerous. However, one of the most important is the versatility it offers to learners of different levels. You can listen to the audio in your native tongue and read the subtitles in your target language, or vice-versa. You can also turn off the subtitles altogether and push yourself to try and understand as much of the movie as possible. It’s your choice.
The bathroom mirror technique
Last but not least, how long do you spend brushing your teeth in the mornings? It may seem like a strange question for a language learning website, but actually using that two or three minutes in a productive way can make all the difference if you maintain a disciplined approach. Buy some dry erase markers and jot down a few lines of the language on the mirror when you get home. Just spending two or three minutes, a couple of times a day, focusing on the language can help commit it to memory in no time.
It might look a little strange at first but hopefully you’ll get into the habit of refreshing your bathroom mirror language every few days as you become familiar with the phrases, vocabulary or grammatical constructions you’ve scribbled onto it. However, a word of warning: attempting to practice pronunciation while brushing your teeth is guaranteed to leave you scrubbing toothpaste flecks off your sink on a regular basis.
Anyone else got any handy tips for maximising learning time without minimising your lifestyle? Add them to the comments at the bottom of the page.
Hero Image by Veri Ivanova (CC0)