You are reading this because you are a language learner, right? Together with other learners, you struggle to enhance your vocabulary when trying to speak your target language fluently. The problem is, language learning is time-consuming: you have roughly an idea on how to practice to improve your target language, but you have a harder time figuring out when to learn it; and as a result, you procrastinate.
You do your best to find time for language learning, but things still aren't improving. Your vocabulary remains stagnant but you feel that all you need is a time management strategy to organize your learning schedule right? So...what exactly is the strategy you need? Below, I am going to give you five tips for managing your schedule, which in turn, will help you to improve your language learning efficiency.
Learning a language without a goal is perfectly reasonable. But this also causes ambiguities in the status of your learning progress of your target language. It is encouraged for you to set priorities and make a schedule for everything you are going to learn.
First of all, divide all your tasks into two groups: those you should practice daily (reading, writing, speaking, listening) and those you wish to complete by a particular time (writing an essay or finishing reading a chapter of a book etc...). Then, make a weekly (or even daily) schedule, detailing the exact time you are going to dedicate on a specific task from your two groups for your language learning.
What could it be? Here’s an example:
- Learn five new words on the way to work.
- Listen to a podcast for at least 15 minutes on the way home.
- Read a book in your target language for 20 minutes before going to bed.
It's easier to do things in small doses, and it’s also easier to find time to do small tasks. After all, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Lao Tzu).
Develop lifelong habits
A good strategy in finding time for language learning is creating a habit. If you find traditional forms of studying boring, then develop useful habits that will help you enhance vocabulary without any obligation to grind at new words.
These habits might be:
- Read books in your target language: If this is difficult for you, try the extensive reading method of choosing what to read. Besides classics, read a dictionary and/or thesaurus to enhance your vocabulary.
- Playing games in your target language. Your choice of games might be word puzzles, Scrabble, or other word games. They strengthen word knowledge, as well as extend your vocabulary and improve critical thinking skills. Make playing Scrabble or Cranium a daily habit.
- Watching TV shows in your target language. Choose those with subtitles to kill several birds with one stone: you will learn new words, their spelling, and connotations.
- Chatting with native speakers in the evenings. Skype, Viber, and other messenger apps might help you here.
- Along with language learning communities, such as italki!; along with various other language learning communities that are all free to sign up.
- You can foster the habit of writing. Start a blog in your target language, write essays or reviews, send detailed emails to your friends, try free writing in the language you are learning.
What might be harder than finding time to learn a foreign language is getting rid of things distracting you from this process. So, what time management tricks can be used here? How about these….
- Don't check emails or social media while studying.
- Switch the TV off!
- Don't focus on tiny details around you.
- Don't chat with friends (if it's not a part of your learning process).
- Ask your family not to disturb you while you are studying.
- Set completion milestones (kind of like a streak system) for every task you complete and for every task you need to complete.
Learn what matters
Trying to remember loads of new words and memorizing all of the grammar rules are among the most common mistakes that language learners make. As you know, such strategies don't work for people who want to become fluent speakers; and what’s more, this takes up too much time. And as you have already noticed, this article is meant to help you streamline your time commitment to laser-like precision for your target language.
According to Swedish polyglot Erik Gunnemark, a person needs about 1,000 carefully chosen words to understand conversation and communicate in their target language. Others mention that 3,000 words are enough for speaking target languages fluently.
For what it's worth, try learning collocations instead of spending time grinding away at separate words. You might choose a daily collocation and make it the phrase of the day by practicing it wherever possible.
Some researchers insist that multitasking doesn't exist: human brains aren’t designed to concentrate on several (physical) tasks at once. However, multitasking does work for mental activities, which means you still can, for instance, wash the dishes and chat on the phone at the same time. So why not try multitasking for language learning? How you say? Try the following:
- Listen to podcasts while doing some written assignments.
- Listen to audiobooks in your target language while jogging, cleaning, cooking, etc.
- Learn a couple of new words while waiting in a traffic jam or queue.
- Practice pronunciation while doing any type of housework or chore.
Basically, practice your target language while you are doing any physical activity that doesn’t require a lot of mental focus (or tend to be repetitious).
And last but not least
Don't be afraid of trying new methods and looking for new places to learn languages. It's surprising how much time you have when you don't let your excuses burden you. So, set goals, develop useful habits, manage your time effectively, learn what matters, and avoid distractions! – and you'll soon be speaking with greater fluency.
Lesley Vos is a private educator of the French language from Chicago. Lesley writes content on education, productivity, and career, and you are always welcome to see more works of hers on Twitter.
Hero image by Crew (CC0 1.0)