There’s no such thing as being “too busy” to learn a language.
We all have the same amount of hours in a day. What you do within those hours, minutes and seconds is what counts towards progress. Yet, why do we find it so difficult to make time for language learning? Do we not see the value that speaking a new language can have on our lives? We hustle away at our job, go home to work on our side projects, always trying to make more money, mindless scrolling away on social media and dating apps, and before we know it, the day is over and learning a new language hasn’t even crossed your mind.
Perhaps we need to change at the way we think about learning a language.
Many people have the mindset that language learning goes something like this: Taking some classes at a boring corporate academy, doing your weekly homework, and maybe practicing now and then when you can. But it’s much more than that.
Alliteration is cool, so here are some wholesome F’s to give when it comes to learning a language.
(For 2 more bonus F’s, watch my video on mindsets here)
When you’re learning a new language, you start out like a baby. Time to learn colors, fruits, days of the week all over again! You might feel like you’re unable to express yourself naturally because you’re lacking vocabulary and grammar. Having fearlessness here is helpful — it pushes you out of your comfort zone to learn from your mistakes and use the language as much as possible.
Flexibility within your language learning methods and timeline. If you find a method that looks interesting to you at the start, you might realize it doesn’t work down the line. It’s OK to change things up — we need to try various methods to really find the one that works for us. Don’t be precious about your method or schedule. Give it some room to grow and change. Having flexibility allows you to explore new methods and make learning a langauge fun again. You can try going to language meetups, explore a new app, read a new book… change something up and see what happens!
This is where people fall out of the language learning journey after a few months. Imagine this: you decide to learn a new language and look up all these cool people online who claim to “speak a language fluently in 3 weeks”. You feel motivated. At first, it goes well. You go from knowing zero in a language to being able to say some things. But as you continue, you start to plateau and your progress is slower. This is the moment you shouldn’t give up at. When you feel like you aren’t progressing, time to have discipline. If you need to set a schedule or change up your routine, do it!
Here are some small tasks you can introduce into your daily life to learn more.
- Learn a few words each day. Even just learning 5, and try to remind yourself of them throughout the day. You can record yourself saying them (in the context of a full sentence, of course) and listen to the recording, or you can try make a story out of the words. Some people like to learn words before going in the shower and repeat those words throughout the shower. Here’s a post I wrote about tips for learning vocabulary which might be useful.
- Up your listening intake. Listen to a podcast, the news in, or a language-teaching YouTube channel when you’ve got dead time. Dead time includes doing the dishes, cleaning your house, commuting, groceries, or even taking a bath or doing your makeup!
- Change your interface languages. Change your YouTube account, Twitter timeline or even phone interface into your TL. If this is too difficult, you can wait until you’re more fluent — but the point is to be seeing the language as much as possible.
- Go crazy with the post-its. Labelling your furniture and stuff around the house in your TL is a great way to see the language every day. Bonus points if you can talk to yourself when you’re doing stuff, like “I am now going to make coffee” “I am going to wear this red shirt”. If you get stuck and don’t know how to say something, immediately look up the word and use it. You learn best when you need a word and remember it later because of the situation.
- Short diary entries. Write one sentence or one paragraph in your TL, just 10 minutes at the end of the day, about your day. You can upload the sentence to a website like italki for corrections, too.
- Doing what you already do, but in another language. I try to read the Bible every day. Recently, I’ve started doing it in Spanish instead. If I have the English Bible next to me, I can easily compare the passages. I weite out the verses in Spanish, highlight the new words, and look up examples on a dictionary website. This way, I’m learning about the Bible and also learning Spanish at the same time. I also take a Japanese Biblbe study at church every two weeks. That’s 1 hour that I’d spend reading the Bible anyway, now with language learning paired with it.
Sometimes you just need to be stricter.
Do you really need to watch that series episode now? Can you survive without swiping on a dating app for 20 minutes? I’m sure you can resist opening the Instagram app for the 27th time today.
If you’re serious about language learning and making faster progress, you might need to cut down on some activities. Don’t worry, you can still do them if you schedule them in. Try to set time aside each day or week to do certain activities so that you don’t get distracted throughout the day.
It might also mean waking up a bit earlier each day. A friend of mine is learning English. He’s the manager of a company and of course has a very busy job. However, he makes sure to get up half an hour earlier each day to listen to the news in English and transcribe what he hears. He’s training his listening and comprehension skills and he learns lots of vocabulary relevant to daily topics as he does that.
The point is to do something, anything! But do it every day.
Don’t waste time worrying about how much you aren’t doing or how much there is left to do. Just do what you can each day.
This looks different for every person. If all you can manage is 3 new words a day, that’s 21 new words a week and 90 new words a month. 90 words is a lot better than 0!
If you are looking for language partners to improve your foreign language skills you can find one for free at swaplanguage.com. Additionally, you can join our weekly free live Spanish and Danish lessons. Grammar, vocabulary and culture, taught by native speakers.