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Language learning is one of the few skills that is literally measured by how long you’ve been doing it. It’s no secret that the Foreign Service Institute defines fluency by the number of hours someone has spent actively studying their target language.
Only difference between your time expectations and theirs? They measure foreign language proficiency by week— at 25 hours per week.
That’s not said to intimidate you. But it definitely justifies asking how to study a language for multiple hours everyday and how many hours a day should you study a language?
Because it is no walk in the park. You’ve got to put in some serious time to ever reach fluency in a foreign language.
So while 10 minutes on Duolingo may initially seem appealing, at some point in your journey (if you’re not setting aside the next 10 years to learn the language), you’re likely going to be confronted with a multi-hour study session.
I’d encourage you squeeze one in at least once a week– but you’re looking at daily if 25 hours/week is your goal. No fears– it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds.
If you’re truly passionate about the language, you’ll just need some extra nudges and time to crank out some serious hours.
And remember, if you study any language for 25 hours per week, your time spent studying in the long-run will be significantly quicker. Plus studying will become much more enjoyable as you understand more and more of the language.
The sooner you understand more, the sooner you’ll be able to engage in passive forms of learning, like movie watching. And multiple hour study sessions feel so much easier when you’re able to rely on these “fun”form s of learning.
Mix up resources
This comes directly from my post on 8 steps to creating a Language study routine that you LOVE, so you know that this is essential for any study routine. You’ve got to learn how to divide resources into most effective and most enjoyable.
The resources available to language learners take many forms today. We’ve got everything from textbooks to Duolingo, Memrise, InFluent, Language Exchange apps, podcasts, YouTube videos, Lingualift, NetFlix, and more.
But it’s no secret that some resources are significantly more effective than others. And sadly these resources are typically not as enjoyable as some others.
So take a good look at the resources you plan to use in your language learning journey. Hopefully you’ve got a nice selection of different language teaching platforms, text sources, video libraries, auditory content, and language exchange sources.
Try your hand at creating a scale from most enjoyable to most effective. Or even from least enjoyable, least effective to most enjoyable, most effective.
But honestly, resources that are both highly enjoyable and effective are hard to come by. Resources like NetFlix, Disney+, YouTube vlogs, & Amazon Prime Video are all resources that would most likely fall more into the “enjoyable” range than the “effective” range.
This does not mean that they’re not effective– it just means that they’re less effective.
Then hopefully you have a few sources, like language exchange Facebook Groups or applications that are both pretty effective and enjoyable. This is all personalized to your preferences though.
You should go into creating your personalized study routine with the knowledge of what resources are most efficient, particularly when under time constraints, and which are most essential to maintaining your mental insanity, particularly during multi-hour study sessions.
So be sure to alternate between more and less mentally taxing resources and find a balance that wont drain your brain power. Mixing up resources also includes rotating between those that focus more on writing, listening, reading, or speaking.
Just about the worst thing you could do to yourself during a multiple hour study session is focus entirely on one skill. Talk about major burnout, especially when it comes to output skills. And let’s be real, solely listening or reading to something without note-taking or verbal engagement for hours on end is just not that effective.
Have a game plan
For the past 4 months, I’ve been studying my target language for 3 hours everyday. Yes, that is entirely thanks to quarantine.
But nonetheless, I’ve learned a thing or two about study routine planning. Contrary to what may be held as popular belief, I wouldn’t encourage you stick with the same study routine daily. I wouldn’t even say you should create some general game plan for your different study sessions.
Ideally, you should personalize your study routine each day according to your current strengths, weaknesses, and resource efficiency evaluations. This is not nearly as time-consuming as it sounds.
Honestly, I never write down my game plan and I never wake up knowing exactly what it’s going to be. But I make sure I’m constantly in tune with exactly where I am in my language learning process.
I know what tools are most efficient for my style of learning, which are most enjoyable, and I know where I could use some extra practice. I also know exactly how much time I’ll be dedicating to my study each day.
Deciding on a time duration is the first step of creating any game plan. It’s very difficult to visualize your study session if you’re not able to mentally segment off the amount of time you’ll be able to dedicate to each resource.
During my 3 hour sessions, I typically use 3 to 4 resources. Always Anki, and I alternate between Innovative Language, YouTube, JW Language, JW Library, and occasionally NetFlix.
I even have the Vietnamese version of Hayday in case I’m in need of a productive study break. Generally, before I start studying for the day, I know which 3 (maybe 4) resources I’m going to use.
By allowing myself that hour for each resource, otherwise known to me as more than enough time, I truly allow the learned material to marinate. I’m able to fully engage with what I’m learning, take notes, practice pronunciation, and not stress about time constraints.
So don’t pack your language study routine game plan too tight. Leave time to breathe, look up questions, and briefly use other resources when necessary.
If you’re a bit of study addict, then chances are you already know about the Pomodoro technique.
A time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
There are six steps in the original technique:
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
- Work on the task.
- End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
There are many variations on the Pomodoro Technique. These allow individuals to tailor the principles of the Pomodoro Technique to better suit their personal working style.
Some variations include:
- Work in 90 minute time periods. Rather than a 25 minute focus period, work in 90 minute blocks. This reflects a natural concentration cycle.[source]
- Work in natural time periods. There may be natural time markers in your life – for example the period between meetings, or the time until your kids or partner come home, or the time until the dishwasher finishes. Use these to define focus periods.[source]
- Flowtime. Monitor your natural productivity periods, and from this data work out the best productivity system for yourself.[source]
For me, I believe the “flowtime” variation is the most efficient way to successfully get through a full pomodoro session. Personally, this often falls around the hour-mark for me– coming out to an average of 2 breaks per 3 hour study session.
If you’re like me, and don’t want to stop your time during these mini breaks, then find a way to “actively” rest. As in dramatically decreasing your level of rigor and attention while still engaging with your target language.
Mentioned earlier, I use the Vietnamese version of HayDay during these so-called study breaks. The game is quite slow-paced and generally therapeutic. It gives my brain the necessary break it needs and doesn’t allow me to get distracted by other things.
I say this because other “low-intensity” engagement mediums include social media and YouTube (depending on the video, speed, and subtitle settings)– both of which would allow you to get carried away in other things if not careful.
Study before you get tired
As a full-time student for all my life, I can confidently affirm that studying while tired is a literal death sentence. It is one of the least effective, mentally draining things you can ever do.
And I’m not even being dramatic (well maybe a little, but still.) Regardless of what you’re studying for, you should always do so when you’re generally alert.
Oddly enough though, the times that you’re alert could be the exact opposite for someone else. So you’ve got to figure out your own circadian rhythm.
A circadian rhythm is the natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. For about 75% of people, we’re most tired after we wake up and before we go to sleep for the night.
Our period of least alertness has been scientifically proven to fall about 7 hours after we wake up, so adults’ strongest afternoon sleep drive generally occurs between 1:00-3:00 pm.
If you’re an early bird though, definitely consider studying as soon as you wake up. And if you’re a night owl (naturally; not one who forces them-self to stay up), your most effective study could come right before you go to sleep for the night.
Circadian rhythms aside though, you probably already know when you’re most likely to be tired in a typical day. And while I totally understand that it’s not possible for all of us to modify our schedules to fit in language learning after leaving home, and before the evening, I do encourage you to at least try.
As a general rule of thumb though, studying earlier is better than studying later. At least when it comes to attention, as you never quite know whats going to drain your energy later.
Start with review
It is extremely taxing to try and cram as many new words into your brain as possible during a multi-hour study session. You’ll be much more likely to forget the words you’ve learned already if you don’t take the time to review them before adding on new words.
Vocabulary progression is a very accumulative process, so allowing yourself to review and relearn terms during every study session is essential to eventually reaching fluency.
Starting with review is a good way to dip your toe back into the language each day. You let yourself warm up a bit and then you plunge.
Anki, and other spaced repetition flashcard systems are literally perfect for reviewing foreign vocabulary. You review words based on how long ago you learned them and how well you’ve been able to retain them during each review session.
After getting through this initial period, you’re free to soak in as many new words as you want. Just be mindful of your mental limitations.
And remember that the more rigorous you make a study session, the less enjoyable it will be.
End with review
Yep, you’ll literally be “right back where you started” But in a good way. This time your review will include the words you learned during the current study session.
Again, spaced repetition flashcard systems like Anki make it extremely obvious which words are new and which are being reviewed.
Reviewing right before you stop studying is a great way of making sure everything really soaks into your brain.
Plus if you are studying right before bed, it’s been scientifically proven that memory retention is best when learners review pre-sleep. In one study, participants memorized word sets. The study ultimately found that participants who studied just before sleeping remembered the word sets better.
So reviewing at the end of a study session can literally never hurt when it comes to memory retention. And in some ways, It’s like a nice cool-down for your brain.
Before you’re off on your tracking journey
Now that you know how to study, make sure you head over to 10 tools that’ll upgrade your language study routine! Then you can call yourself a certified study expert.
Regardless of what language you’re learning though, I want to make sure you’re learning the highest-quality information at the lowest possible costs. Because it definitely seems that costs add up before quality when it comes to online resources.
Rocket Languages offers online language courses that are simple, powerful, and effective. Devised using the strategies polyglots use, their award-winning courses are designed to get you using your new language quickly, correctly, and confidently.
The languages that they offer courses in include:
For other languages, I strongly recommend Innovative Languages. Native taught courses & podcasts available for both free and paid subscriptions.
For Japanese, Russian, and Hebrew, I strongly suggest Lingualift. You’ll be able to learn a language without memorization, frustration, or boring lectures. You’ll have access to:
- Dedicated tutors
- A Customized study plan
- Language Learning Secrets book
Before you proceed on your language learning journey– I want us to stay in contact with one another. Us language learners have to stick together right?
My love for learning expands to multiple platforms so you can also find me cranking out polyglot inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t hesitate to direct message me or comment on one of my posts! I’d love to get to know you beyond this blog.
Aside from that fun, if you’re still here then I want to make sure you don’t miss out on your free language learning toolkit.
All exclusive content curated specifically for atypical language learners looking to make the language acquisition process as fun and unconventional as possible.
Equipped with a 4-week checklist, 100 fun learning ideas, the keys to a “naturally simple” approach, a rapid acquisition 2-week plan, and science-based guides to creating a language journal you love. All straight to your inbox. And trust me– I never spam.
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Keep learning languages my friend! And I look forward to seeing you again real soon.