So you want to learn a language? Yet the age old excuse of “I’m just too busy” is hitting a little to close to home.
Maybe you’ve even read up on the stats of how long it’s supposed to take an English speaker to learn a language.
And with the Foreign Service Category claiming category 4 languages (*scroll down to view them all*) take a mere 44 weeks for English speakers to learn, you may even think that fluency seems just around the corner.
But then you see it’s 44 weeks at 25 hours per week. And suddenly the time commitment is beginning to look a bit… disheartening.
To learn any language according to the expected times set by federal institutions, you need to be putting in approx. 3.57 hours per day.
Coming out to 3 hours, 34 minutes, and 20 seconds to be exact.
And that can feel next to impossible for pretty much anyone who maintains even a mildly busy life.
In fact, some may even claim it is impossible unless you actually immerse yourself in a foreign language community.
But that can’t be further from the truth. Unlike other subjects, language can be acquired through just about any form.
You don’t have to necessarily set aside “study time” to acquire the language. You just have to find ways to work the language into your day.
Which is surprisingly simple depending on how you approach it.
Not going at it all at once
Be it six 30 minute shifts, twelve 15 minute shifts, or three 1-hour shifts, try your hardest to allow language acquisition to flow naturally into your day.
The longer the sessions you take to actively study, the quicker you’ll fatigue and eventually burn out.
Research even shows that the brain can’t diligently focus on something as meticulous as language for more than 30 minutes.
I’m by no means saying you shouldn’t study longer than that, but you should switch your medium of learning from more rigorous to less.
Like if you start with learning through an online platform, then you should probably switch to memorization of your flashcards or notes right around the time you begin to feel information overflow.
It’s all about balance my friends.
Because there’s no way 3 hours isn’t going to feel like a lot if you take it all in one sitting.
You won’t enjoy the process nearly as much, and you’ll slow your progress. You can put in the hours all you want, but how long you study has nothing on how efficiently you study.
You’ll have more success in both learning new content and retaining learned content by approaching the process in chunks.
The recipe for success for most busy bees looks something like:
- 30 or less minutes in the morning
- 15 minutes during breaks
- At least 15 minutes during lunch
- 1 hour right after your work day
- 1 hour right before bed
But each chunk shouldn’t look the same. You’ve got to keep things interesting.
Include passive forms of learning
Passive learning can be described as students taking part in course elements that include solely the taking in of information.
So it’s basically when you turn into a sponge and soak the language in.
Active studying will always have a higher acquisition per minute ratio, but passive study definitely has a vital place in your learning routine.
A big reason people so often travel to immerse themselves in a language, is because they want to naturally acquire the way that natives speak. They don’t go to strictly take notes and track new vocabulary the whole time.
So you should also allow yourself the time to learn through listening. In a way, passive study is a basically an active rest.
You give your brain the time to recharge while still immersing yourself and forcing your mind to become accustomed to the language.
Some passive forms of study that focus on listening include:
- YouTube Videos
- Short Films
- Listening to a [slow] song
And that focus on reading, (which is almost always more active than listening):
- Children’s books
- Books you’ve already read in your native tongue
- Reading poems
And trust me– by incorporating more entertaining aspects of learning like those into your day, you’ll definitely find yourself treating language acquisition like a hobby instead of a chore.
Convert things that you already do into the language as much as possible
I get it, when it comes to time: life happens. It’s totally unrealistic (for most people) to devote 3 or more fully attentive hours to language learning when they have a fully scheduled daily routine to get through.
You shouldn’t have to choose, between spending time with your family and studying a language.
Especially since you can totally do both. If you typically do movie night, then utilize foreign subtitles when watching with others, and watch foreign language films when by yourself.
If you have a hobby, like journaling, scrapbooking, singing, dancing, exercising, etc. then you could incorporate a foreign aspect as well.
You could try:
- Journaling/ Bullet Journaling in the language (as much as you can!)
- Scrapbooking with foreign text descriptions and captions
- Singing foreign songs (ones you actually like of course)
- Dancing to foreign songs (Zumba is great for Spanish fun in groups, but slow songs are better for personal retention of lyrics)
- Following Exercise videos published by foreign Youtubers (Just replicate the moves & you’ll eventually learn the terminology)
- Listening to foreign songs/podcasts while working out
And since all of us eat at some point during the day, these could be some of the best times to set aside some personal study time.
You could definitely do some active study while eating, or if going out with others, suggest a foreign cuisine restaurant.
Most foreign restaurants will have menus partially in the language their cuisine is representing. And more times than not– they’ll also have workers who speak the language.
Of course, this is more common with Mexican and Chinese restaurants, but you should give some of your own local foreign spots a try.
Be mindful of making any rash assumptions based off appearance, but try out your foreign ordering skills if your instincts are telling they more than likely speak the language (i.e. an accent or traditional garb).
Prioritize acquisition methods that you enjoy
This comes down to the mental willpower that comes with language acquisition. As much as we may wish we could, most of us simply cannot efficiently study a textbook or dare I say, dictionary, for more than 40 minutes.
You may want to mark down that you ‘studied’ for an hour but that extra time means virtually nothing if your brain started to zone out out at minute 41.
But remember that old saying, time flies when you’re having fun? Turns out it applies for languages as well.
You’ll never want to devote such a large chunk of your day to something that you don’t even enjoy doing.
That’s just human nature. You’re not going to disrupt a beautiful lunch break to whip out a children’s storybook that you hate.
Or if you do– you’ll just be salty the whole time you’re doing it. Don’t commit on a daily basis to studying routines that make you think “man, I could totally be out right now living life,” or “wow, is this what life in prison feels like?”
Find forms of study that make you feel alive. So that 2 years down the road, you won’t regret or feel ashamed of admitting you did.
For most of us, being social creatures, we get a rush from interacting with other people. So I’d suggest finding regular ways to incorporate foreign interaction into your acquisition regimen.
Be this in the form of foreign language groups, online communities, forums, exchange pals, or digital language exchange partners, find what works for you.
You’ll feel a sense of dedication to the process when others are relying on you. And when surrounding yourself with those who have the same goals as yourself.
Even if you’re a bit more on the introvert side and lean toward books and videos, then I’d still totally encourage you to prioritize those forms of study.
It’ll just require you to be a bit more active in note-taking, and making sure you still get in regular output practice (speaking & writing).
Digital Immersion (Including Social Media!)
Just because you can’t physically immerse yourself in a foreign environment doesn’t mean you can’t experience some of the benefits. If you can’t take yourself to the language, then bring the language to you.
Most of us spend more time than we’re willing to admit browsing through social media and streaming services. It’s just second nature.
Personally, I get on Instagram every. single. day. I watch YouTube videos nearly every single day. And I love using Pinterest ̣̣̣(Especially for learning languages.)
So no matter what else I’m doing that day, at some point you’ll see me opening up one of those apps. If you’re anything like me, then why not put that time to better use than staring at those you follow?
Instead, pretend like you’re a native speaker of the language you’re learning. Put the apps and/or websites you daily use into that language.
And if that seems too intimidating, then follow people who speak the language. Yes, it’ll force you a bit out of your comfort zone but it’ll gradually teach you how natives speak.
You won’t be learning textbook grammar and you’ll have to use context to decipher the overall message of the publisher.
So watch videos in the language. Listen to podcasts in the language. Set your devices to the language.
And cut out English where you don’t need it.
*Bonus* Using a language teaching platform
Sometimes, one of the hardest parts of teaching yourself a language is figuring how to teach yourself the language.
3 hours can seem particularly daunting for those who don’t even know where to get reliable content from.
Teaching platforms not only do the planning for you, but diversify your acquisition routine. They give your regimen some structure– which can especially useful for first-time language learners.
They’re normally stocked full with content and designed to walk English speakers through the in’s and out’s of the language.
I use LanguagePod101 as a cheap learning platform that works brilliantly for me. I wouldm’t be anywhere near where I am in my journey to Vietnamese fluency, had I not had VietnamesePod101 to guide me on from day 1.
And the fact that so much of its content is free was a big driving factor for me.
I also encourage learners of all levels to try out Italki at some point in their journey. Personal tutors take all the guesswork out of how to both approach the language and acquire fluency.
You can either reach out to natives willing to practice with you for free or schedule some $1 trial sessions with certified tutors.
Regardless of what language you’re learning, I want to make sure you’re learning the highest-quality information at the lowest possible costs.
With Lingualift, you’ll be able to learn a language at light speed without memorization, frustration, or boring lectures. You’ll gain access to:
- Dedicated tutors
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- Language Learning Secrets book & more
- Exclusively for learners of Japanese, Russian, and Hebrew. For just a few months, you can score 25% a subscription off using the code courage.
No worries if you’re learning another language though! Personally I use VietnamesePod101, just one of the 34 languages offered by Innovative Language.
A teaching platform that allows you to learn practical, native-level conversation in minutes! Innovative Language’s teachers explain everything, word-by-word, in every lesson.
The languages that they offer both free and paid subscriptions in include:
- Chinese — Cantonese
- Chinese — Mandarin
And that’s just a few of them! With 1+ billion lesson downloads since 2005, you’ll be learning with the largest library of lessons.
But before you head off on your language learning journey– I want us to stay in contact with one another. Us language learners have to stick together right?
My language craziness expands to multiple platforms so you can also find me cranking out polyglot inspiration on Instagram or 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 screen.
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, and a rapid acquisition 2-week plan. 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.