Set Yourself Up for Success When Learning Any Language
If you’re looking to rapidly achieve fluency in a foreign language, then you need a routine. This isn’t a preference, it’s a fact. Without knowing when your next language lesson will be, most people end up procrastinating and never make progress towards their goal of learning a new language. But creating a routine is often much easier than people think. So, to help you out, here are 10 easy steps to follow to create the best study plan for learning any language.
Tips for Building an Effective Language Learning Routine
It’s not enough to simply chisel out a time of day each day for you to learn a language. Sure, that’s better than nothing. But if you’re like most people, you’re busy. Your time is valuable. So, you need a routine that maximizes the time you spend learning a language so you can do more with less. And once you have a routine, something amazing happens (more on that later.) First, here’s how you create a language learning study plan.
1. Make Language Learning a Priority
As long as language learning remains a “thing you’d like to do”, you’ll never reach fluency. It’s time to put learning a new language in the front seat. Make it a priority. Make it something you DO. After that, your attitude towards language learning will change. You’ll be less likely to skip lessons and more likely to prioritize your lessons over other obligations.
2. Use the Time of Day to Your Advantage
While you can fit language learning into any time of the day, there are two optimal times: when you wake up and before you go to bed.
- Finishing your lessons first thing in the morning gives you momentum. Most people are also the most productive in the mornings. And, for many of us, it’s the best time to work uninterrupted.
- Studying before bed helps you recap your lesson from the morning. It also creates a natural form of Spaced Repetition to reinforce learning. And it takes advantage of sleep to build memories.
3. Set a Regular Time AND Stick with It
Consistency is key. Routines help form habits. That’s why it’s important to establish a set time of day for language learning. There’s a psychological effect at play here, too. When we have to decide when to do something each day, it adds stress. That stress can shut down progress.
Instead, you want your lessons to be at a predictable time so that you’re ready to learn when that time comes. This will help you be consistent. For example, if you pick 6:00 – 6:30 pm as your time to learn a new language, once that time hits, it’s a lot easier to get started than if you spend the day wondering in the back of your mind when you’ll have the time to study.
4. Think: Baby Steps
People struggle with change. We don’t like it. So, if you’re going from not studying any language at all to studying for hours a day, you probably won’t last very long. Instead, start slowly with just a few minutes a day. Once you’re comfortable with that time, move on to longer periods.
How much time do you need to practice learning a new language?
Ideally, you should spend a minimum of 20 minutes each day. But, if you’re busy, try to aim for 5 – 10. And if you’re REALLY busy, at least try to focus on learning a new word each day. There’s always time in the day to work towards fluency. The more time you put in, the faster you’ll get there (provided you use effective methods).
5. Steal Back Time
Finding time to learn a new language isn’t hard. We all have “dead time” during the day: traveling to work, waiting for an appointment, doing cardio at the gym. Steal these moments back to help you achieve fluency. The key is to train yourself to reach for your flashcards and not cat memes, YouTube videos, or hit songs on the radio during these times. Getting into the routine of spending that time working on your next language lesson will go a long way giving you the time you need to practice a new language.
6. Condition Yourself
We need to enjoy what we do with our free time, at least, to some extent. When language learning becomes work or feels like a job, we often give up. So, make sure you associate positive emotions with language learning.
Again, start small. If you like sweets, only eat them after you’ve successfully completed your lesson. And use language learning to distract you from difficult tasks. Set larger, language learning goals to reinforce your routines, a trip to a foreign country for instance. Over time, you’ll associate positive memories with the experience.
7. Have Fun
Building off of the previous point, no routine will last if you don’t enjoy it. You want to make sure that when you study a new language, you’re not just doing what you think you have to do. Don’t be afraid to change it up and try games, media, and different materials to make your experience more enjoyable. There’s nothing wrong with having fun during your language lessons.
8. Reflect and Review
Language learning is NOT a “set it and forget it” practice. Different methods, programs, and tools work to varying degrees for different people. When you create a new study plan, it’s vital that you reflect at the end of the week. You need to see if you picked the right time to study, for instance. If not, then you should move things around.
Failing to review your routine and optimize it is like walking up the side of a mountain staring at the ground. You’ll make progress, but you may end up working harder than necessary (or getting lost along the way). Worse, you’ll fail to see your progress. And as your language learning journey continues to grow harder, you’ll wonder if your efforts are effective. So, make sure you stop. Take in the view. And most importantly, adjust your study plan to help you get the most out of it.
9. Stay Accountable
There’s no reason to keep your language learning journey a secret. In fact, one crucial component in creating a successful routine is to make sure other people hold you accountable. Let your friends know what you’re doing. Or, even better, team up with a friend to learn a new language. That pressure can help make sure you follow through on your plans.
Warning: There are apps like Beeminder and StickK that allow you to bet against yourself. It’s best to avoid these as they can add unnecessary pressure and even harm your efforts.
10. Be Patient and Flexible
Every day won’t be perfect. Expect that you’ll oversleep some days, that a pipe may burst in the kitchen, that a friend will show up from out of town and want to hang out during your language learning session. Life throws plenty of curveballs our way all the time. Be ready to adjust. Missing a lesson here or there isn’t the end of the world.
In those moments, tackle your obstacles first, and know that tomorrow is a new day and another opportunity for you to succeed.
Habit vs. Routine
Habit and routine are NOT the same things. You can create a routine in a matter of minutes, but forming a habit takes time. Routines take planning, focus, and action to carry out. They require effort and time to adjust. Habits happen as a result of routines over time. When something is a habit, it happens without you thinking about it. It simply is.
Remember: the goal of creating a routine is to make language learning a habit.
The One Thing to Avoid When Establishing Any Routine
It’s important to be realistic. Doing too much too fast can lead to burnout. And burning out can often leave you worse off than where you started. It makes it harder to stay focused. You take longer and longer breaks from your lessons. And eventually, you give up altogether. Don’t fall into that trap. Realize that less is sometimes more, and don’t overdo it.
A Polyglot’s Language Learning Routine
In an ideal world, you’d have 45 – 90 mins a day, every day, to sit down and study your target language. You’d have a very structured lesson and review. And you’d break all that down into all four dimensions of language learning: reading, writing, listening and speaking.
That’s a perfect world.
Sadly, none of us live in a perfect world. But it’s still important to make a note of it. This would be the gold standard in terms of a language learning schedule. Unfortunately, many of us are busy. So busy in fact, that we have to figure out where we can fit language learning into our daily schedule. It’s not always easy, but it’s far from impossible.
To give you an idea, here’s my language learning schedule. The key is finding moments throughout the day and reclaiming them to reach your goals.
Ideal Language Learning Study Plan (1 Language)
- Wake up and spend 5 – 10 minutes doing flashcard review of the words learned the day before.
- On the ride to work, spend 15 – 20 minutes using the OptiLingo app in the car.
- During lunch, spend 30 minutes going over new information, covering a new lesson.
- Before going to bed, spend 15 – 20 minutes reviewing flashcards and the lesson from lunch.
- If I’m up for it, I might preview the next day’s less before I go to sleep to get a head start.
None of my lessons are too long. But, because they’re scattered throughout the day, it adds up. As a result, I get between 35 – 60 minutes of language learning in each day.
What’s so great about this approach is that it helps you sort out your short term, near-term, and long-term memories. Right before I go to bed, I review my daily lesson, taking advantage of that memory consolidation time. Then, when I wake up, I’m reviewing again, further solidifying that knowledge in my brain. All without it feeling forced or going through the dull grind of memorizing a bunch of new material, hoping I remember.
Ideal Study Plan for Learning Multiple Languages
- 5 – 7 minutes doing a flashcard review using OptiLingo on Circassian.
- Listen to the daily Circassian lesson on the way to work (15 – 20 mins).
- Spend 5 – 7 minutes during lunch studying Russian.
- Listen to the daily Russian lesson on the way back from work (15 – 20 mins).
- Spend 20 – 30 mins reading a short story or a Kindle book in German before going to bed.
Just like before, I break up my lessons throughout the day. But this time, I’m only spending around 30 minutes on each language. Still, it’s enough time to make progress towards my goals.
As you can see, I’m a big fan of breaking up language learning lessons and stealing time. None of these moments really feel like I’m “losing” time to practice a language. Instead, I’m optimizing my day by using those moments that would otherwise be wasted.
What Is the Perfect Language Learning Study Plan?
The best language learning study plan is the one that works best for you. Often, that means creating a routine that helps you learn a language without getting in the way. But you have to do some prep work before you begin. Take some time, implement these strategies, and build the language learning study plan that will work for you.
Remember: You can break your lessons down, too. You don’t have to practice your target all in one go to be effective. You just need 20 minutes a day. 5 minutes here, 7 minutes there. It adds up throughout the day. This is an easy way to steal back your time throughout the day, reclaiming moments for yourself to make your dream of learning a new language come true.