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17 Tips for Making Language Learning a Habit

September 16, 2019

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When it comes to mastering a foreign language, continued effort will inevitably pay off. It can be comforting to remind ourselves that the more work we put in, the better results we will see. But navigating the pressures of everyday life while still finding time for consistent language learning is not an easy task.

Here are some tips for cultivating good language learning habits and making the most of your limited time.

1. Commit to 30 days

The jury is still out on exactly how long it takes to form a habit, but a month is a good amount of time to get settled into your new routine. Try committing to about 4 weeks of daily language learning activities and see how much progress you can make.

2. Start slowly

If the prospect of jumping straight into a Wonder Woman-level routine is too daunting, start by introducing small daily tasks that get you closer to your overall goal. For example, if your aim is to study for 2 hours a day, start by committing to 15 minutes a day and work your way up to your target.

3. Work to a schedule

There’s nothing more frustrating than finally wrestling away the time to get some studying done and then having to spend half an hour trying to figure out exactly what it is that you should be studying.

Set up a study schedule so you know exactly what you will be focusing on during your session.

4. Create your optimal study environment

Set up your study environment in the way that works best for you. Make sure you have some desk space, a comfy chair and whatever tools you need to get into the zone.

Remove all temptations – disable your email notifications, put your phone on silent, log out of all social media sites where you can be distracted by pug videos (I’m looking at you, Instagram) and get cracking.

5. Utilize your screen- and relaxation time

Most of my relaxation time is spent glued to a screen. My phone likes to send me judgy screen time reports, but I’m not as concerned about it because I count a lot of it as study time.

I watch a lot of Chinese films and television, read books in my target language and follow a bunch of language learning feeds and native speakers on Instagram. This way I am exposed to the language in a way that doesn’t feel like work.

6. Start a habit tracker

Here, you can use mine. You’re welcome 🙂

Download my habit tracker

7. Wake up before everyone else

This is a hard one for those of us who love our sleep, but the early morning is really the best time to get things done. Use the quiet time before emails start pinging and dogs, kids and spouses start demanding your attention to get some serious studying done.

If you’re more of a night owl like me, try carving out an hour or two before you go to bed – preferably once everyone else has gone to bed and nobody is around to distract you.

8. Get an accountability buddy

Rope in a study buddy to help keep you motivated and on track. Be sure to choose a friend with similar goals and work ethic or they may end up enabling your bad habits.

9. Give yourself days off

You’re not a robot. If you need a day off, give yourself a day off. However, try to avoid taking time out in the first ‘formative’ 30 days. We want to get that habit good and sticky first.

If you find that your day off has somehow become a month off, don’t panic and see tip #17.

10. Use dead time wisely

Everyday life is full of hanging about just waiting for the next thing to happen – queuing at the post office, waiting at the doctor’s office, your daily commute, the ten minutes you spent waiting for colleagues to join that conference call that could have been an email…

Use these empty moments to squeeze in some study time. For on-the-go learning, apps such as Memrise or Duolingo, flashcards, short video lessons, podcasts (great if you need your hands free) or reading in your target language work well.

11. Try the Pomodoro technique

As a writer, I often have tight deadlines to hit. Unfortunately, I also have the attention span of a three-year-old and the tendency to procrastinate. When I can no longer ignore the sense of impending doom, I use the Pomodoro Technique to help me focus.

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system that encourages you to break your work into chunks. Using this technique, you study for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break – known as a pomodoro. After 3 or 4 pomodoros, you can take a longer break of about 20 minutes.

Give it a try if a lack of focus is keeping you from forming sticky language learning habits.

12. Make the most of sparks of motivation

You know those rare moments where the stars align and you suddenly feel really, really motivated to get cracking on your language learning goals? When inspiration strikes, don’t delay. Get yourself in front of the books as soon as real life obligations allow.

13. Eyes on the prize, Violet

For the times when motivation is low, it can help to remind yourself of your goal. Set out your short term and long term goals in your journal and return to it whenever you need a good reason to continue.

14. Set a scary deadline

There’s nothing quite like good old fashioned fear to get you motivated. Up the ante by setting a goal with a hard deadline and the possibility of losing a bit of face and/or money if you do not perform.

This could be signing up for a language proficiency test like the HSK or TOEFL, agreeing to deliver a speech in your target language in front of your classmates, or simply arranging a date for a mock test with your tutor.

15. Sign up for a language challenge.

A lot of language learning sites like iTalki and LinQ offer language challenges that you can sign up for. You can also create your own 30-day challenge based on your current curriculum and personal goals.

16. Reward yourself

You did well! Now celebrate by binge-watching a Netflix show that doesn’t require subtitles. Or whatever makes you happy.

17. Pick yourself up

Life happens and sometimes habits are broken. Don’t be so damn hard on yourself and start again.

How do you make language learning a part of your everyday routine?

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