How To Learn A Language On A Busy Schedule (When You Don't Have The Time)

avatarMille Larsen
11 mins read

Ask someone if there's one specific thing, they'd like to do in their lifetime.
People will tell you that they'd like to parachute, travel the world or see the great wall of China. And then a ton of people will tell you that they'd like to get around to learning another language. They just don't have the time. How to learn a language on a busy schedule?

Learning a new language is something that a lot of people dream of, but very few people actually do. I'd even dare say that more people who dream of parachuting realize their goal, than those who want to learn a language! One reason for this is that to learn a language, you have to be consistent, in for the long haul and dedicate the time it takes. People just don't seem to have the time!

Or so they say.

The truth is that anyone can do it despite having much on their plate.

Stop Wasting Your Time, Or Waste It Well!

Time easily passes by without you getting anything out of it

First of all: Stop throwing away your time on fruitless activities. Almost everyone wastes their time. People who say they don't have the time to study a language just may be right. But only because they waste the time.
Some relax in front of the TV after work. Some shuffle through Facebook or watch YouTube videos. Most people would agree that these activities don't really add anything positive to their lifes, yet they still do it.

If you stop watching the TV each night or cut down on the cat-videos, you'll free up hours each week that you can use for studying the language of your choice.

But if you're on a busy schedule, you just might be in need of a moment of relaxation now and again. OK, you can allow yourself to waste a little time each day, but waste it well!

Relax In Your Target Language

Wasting time is not always a waste of time. If you enjoy watching videos online, why not watch them in the language you're learning? If you're on facebook, you'll find thousands of groups and pages in other languages than English. And if you're into reading crime stories or novels, go pick some up some foreign language books. There are loads of tv-shows, websites, newspapers and other kinds of media available for you in French, Chinese or whichever language you like, so there are many possibilities to relax while actually getting something out of it.

A great tool in this category is called Language Learning with Netflix. LLWN is a browser extension for your browser (you need to use it with Google Chrome). You simply install Chrome along with this browser extension and you log into your Netflix account. Now you can watch a very large amount of foreign language cinema and television through a helpful language learning interface. You get two sets of subtitles (your target language and English) that you can compare. You're then able to skip through the audio from subtitle sentence to sentence. There's also a built in dictionary where you can quickly look up unknown words.

Start Doing Your Routine Tasks In The Language You're Learning

Make your groceries into a language learning study sessions

In order to constantly keep returning to the language you're learning throughout the day, I recommend that you start doing as many small everyday tasks as possible in the target language. Writing, and consequently reading your shopping list in a foreign language will make your brain tune in to the language while doing those tasks. This can actually be extremely helpful for your progress. It's the time of thing I'd recommend even if you had plenty of time. Why? Because the more often you can keep reminding yourself about the language and force yourself to thinking in the language the better. In other words; It's not so much about the 10 items on your list - it's the fact that you're reminded to think in your target language. And all of thise while pushing your cart in between the isles!

Other examples can be notes, you take during your work or school day. As long as you don't have to share the notes with anyone, you're free to plot down your boss' directions or the details of Napoleons battle at Waterloo in Russian or Arabic.

Always Keep Something To Study Close To You

When figuring out how to learn a language on a busy schedule, you have to be able to seize every opportunity to study. Do you have a flashcard app or a reading tool like LingQ on your smartphone? In case your computer has to install updates at work, you might just have 10-15 minutes to study just like that. Having these kind of things handy for whenever you might need them can be a great way of getting two or three extra study sessions out of a busy workday.

What about if you miss your bus? Keep some newspaper articles on you. You'll get something valuable out of the wasted time that you'd otherwise spend waiting. Looking into the void. Thinking about how you'd like to learn German if you had the time.

Coffee Breaks, Waiting Rooms And.. Going Shoe-Shopping With Your Significant Other

Use your breaks! (And your brakes - but that's another subject entirely.. ) During your workday, when you need to get away for a cup of coffee, try getting something out of your time. A break of even 10 minutes is a great time to sit back and listen to a Danish podcast or do a few flashcards. There's a podcast series called Coffee Break Languages that you might enjoy listening to. And many others exist.

When you're waiting your turn at the dentist's, whip out your Assimil French and review yesterday's lesson. It'll even help you take the mind of the drill. And have you ever had the pleasure of helping an indecisive friend or spouse pick out a pair of new shoes? A perfect moment to study a few flashcards on your phone.

Getting Some Use Out Of Dead Time

Whenever you're driving your car, doing the dishes or the laundry, you have an opportunity to study your target language.

All of these are routine tasks. You won't wash your dishes incorrectly because you're listening intensively to news in Japanese. Sure, you need to concentrate while driving, but listening to an easy audio book in Czech won't distract you. Dead time is when you have to actively do something as an activity. Mentally, you're passive, but you have to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, so you can't work with your textbook. What you can, however, is review your Glossika reps, listening to audio only. Or you could put on a podcast from LanguagePod101

Think about it - how much time do you spend on these kind of activities per week? All of this could be used for studying.

Actively Seek Out Opportunities To Use Your Target Language.

If you're really serious about learning a language, you just might try and make your busy day fit with your language studies instead of making languages fit into your schedule. Have you thought about changing your job to something that requires you to use your target language?

Or perhaps the slightly less radical version - looking for tasks inside of your workplace that involves the language. Does the company you work for have foreign markets that you might get involved with?

When I was a student, I studied French on my own time. After working with french for a while, I became aware of the opportunity to go abroad and become an exchange student in Paris for half a year. This helped me advance a lot in my French studies - even before going, because having planned to move to Paris in the future turned out to be quite the motivation!

You can get a lot out of making your language of choice into a part of your life. Seeking language opportunities can also be expanding your professional network or making friends with someone who speaks your target language.

Getting Up Earlier In The Morning

This one relates to the title of my blog "My love of mornings". I am a morning person! I know we're a rare breed. Most people can't get out of bed before they're almost late for work. I'm different, and I quite like getting up an hour or two before I need to leave the house. The quiet and the special atmosphere in the mornings allow for excellent study sessions and you can create a solid foundation in learning a foreign language by getting up a little earlier. Make a habit out of doing new lessons in the morning. Revise several times during the day and yet again before you go to sleep. The sleep then helps you consolidate the information learned and revised during the day.

Do Several Short Study Sessions During The Day And Make Them A Priority

How to learn a language on a busy schedule? Well you need to make time for studying. If you can make brushing your teeth a priority, you can make 2-4 study sessions a day a priority too. If you can study 2-4 times a day in short sessions of 10-20 minutes, you're going to advance much more effectively than if you were to study 8 hours every Saturday. You won't get the chance to forget anything and you'll always be back to the language before new information fades. Short study sessions also have the advantage that they can be fitted into tight schedules. It's much easier to find 10 minutes here and there than 3 hours in one go.

Linking Language Learning To Habitual Activities

If you're a big coffee drinker like I am, you find yourself repeatedly going to the coffee machine several times a day. Getting a cup, putting it in the machine and pressing a button. These steps are all linked to the activity of getting coffee in your mind. What prevents you for doing the same with language learning? If you can make it a habit to do something language related each time you get coffee, you're on your way to learning the language. Do three flashcards every time you treat yourself to a cup of joe. Or describe to yourself what you see in the street whenever you water the plants.

Linking these habitual activities will assure that small sprinkles of your target language is spread out through the day, constantly bringing your brain back to the foreign-language-mode.

Practice Your Inner Voice - Speak To Yourself

This is one of the easiest things to do. You can speak to yourself at will - you don't have to speak out loud, and you don't have to utter anything especially profound. Just try being mindful of the world around you. Describe what you see. Imagine having discussions in your target language. Self-speak is under-rated in every way, because there's literally nothing that prevents you from doing it all the time.

After placing a phone call at work - try playing it back in your minds eye, but in Korean. When you open up the windows in the morning, try narrating to yourself what's going on in the street.

If you've read through all of the above, I hope that you have some ideas as to how you could fit language learning into your busy schedule.

If you add everything up you can easily get one or two hours of language study out of a work day. All you need to do is be consistent, be patient, and keep on studying the language when you can, and I guarantee that you will eventually become fluent. And that's a greater feeling that parachuting!