Parkinson's Law And Language Learning: Avoid It With Daily Tasks

avatarMille Larsen
3 mins read

Learning a language is a large, and often unclear task. Many people wade into the task without a clear understanding of how much work is involved. But rather than underestimating the amount of work involved, most people actually overestimate it.

One of the lessons our modern society has taught us is that no one is ever rewarded for underestimating a task, and no one is ever punished for overestimating it.

Nature abhors a vacuum

In 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote a humorous observation about bureaucracy, in which he gave birth to what is now known as Parkinson's Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

It was an observation of the fact that when given a day to complete a task, it would take a day to complete, and given a week to complete the task, it would take a week, even if in realty the task only required two hours of actual work.

And worse, the way that the extra time is filled usually has no bearing on the task itself. When you've got 8 hours to do a 2-hour task, most of the allotted extra time is consumed by stress, or other unproductive activities.

Don't overestimate the task of learning

When learning a language, the worst thing you can do is give yourself too much time. Every day that you do not have a task is an opportunity for Parkinson's Law to operate.

So find something to do and determine that you'll do it right away. In the beginning, your tasks might be simple: learn the numbers, learn the colors, etc. Later they might grow in complexity to things such as describe your home, or tell how your day went.

Set at least one task for yourself every day. Determine that you will do one new thing in your target language every single day. And as your language skill grows, so should the complexity of your tasks.

Eventually, you should be able complete tasks such as look up the weather, buy a train ticket, find an apartment, read a news article, follow a recipe, read a book, and you'll be surprised at how quickly you get there when you're not allowing yourself too much time.