Learning a new language isn’t always about the big things, for example hours spent learning new words and writing essays. If that works for you then great! However, I personally find that little and often works best (and means I’m more likely to stick with it). That’s why I wanted to share my tips for creating a learning habit and having daily contact with your language.
Some research has shown that it can take 21 days of doing a specific activity for it to become a habit. I’m not so sure about that myself, but I agree that it takes a long time of repeating the activity for it to become an integral part of your life; hence daily contact!
I personally strive to incorporate language in to my everyday life. My current mission is to improve my Italian, so I set myself four daily goals; one for each of the core skills.That way I know I am briefly touching on each area of Italian during my normal day. I don’t complete all the goals everyday, I am human after all, but I do manage at least one of them. For the last few months I have used Italian everyday. Even on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve: I do this by using an app for 5 minutes while I am checking the roast potatoes or sending my friend a voice memo to wish him a Happy New Year while I refill our glasses… it all counts!
“Only 5 minutes a day?”, I hear you ask… well look at it this way. 5 minutes doesn’t sound a lot, but if you do that everyday for a year then you will have learnt for 60 hours. Impressive, hey? And if you can squeeze in 10 minutes then you are up to 120 hours a year, and so on.
To help you on your journey to daily contact I have 4 top tips for you to consider:
1. Be realistic
Whenever we talk about learning and goals, it will inevitable come back to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed Goals) at some point. It just works and I always use this approach when I am starting something new. In the case of daily practice the R is one of the most important. You need to be realistic.
Take a look at your schedule and work out how much free time you have each day. Time when you aren’t concentrating on anything special and could do some kind of activity to practice your language.
If you only have 30 minutes free everyday then you don’t want to tell yourself to study for an hour. That will only make you feel demotivated, disappointed and depressed. All those negative D words that we don’t want anywhere near our language learning.
2. Habit Stacking
One good way of identifying, and creating, free time for study is to do some habit stacking. This is where you take an existing habit or activity and link a new one to it. Then you will start to automatically associate your existing habit with the new thing you want to try. This was actually how I got started with languages.
I had an hour commute to and from work everyday. Two hours of driving where I could only listen to music or the radio. Having decided to learn Italian in secret for a trip I’d planned for my other half, it made it impossible for me to study at home. For fear of being discovered and my big plans revealed a few months early. That’s when I decided to download some podcasts and listen to them everyday on my drive to work. Doing this created two hours of language time that I otherwise didn’t have. Amazing!
Now, we might not all be so lucky to have such a big lump of time to practice but the little things add up. Make a list of all the activities you have to do everyday. Having a shower, cooking dinner, housework, shopping…. and then think about a way you can add some languages to that activity. An easy one is always listening. Music, the radio or podcasts are perfect for if your hands are full but your mind is empty. Housework will never be fun, but it always goes quicker when I have an interesting radio show to keep me company.
Meal times are always a good place to look as well. I often sit and read a little article, watch a video or write a message to my language partner during my lunch break. Even if I only get 15 minute I can still use 1 or 2 minutes to do something different.
Stacking the habits like this will make it a lot easier to maintain because you aren’t starting from scratch and having to allocate or set specific time aside to learn.
3. Variety is key
I always talk about making it fun and interesting and for me variety is the key ingredient. Just because you have decided to listen to music while you wash the dishes, doesn’t mean you have to listen to the same thing every time. That will quickly become very dull and then you will start avoiding it.
Try to mix things up a little. If you are listening to the radio one day, why not change to a playlist of Spotify of your favourite music in the language. Then you could switch to a podcast talking about your favourite hobby or a new report about current events. There is so much language available you could do something different everyday and not even scratch the surface.
As well as keeping it fun, there is a learning benefit to this. Doing the same thing everyday will be good to start with but will soon slow down. You will stop finding new words and phrases because you are accustomed to the standard expressions they use. That is when trying something new will expose you to new phrases and highlight topics you need to work on. I often find myself listening to something and realising there is a whole area of vocabulary I need to focus on later.
4. Get competitive
If you follow my Clear the List posts, you will know that I create a monthly tracker that I can colour in when I have made contact with the language each day.This really works for me because I am competitive. Very competitive. In fact, my family refuse to even play Monopoly anymore because I take it so seriously (It’s not cheating if you know all the rules, right?). While this isn’t great for family game nights, it can do wonders for your language learning.
That desire not to lose is a strong one. Which is why most language learning apps have a streak system. Once you start building up that number, it becomes harder and harder to let it go. 10 becomes 20 and soon you are on 50. That is why I will do everything in my power to maintain that streak. Even losing to myself, or the apps I have downloaded, is something that I don’t like to do. That is how I have achieved a 200+ day streak on Duolingo and 150+ day streak on Clozemaster. Pure determination and refusal to lose.
It might sound really stubborn, because it is, but if you can try to adopt that way of thinking you will find yourself naturally making time each day because you want to be able to tell yourself that you did it.
Apps I would recommend
Now that I have given you my tips, I wanted to share the apps that I use each day for my daily contact. I find that apps are the best for me because they are quick, easy to use and always at my fingertips. They are by no means the only activities I do each day, and will never teach me everything, but they all help along the way.
Duolingo – A very simple app and really good for beginners or low intermediate students. I still use this in the upper intermediate level to practice basic sentence construction and grammar. It’s easy to forget the basics when you start to learn the more complex parts
Clozemaster – A great app that presents a sentence with a word missing and you have to fill in the gap. Super simple! And with the built in SRS (Spaced Repetition System) it is easy to review the words and phrases you have learnt to memorise them. With thousands of sentences available (250,000 in Italian for example), that are ordered by frequency, there will be vocabulary for everyone.
Lingq – A reading app that is full of interesting articles and stories to practice your reading and learn new vocabulary. You simply click the words you don’t know, choose a translation and learn the new words from context. Then you can review the flashcards, created automatically, to memorise them. This is one of the few apps that I pay for, and for good reason. In the past few months my vocabulary has increased massively and one of the main reasons is my regular exposure to Italian texts.
I hope you’ve found this helpful. Let me know what you use to learn your language everyday and how do you fit it in? Until next time…
Ciao for now!