English Study Hacks

How to Learn a Language on a Busy Schedule

I would like to learn foreign languages. But, I have no free time.


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I am sure you already heard this excuse.

Everyone has 24 hours in a day!

Not exactly. Your daily choices make a huge difference.

Not surprisingly, those people who make effective use of their time will be successful. Because of it, the ability to utilize your time is an essential skill to fulfill important goals in your life.

Since my freshman year at Law School, I always do my best to balance school, work, social life, hobbies and more.

When you have to juggle many tasks in a limited time, not following strategies and methods to reach an ambitious goal can lead you to frustration.

It is important to emphasize that you do not have to get a special power to handle work and study.

So, let’s avoiding excuses and check some productivity strategies and tips to learn a language if you are too busy!

What will you read here?

  1. Lego by Lego Strategy;
  2. Have a Habit;
  3. Choose Effective Methods According to Your Daily Life;
  4. Don’t Compare Your Path with Anybody Else’s;
  5. Always Try to Put in Practice your Knowledge;
  6. Make Your To-Do List;
  7. Final Advice: Believe in Your Dreams and They Will Believe in You;
  8. Quick Tips.

Lego by Lego Strategy

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Image via: amazon.com

I had a Coworker who used to say:

“Even Instant Noodles take a few minutes to prepare. Keep calm!”.

I am sure you know several people who feel frustrated because they would like to reach big goals in a single day or overnight, even though they might know it demands a long-term plan and commitment.

Of course, everybody wants to reach ambitious goals in the blink of an eye. However, sometimes it is not possible. Instead, what if you start to pursue small objectives every day to accomplish big ones?

I have a name for this mindset: “Lego by Lego Strategy.

For instance, consider you are building a Lego Castle.

When we are beginning to build a Lego Castle, it is difficult to expect that small Lego bricks are necessary parts of a big castle. Nevertheless, we keep putting the Lego bricks on other Lego bricks.

And a few minutes or hours later, you finally see that your Lego Castle is actually made from those Lego bricks that you had to underestimate.

Now, time to create some metaphors.

Your “Lego Castle” is your “big goal”. In the same way, the “small Lego bricks” are like your “small steps”. And the construction by itself corresponds to your project.

Have you learned ten new words in one day? Congratulations! Have you kept a conversation in a different language for 15 minutes? Congratulations too!

In conclusion, being optimistic about the results you get.

Have a Habit

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I have been receiving many messages sent by friends who say something like this:

“Luiz, I cannot learn a language. I am stuck”.

And then I ask:

“What do you do after your work?”.

“Habitually, I sit down in front of my TV and watch TV series until I sleep”.

Very well, we just found your problem.

Speaking of getting stuck, I am planning to write a post about how to overcome a language learning plateau, a common problem among language learners (especially those at the intermediate level).

Free time, the best books, teachers and the most effective study methods are useless if you do not have a study habit.

May you imagine why so many people cannot change their habits? And how habits work? How they form?

These are some questions that a Pulitzer prize-winning and American reporter called Charles Duhigg has tried to reply in his book “The Power of Habit”.

I assume you already have seen several polyglots who can speak many languages, right? And apparently, they can learn languages so easily!

There is no magic pill. You have to create new habits that must be more powerful than the bad ones. Therefore, to succeed in a big way, polyglots usually create habits that put them on “automatic pilot” when they are learning a new foreign language.

After we repeat a certain task several times, it becomes a habit. Hence, we tend to do these things “automatically”. If studying after your work time is your habit, this behavior becomes automatic. Thus, you ended up saving more energy to focus on other new skills and challenges, as you do not need to remind yourself to have to study after your work time.

I strongly recommend reading “The Power of Habit”. I have no doubt this book will give you an interesting perspective on creating good habits.

Remember the dialogue at the beginning of this topic? Rather than turning on the TV until your sleeping time, try to remove this habit by creating new ones, like open a book or read the news in a different language.

Choose Effective Methods ACCORDING to Your Daily Life

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My keyword here is: BE REALISTIC!

I have a friend who became a French-fluent speaker to be able to get his master’s degree in France or Canada (Quebec).

And fortunately, nowadays he is studying in Canada.

Some time ago, we spoke about the troubles he faced while learning the French language.

My friend told me that he used to make a very long list of study tasks. As a result, it took him some time to realizes that long lists and being more effective or proactive are not synonyms.

Remember that there is not a “right way” to learn a foreign language. You have to choose your approach to your target language. In other words, you have to find the best method for you.

As you are in the beginning and want a prime direction, let’s go to some suggestions:

  • Pomodoro;
  • Flashcards;
  • Listen to podcasts or music in your target language while driving or taking a bus or train (it can give you some extra study time);
  • Read some news only in a foreign language;
  • Language immersion;
  • Find a Tandem (language partner).

These suggestions cover all the four skills you need to learn a foreign language (reading, listening, speaking and writing).

Don’t Compare Your Path with Anybody Else’s

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It is not something that you should take only to learn a foreign language. It is actually a tip for living a happy life.

However, let’s focus on languages.

This title sounds like that cliche quotes that one of your friends always publishes on Facebook. But it is true. Everyone should accept it.

Once you have chosen the most appropriate method for reaching your language goals, obviously your path becomes unique. The time you need to understand a sentence structure might be more or even less than other people who surround you, for example.

In this context, do not worry if someone is learning a language faster than you. It is not a competition. It is about improving skills.

Also, learning a language is like enjoying a good journey filled with new things waiting to be discovered. So, why should you learn a new language so quickly?

Always Try to Put in Practice Your Knowledge

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Not having enough time to learn a language should not be an excuse to not practice your target language.

How do you expect to check your progress and weaknesses if you are not practicing what you are learning?

On Instagram, I saw a picture showing a few things you can do in ten minutes. And let’s speak seriously: everyone has ten minutes a day for simple tasks.

Either reading news or listening to music, staying connected with the language you are learning is quite important to keep in mind your goals and examine your progress (and weak points).

Make Your To-Do List

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“How to Start Learning a New Language?”

You will never reply to this question if you cannot even organize your tasks.

Do you remember my friend who is studying in Canada? Well, when we try to schedule many tasks, sometimes we end up getting anxious and frustrated. Our 24h a day is never enough in these cases.

Making a To-Do List is such a very personal task. Likewise, you should not delegate this task to someone else’s. There is only one person who can manage your priorities: you.

It means I will not tell you what you should write in your To-Do List. I prefer to say how you could plan this list.

And let’s go step by step:

  • Figure out your tasks;
  • Write these tasks in a paper, notebook or app (Todoist and Asana, e.g.);
  • Separate your tasks into three categories and visualize them: important (category I), important but it can remain in a second plan (category II), not important (category III). You can also highlight your tasks with color and styles (red color for critical tasks, e.g.);
  • Choose the top three daily priorities;
  • Then, when you start to do your tasks. Focus only on one task (the most important task). I do not believe in multitasking and several researchers say it is a myth.

You might ask yourself:

“My top three priorities demand too many weeks to be completed. How can I do them without delaying other tasks?”

Break your top three priorities into small parts that you can accomplish in a few days or even hours.

In this way, you will have enough time to do your main tasks. Also, it will be possible to conciliate with the assignments which belong to categories II and III.

Final Advice: Believe in Your Dreams and They Will Believe in You

Ok, I must confess this quote is not mine.

It comes from an animated short movie written and directed by Michele D’Auria about the dreams of Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda.

Soichiro Honda was not merely a dreamer. He was willing to delight the world by creating automobiles. Additionally, he created one of the most valuable brands in the world.

How about you? Why are you learning a language? What are you willing to do to become a fluent speaker? Are you only a dreamer or want to achieve goals? Do you want to travel to other countries? Maybe study abroad? Meet new people?

Regardless of your goal, there is always a dream beyond someone’s desire to learn a new language. Thus, always remember the reason why you are learning a foreign language, mainly in those moments you are feeling unmotivated.

Quick Tips

  • Prepare yourself to face challenges. Remember, you are trying something new. Do not give up at the first hurdle;
  • Block out distractions. You do not have much free time;
  • Never procrastinate. Otherwise, your study plan will be a mess;
  • Find ways to have fun while you are learning a language;
  • Change the language settings on your phone and social network(s).

About Luiz G.

Luiz Guilherme Natalio de Mello is a Brazilian Lawyer and Sociologist working on migration and environmental issues. He speaks English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and German. Luiz is currently doing his best to improve French skills.

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