5 Hands-Free Ways to Study Languages While You Work Out

language learning, study while exercising
 

Are you struggling to balance your language learning time with everything else you do in a day?

What if I told you that you don’t have to stop doing these things to make time and opportunity to work on your 2nd language?

Part of living a healthy lifestyle, and maintaining your capacity to learn and focus your attention is to maintain some sort of physical activity. Many of us go to the gym, or go running every morning. Some of us are involved in some sort of sport or outdoor activity such as hiking or skiing.

These are activities that take up a lot of time, but you don’t have to stop doing them in order to learn a new language, either.

Here are a few things you can do to study languages while you work out. All you need is a smartphone or similar mobile device that you can carry on your person.

  

Music

This one is probably the most obvious. Many – if not most – people who go to the gym regularly or do a lot of running do so with some sort of workout music. It keeps helps keep you motivated, in good spirits and the rhythms of the music can also help you to pace yourself.

So it isn’t a big stretch to then assume that we could listen to music in the language(s) we’re studying, right? If you’re going to be doing it anyway you may as well use it as a learning device.

Surrounding yourself with foreign music is not, contrary to the beliefs of some, a be all end all strategy for learning languages. It’s certainly not a primary method and if you’re planning on achieving German while jogging to Rammstein you’re going to be disappointed.

But any amount of exposure to a foreign language can only help you. It can help keep you interested in your project, and it’s not like it’s going to make it worse. It’s certainly the easiest thing you can do to make your work out sessions work for your language project as well.

Audio books

Audio books are another really great option for those looking for something to listen to while exercising. They tend to be slightly more engaging than music because listeners are forced to pay closer attention lest the plot be lost.

Audible has an impressive selection of thousands of foreign language books in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Italian and the prices are really not too unreasonable.

You can actually  get two free audio books from Audible if you sign up for their 30 day free trial. You can then access your audio book collection via the Audible app on your smartphone or tablet while you work out, drive to and from work or school, or while you do household chores.

The books and access to them via the app are yours to keep even should you decide not to continue into the paid Audible membership subscription, so you seriously have nothing to lose!  

Podcasts

These days one of the most popular methods of self instruction is through mini language lessons in the form of podcasts. Many language podcasters host usually regular private radio shows on which they talk about their own language learning experiences or give lessons to other learners.

The majority of podcasts tend to be free, but there are some that require a fee, either one time or monthly, for access. Most major podcasts also usually keep

Using your smartphone you can take your favorite podcasts on the go whenever you’re in the car, working out, or hanging around the house. Devices running Apple’s iOS operating system now come with a built in podcast application that you may as well take advantage of.

Want to find some podcasts? I’ve compiled a list of some of the bigger names in the language niche for you here in my YouTube Channels and Podcast Directory. Check it out! I’m always updating it with new material, so keep checking back.

Pimsleur

Pimsleur is probably my favorite audio course right now, but any will work as long as it comes in an MP3 or other electronic format that you can use on your mobile device.

You can read all about Pimsleur’s features here; in my review of the software.

Unfortunately the downside to the Pimsleur method, and most audio courses like it, is that they have a very highly emphasized speaking component. This is actually a great feature, and exists only as a downside due to the potential for difficulty speaking regularly during an intense workout.

If you go running every morning for half an hour, you can certainly try Pimsleur, but you may experience difficulties. You also run the risk of making people think you’re insane as you gibber awkwardly to yourself in the corner of the gym.

But who cares, right? Pimsleur is still a good choice for lighter exercise in which you have the capacity to breathe out the spaced vocabulary repetitions while you space your weight repetitions.

Recorded Skype Calls

If you’re using all the tools at your disposal you should be attempting to engage with native speakers or other learners in your new language as much as possible and Skype is possibly the best way to do this outside of in-person interaction.

So assuming you’re already using Skype, either with a professional teacher or tutor, or with an audio pen-pal as I like to call them, did you know that you can actually record your Skype conversations as media files to be reviewed later?

Skype doesn’t come with this feature built in, instead you have to look elsewhere for an audio recording program. There are many such applications, some of which are paid, some free, but the one I’d most strongly suggest is VODburner.

VODburner is compatible with both PC and Mac and is totally free to use.

The ability to record your Skype conversations for later review is especially useful if you’re taking structured lessons from a teacher or tutor. It makes it easy to recall, and repeat, everything they say during your lessons as many times as you like as well as track your own pronunciation and progress over time.

I’d highly recommend that every serious language learner for whom Skype is a regular tool check out VODburner or another, similar program and create a file to use as an audio log, regardless of whether you bother with exercise at all.

Conclusion

Why study while exercising?

This article from Medical Daily outlines how just 30 minutes of exercise can increase the plasticity of the brain. This will help increase a language learner’s capacity to obtain and retain new vocabulary, pay closer attention to audio lessons and improve language recall when it really matters.

Death tends to have a negative impact on language learning and is to be avoided at all cost. Click To Tweet

I’m one of the worst people to take actual fitness tips from, so I can’t really tell you which exercises you should do. Lots of people run, running is good right? All I know is that it’s supposed to keep you healthy and protect you from not dying a horrible death prematurely. Death has a staggeringly negative impact on one’s language learning capabilities and is to be avoided at all costs.

Learning a language is a kind of exercise. Just as your body needs food and activity, your brain needs it just as much. Learning a language is a great way to promote brain health and increase memory – especially for those that can claim a few more years than others.

And most importantly because if you want to learn a language you need to start figuring out ways to incorporate language – an undeniably time-consuming activity – into your day’s existing temporal crunch. If you go to the gym, or you go running, or you go hiking, cycling, polar bear wrestling or anything else, you can implement language learning techniques along the way.

However if you simply aren’t into exercise, you really have no reason to not be taking the time everyone else spends sweating and enduring asthma attacks to buckle down and learn anyway.

 

 

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  • Oh, and finally I know an app to record Skype calls (I want to use them for podcats or interviews). Great list, Brian!

    • You’re welcome. People had been asking about it and I thought it was a good time to tackle it.

      Thanks!

  • Nicky crane

    Some language videos are also useful for listening to. I listen while walking round town or up the local mountain

    • You’re absolutely right Nicky. I had considered sticking YouTube on the list and mentioning the playlist creation option, but decided to go with 5 points instead.

      You don’t need to see a video to benefit from its audio!

      Thanks for commenting.

  • Lse

    I use cdroms in car “learn Russian in your car”

    • Yes, you can do that too. Things like Pimsleur traditionally came only on disk, but mobile tech has moved us away from that. But that’s okay, if you can still do it, do it!

  • Brian, thank you for this! I have been looking for a program to record my skype lessons.

    I don’t suppose it comes with a feature to make your voice sound less….ugh. Haha.

    For my Hungarian podcasts, I cut out the English parts using Audacity and I made a playlist in my iPhone to listen to while i jog 🙂

    • I actually included the last point as a result of reading your comment about a recording feature on another post from the other week.

      Also, as a result of your comments, am planning on creating a list of some really cool Skype tools that you can use that will include VODburner, Audacity, and a few others. I’ll certainly include some that are just for fun such as voice modulators (which is what you’re referring to, and yes they exist.) as well as something super awesome that I’ve been looking at for a while.

      You can read all about it in the next couple weeks. It won’t be out this week – it’s already booked – but the following week should bring some Skypey goodness!

      And thanks for your comments. You’ve inspired content! Which is awesome.

  • I would add YouTube fitness tutorials to this list. Especially if you’re learning a foreign language to become a fitness coach abroad 😉

  • Chris Broholm

    I’ve been using MP3 Skype Recorder and it works great 🙂

  • Alessia Pandolfi

    Audio books are absolutely amazing. especially when you you have the transcription or paper book itself. I use it to keep my russian and I have to say it’s really useful!

    • Indeed! It’s too bad that a lot of people still haven’t warmed to audio books. I wonder if it’s price related? They used to be quite expensive in disk format but have becoming significantly more affordable since MP3s became readily available. Furthermore you’re paying roughly the same amount for an Audible book as you would from a hard copy.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Alessia Pandolfi

        Now there are plenty of mobile apps that allow you to download full audio books or just some chapters. They are extremely useful: think, you go to work and you listen a book in a foreign language…that’s absolutely amazing 🙂

      • pir

        I generally don’t like audio books because I prefer to read, not listen to somebody else read. And yes, the price used to be an issue; I buy mostly ebooks now, and I saw no reason to shell out more money for the same content. I haven’t kept up with the market.

        For language learning, on the other hand, audio to match text is extremely useful. My growing addiction to Japanese audio drama (to accompany light novels or manga) will bankrupt me yet. Audio drama is lots of fun to listen to, and Japan has amazing voice actors.

  • Ren

    I guess those are really innovative. I’m learning french on skype for free at Preply and I’m definitely gonna try them on some of my lessons.