What do you think the number one cited reason that people give me as to why they aren’t studying or can’t study a foreign language is?
If you guessed time you’d be correct.
Why is that though? Are we really as busy as we think we are? I’m not, and I assume you aren’t either. It’s all in your head. There’s only one thing standing between you and language learning.
And that’s you.
Sure, we’re all busy, right? Jobs, kids, Ph.D theses, other hobbies; so who seriously has time for language learning?
Well, you, for starters…
I don’t consider myself to be the most organized or efficient person in the world. I’m not even above average, but I can still balance a family, everything that needs doing around the house, a full time job, this blog and all of its social media (which takes a lot more than 40 hours/week) and still I manage to find ample time for gaming, a social life and language learning. It’s true that I could do with a bit more sleep but that too is only because I spend too much time on Netflix, and make bad decisions not because I actually lack the time for it.
Yet I still manage to make time, so why can’t you? If Mark Zuckerberg can take the time out of his life to learn Mandarin, why can’t you?
Should I spend more time learning? Probably, but the fact remains that I have the time, and I’m just as busy as anyone else and probably busier than many of you. The only thing standing between me and more language study is me. I have the power to change that, and I’m willing to bet you do too.
So why aren’t you spending more time on your language projects? You’re probably not going to like it but I think you just don’t want it badly enough! If you did you’d do it.
But don’t feel too bad about it; I could be accused from time to time of being just as bad as any. Motivation is the hardest thing to maintain during a project as long lived as learning a new language – which can take months in the best of cases and years in others.
We all have to make sacrifices in order to get or maintain the things we want and learning a new language is no different, the trick is to stop psyching yourself out! You have what it takes, just like I do. You’re the only one tying you down.
So let’s see what we can do about that.
How do you view language learning?
Is it an academic class you have to pass for a degree? Is it a hobby you pursue for fun? A skill you’re trying to acquire rapidly to increase your competitiveness in the job market or is it for that trip you’re taking this summer? Most importantly; is it something you view as a chore? Or something you view as enjoyable – that you like doing. This really will make all the difference.
Your perception of a thing can color how well you perform at it. When you see your language classes as a source of stress and the resulting workload as nothing more than tedious homework it can become more difficult to motivate yourself to really accomplish anything.
I play video games because they’re fun. I could make arguments in favor of cognition or a social life if I play with friends, but the real reason I choose to play video games is no more complicated than sheer pleasure. Of course I enjoy language learning, but studying a foreign language is challenging, the rewards less immediate and not always as obvious. It can also be hard to see your progress.
You can overcome this disorganized prioritization if you can give yourself sufficient reason why language learning is in your best interest right now and messing around on Facebook is not.
I know this sounds difficult, and it takes some work to train these habits out of your life, but if you really want to learn a language you have to think about what it is you’re willing to change and what the best way to do that is for you.
So what the heck do you do all day?
Think about it. Think about everything you usually do. When do you usually wake up, when do you work, how long is the drive, when are your breaks, when do you get home? Do you go to school? When? When do you do your homework? Do you actually do your homework? When do you eat, when do you hang out with your friends, when do you pay your bills, when do you go shopping or buy groceries?
Shall I go on?
So maybe you don’t have to break down every single second of your day, but you should really try to figure out where you are and what you do for most of a normal day. If you seriously can do all of that and still tell me that you can’t find an hour, or even a half an hour, in any of that to squeeze in a little bit of language study I’m going to have to call you a liar.
Or I’m going to have to assume that you don’t really care that much. Whatever; if that’s the case lets just be honest with ourselves.
Sit down with a pencil and paper, or your computer and try to piece your day together one thing at a time. Sure, things come up, crap happens, and life goes on. The language gods will forgive you your transgressions – nobody is holding a gun to your head and saying “learn damnit!”
Always something there to remind me…
If we can all agree that motivation is probably the single biggest attribute of the successful language learner we can start tackling ways to keep our heads in the game. Something often easier said than done.
How do we do that? We keep our eyes on the prize – literally.
Identify why you want to learn a language. Is it to visit a particular place? Communicate with someone special? Find the perfect job? Whatever it is, find one or more pictures of it and stick them places you’re going to look. Going to Thailand? Print off an image you like of Thailand or one of its cities or beaches or something and hang it somewhere stupidly obvious that you can’t help but look at.
Post it on the wall above your computer screen. Stick it to your bathroom mirror. Tuck it into the sun visor in your car. It doesn’t matter where, just as long as it’s somewhere your eyes frequently go.
Constantly reminding yourself of why you need to learn this language is a good way to ensure that you do, and it’s really very easy.
Get involved with online communities
There are few better ways to keep your head in the game than communicating with real people. You’re already spending way too much time on Facebook and Twitter, right? So why not use the things you’re already addicted to in your quest for time management.
There are dozens of pages and probably hundreds of groups on Facebook where you can meet and talk with people about your language or travel interests. You don’t even need to speak to them in your new language, you just need to participate in discussions, comment, interact with people and enjoy yourself.
Simply participating in the online language enthusiast communities will help keep you on the right track and can also be a way to network with potential fellow learners.
The same goes for Twitter and Pinterest, the latter of which you can use to further increase your interest in the places and things you want to visit or do. Again if you’re looking to visit Thailand you can find thousands of images of Thailand to inspire you or thousands of activities to help you learn or meet new people or prepare for your trip.
Your problem isn’t that you lack time, it’s that you spend the time you have doing the wrong things. If you can turn those things into something related to your language goals you’re one step closer to solving your time crisis.
Clear your work space
I’m just about the worst person in the world at keeping my desk neat, organized and clean. It’s constantly cluttered with things I don’t want to discuss. Suffice it to say that not only is it possibly harboring its own ecosystem, it could also be accused of having severely hampered my will and ability to get anything done. Which again is nobody’s fault by my own. I walk back and forth to the kitchen many times in a given day. Why can’t I seem to bring my dirty coffee cups and bottles back there during my travels to and fro?
Does anyone really know the answer to that question?
Some people work better in clutter – and that’s fine; you should try to work in as comfortable a place as possible, but for most people productivity increases as office entropy decreases.
So take the beer bottles to the recycling, take your plates and chip bags to the kitchen and give yourself some space. Take your language learning stuff off of the shelf and put it in front of you.
Just as before, making your materials readily accessible in the place you’re most likely to plant your butt is a decent way to remind yourself of what really needs doing.
Sometimes you have to take drastic action
So you’ve tried simple motivation techniques, you’ve tried becoming more involved, you’ve tried kicking your own ass, and you’re still not doing what you set out to do. It’s time to hand over the reigns to your productivity tools and let them control your leisure time.
I’m speaking of course of time management applications such as StayFocusd and TimeOut. There is a large number of apps and browser plugins that you can use to maximize your productivity and cut back on the time you spend cruising Facebook, tweeting about your breakfast and watching porn.
One of the best in my opinion is the free StayFocusd extension for Google Chrome. I know you need your social media fix, I know I sure do. StayFocusd allows you a fixed amount of time per day to use your various social profiles, update your statuses, peruse Google or read about advanced quantum theory or Otto von Bismarck on Wikipedia.
It then blocks these sites and others of your choosing from interrupting your work time, allowing you the opportunity to study your foreign language of choice uninterrupted. Unless of course the cat jumps on your keyboard. There is as of yet no app for that.
But even should you succeed in managing your time better, it’s still important to take breaks, lest you burn yourself out or grow too bored. Fortunately if you’re a Mac user (or use an Apple device such as an iPad or iPhone) you’re in luck! TimeOut is a nifty app that fades out your current work after a period of time and reminds you to take a 5-10 minute break.
Unfortunately TimeOut is not available on PC at this time.
Here is a list of other applications and programs that can help with your productivity and time management problems. Many of them seem very powerful (never used them) though not free, however, but the two aforementioned tools are indeed free and should definitely be taken advantage of.
So you want to learn a language. You’ve been saying it for years. You’ve always put it off until later because you were too busy with school, too busy with grad school, too busy traveling, too busy with work, with kids, with all of the above.
Believe me, I get it – probably more than most. But I still think you could be doing more if it was really important to you.
If you don’t really want to learn a language – fine, don’t. But don’t tell everyone that it’s because you lack the time. You make time for the other things you want to do, why not languages?
If you’re looking for a few more suggestions about how to balance your schedule and make time for language studies check out this infographic I made a little while back.
So, are you going to make more time for languages? What strategies for those who struggle with time management would you suggest? Leave a comment!