How do you make time to learn a language?

Learning a language when you're short of time

We know what it’s like – you really want to learn a language, but things just keep getting in the way: work, school, commuting, exercise… There are so many things to fit into the average day, that it’s not always easy to make time for studying. But don’t despair – it can be done. Following up from last week’s tips on how to learn a language on a tight budget, this week we’re giving you some ideas about how to keep learning even when you’re short of time.

Please share your own suggestions in the comments, and let us know which of these ideas works best for you.

1. Learn on your commute

This is my favourite strategy, as it uses time that I would otherwise spend staring out of a train window, or (now that I take the tube) at someone else’s armpit. Half an hour or so on a train or bus is the perfect time to read a book in another language, pull out your iPhone for a couple of uTalk games or listen to a podcast (there are loads designed specifically for learners). If you’re one of those healthy types who walks to work, try listening to the radio or a podcast on your phone.

2. Combine learning with socialising

Try to find a language partner who speaks the language you’re learning and chat to them over tea/beer/dinner. There are plenty of websites like and where you can find a partner to exchange languages with, either in person or over Skype/email. Or make some friends who speak that language and resolve to spend at least 15 minutes chatting to them in their language before you switch back to English.

3. Break it up into small chunks

There’s no reason why you have to spend hours at a time for it to be effective. In fact, 10 minutes a day of flicking through some vocab flash cards, playing a couple of revision games or doing a couple of units in a language app is probably more effective than one long session each week.

4. Fit the language into everyday life

Try switching your phone or Facebook into another language so you see it every day without changing your routine. (Disclaimer: Do not do this if the language is Arabic or Mandarin and you can’t read the script yet! You might have trouble switching it back… I speak from experience here.) Make post-its of everyday vocab and stick them around your house/office to learn the names of household items.

5. Use ‘dead time’ to practise a bit

If you added together all the time you spent each month just waiting around for things (waiting at the doctor/dentist, waiting for a bus, sitting on a delayed train…), you’d probably realise you were wasting hours of your time just getting bored. Keep a language book or app with you and you can always do a bit of reading or revision while you wait. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up!

6. Do things you were going to do anyway… in another language!

Surfing Facebook in your lunch break? Switch it into your language. Reading the news online? Find a foreign newspaper to read instead of your usual one. Watching your favourite TV show in the evening? Find it online dubbed or with subtitles. Found a new book to read? Get the translation (or, even better, the original foreign language book!). Ok you get the idea! Try for links to loads of cultural sites (TV/comics etc) in several different languages.

7. Learn while you’re doing other stuff

Put the radio on in another language or some language tapes or an audio-based lesson like EuroTalk Rhythms while you’re washing up/cleaning/getting dressed in the morning. You’ll pick something up without even realising you’re ‘studying’.

8. Set yourself a goal for the day

For example, say to yourself in the morning, ‘I want to spend x amount of time on vocab or grammar,’ or ‘I want to complete this many exercises/games,’ or ‘I want to have at least one conversation in the language today’. It’ll help focus your mind on what you need to get done, rather than just saying ‘I want to learn some French today’, which is a huge, daunting and extremely vague challenge, and one which you’ll probably go out of your way to avoid.

9. Chat online

If you don’t have time to go to the country, you don’t know anyone who’s from there and you can’t make time for lessons or meet-ups, you can probably still manage to spend a bit of time Skyping, chatting on a site like or using another instant messenger. I’m also reliably informed that playing videogames is a good way to learn, as you can chat with other players from across the world while you play!

Good luck – and let us know how you get on…


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