Want to chat with the locals on your next trip but short on time to learn a language?
I know the feeling!
One of the biggest challenges that most aspiring learners face is simply trying to find time to practice their new language on a regular basis.
You probably know just how important it is to build a habit of studying regularly. But actually putting that into practice is harder than it seems.
Between work, study, family, friends, and all those things you just need to get done...
There just never seems to be enough time to learn a language before your next adventure.
And unfortunately, when you are very busy language learning is often the first things to get booted from your packed schedule.
In this post, I’m going to show you how to overcome these challenges and find opportunities to add some extra language learning into your day... even if your schedule is full.
A Few Minutes A Day Is All It Takes
The whole point of this article is not to help you magically clear your schedule so you can study languages all day. (If only!)
Instead, I’m going to show you how to make use of whatever time you have throughout the day to keep taking small steps forward in your learning.
The main reason that this matters so much is that learning a language is always more effective when you practice on a consistent basis.
Regular study allows the brain to get the repetition it needs to remember the new vocabulary you’re learning and make grammatical connections.
Studying for 2 hours once a week is not the same as studying for 20 minutes six days a week.
Both add up to 2 hours of study time in total, but if you spread your learning out over the course of the week, you’ll be repeating the material more regularly and this will make it much easier to remember.
If you practice a language for large chunks of time on a less frequent basis, you’re not learning in a very efficient way.
You’ll have forgotten much of what you learned in your previous sessions and you’ll have to spend extra time reviewing that material before you move on to new things.
It also makes it more difficult for you to start thinking in your target language because you’re not making it part of your daily life.
Even just 5 or 10 minutes practice daily can make a surprising difference over the course of a month or two.
Where To Find The Time To Learn A Language?
Since you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you probably already have a pretty hectic schedule.
So when are you going to fit in time to learn a language?
There are few different times that I try to use to ensure I get some language learning done every day:
- first thing in the morning
- during my lunch break
- during occasional short 5-10 minute breaks from work during the day
- last thing before bed
But in truth, it doesn't really matter when you fit in your language practice. If you're busy, get creative about it and look for any time at all that you can squeeze a few minutes of learning into your day.
There are plenty of activities that you can complete on the go or in a short amount of time, which allow you to keep making progress even if you can't sit down for an hour of focused study.
Listen To The Language Constantly
No matter what language you’re learning you need to spend lots and lots of time listening.
It’s through exposure to the language that you’ll start to get used to how it sounds and how words are pronounced.
The great thing about listening is that you can do it anywhere, anytime:
- In the car
- On the train
- In the gym
- While talking to work
- While preparing your coffee/tea
- During your lunch break
- While doing housework or cooking
All you need is a smartphone, a pair of earphones and some listening material. So no matter how busy your day gets, you can probably still find a few minutes to do some listening.
The great thing about this strategy is that it allows you to make use of what would otherwise be ‘dead time’ in your day. For example, when doing things at home like washing the dishes or preparing dinner you can listen to a lesson or podcast in the language you're learning and turn dead time into productive time.
This allows you to spend a lot more time with your target language every day than you would otherwise be able to.
What Should You Listen To?
Your listening material can come from anywhere and will likely vary depending on your current level.
As a beginner, you’ll need more basic, focused material whereas at an advanced level you can listen to almost anything.
For beginners, I recommend Olly Richard's Uncovered courses which teach you through the power of story. The courses are centred around listening and reading practice and include a full audiobook for beginners. They're the perfect place to start.
Once you’ve reached an upper beginner or intermediate level, you’ll have a lot more options for listening material.
At this stage, it can be tempting to try and dive into native level podcasts and audiobooks. But you’ll probably still struggle to get the most out of those kinds of materials. Instead, I recommend using either Conversations or Glossika.
Conversations is a series of twenty natural conversations between native speakers that helps train your ear to the sound of fast spoken language.
Glossika, on the other hand, contains audio recordings of 1000 sentences spoken at real speed by native speakers.
No matter what materials you choose to use, just get started. The more you expose yourself to the sound of the language, the more you’ll be able to understand what you hear.
And it’s when you can understand most of what you’re hearing that you really get to enjoy the language!
Learn New Words On The Go
When you have a busy schedule, it’s all about finding the little ways you can get a few minutes of language practice into your day. I’ve always found flashcards to be one of the most effective ways of doing this.
With smartphone apps like Anki, you can design your own language flashcards and carry them with you anywhere you go.
- Got 30 seconds while waiting in line at a coffee shop? -> You can learn or review a couple of words.
- Waiting for a bus? ->A great opportunity to flip through a few flashcards.
Flashcards are great because there’s no minimum amount of time you need to spend with them. You can get value out of them even if you only have a minute or two free.
And because you can keep them on your phone (which most of us carry everywhere!) you can literally take advantage of any waiting times you have in your day to practice some vocabulary.
Flashcards are also a great tool to use on your coffee break or when you need a quick rest from another task. Why not get up from your desk and take 2 or 3 minutes to have a stretch and review some vocabulary?
Read Short Articles During Your Coffee Break
Not all of your practice has to be so intensive. Listening and reviewing vocabulary is great, but if you’re anything like me, they’ll tire you out after a while.
Reading, on the other hand, can be a more leisurely way to get some language practice into your day.
Short articles from newspapers and blogs are one great way to fit reading into your busy schedule. They're easy to find and won't take up much of your time. But you'll get to review old vocabulary and see lots of new words in context too.
If you’re interested in current affairs and sport, Euronews is ideal as it is translated into 14 different languages.
But if you would prefer to read about other topics, just google ‘newspapers in [country]’ or ‘blogs in [language]’ and you’re sure to find plenty of options.
One trick that works quite well is to go to the google home page of the language you’re learning (i.e. www.google.es for Spanish, www.google.fr for French, etc.) and search for terms in your target language.
As with the other ideas on this list, you can take your reading on the go by finding articles and reading them on your phone.
This makes it easier to find time to learn a language in the middle of a busy day.
For reading practice, I use LingQ, which is one of my favourite language learning resources.
LingQ is an invaluable tool that will save you a lot of valuable time!
You can import any article into the system, then read it and look up words you don’t know with a single click.
This means I can read and enjoy articles even if I don’t have much time and I don’t have to lug a heavy dictionary around with me!
There's also a mobile app so you can read on your phone or tablet while out and about.
Have A Quick Conversation
Another great way to get a little bit of language practice into your day is to simply schedule a short conversation.
You’re probably thinking, "I’m reading this article because I’m busy and I don’t have enough time to learn a language. How am I supposed to make time for conversations?"
I hear you! That's a very fair point!
But actually, finding people to speak with isn’t as hard as you might think. And conversations don’t have to take up hours of your day.
One thing I like to do is schedule short conversations at lunch time or at the end of the work day once or twice a week.
Just like you, I have plenty of work to be getting on with, so I restrict these sessions to 30 minutes.
30 minutes may not seem like a lot, but if you do it every week it really adds up.
When you are learning a language for travel, one of your biggest dangers is understanding a lot but not being able to express yourself very well. By booking short speaking sessions with a teacher or language tutor you can get the practice you need so that you don't freeze up when go on your trip.
Organising A Quick Conversation Online
If you’re busy and don’t want to waste any time, hiring a tutor via iTalki is a great solution.
You can find a tutor in minutes, book a 30-minute session and get some speaking practice in during your lunch break.
30 minutes might not be enough for a full-on language ‘lesson’, but if you’re just looking to practice your conversation skills, it’s perfect. I suggest you look for a tutor that is just happy to chat with you and correct your errors, rather than a teacher who wants to give you a structured lesson.
Even in the middle of a busy day, spending 30 minutes speaking with someone during your lunch break is quite manageable.
And if you just focus on conversation practice, it’s actually quite a relaxing and enjoyable break from work too.
In many ways, it's just like having lunch and chatting with your colleagues except that you’re chatting with someone in your target language instead!
Finding People To Speak With In Your City
Another great way to get conversation practice before work or during your lunch break is to look for places nearby where people who speak your target language hang out.
My friend Conor once told me this story about how he used to visit a café in London every morning where he could practice his Portuguese:
"When I was learning Portuguese, I used to stop off in a Portuguese café on my way to work at a law firm. They thought I was a bit strange at the beginning because I didn’t really speak much Portuguese! But after a month they got used to me coming in every morning and getting better at Portuguese, because I would spend those 15 minutes every morning drinking coffee with these guys. Most people can actually do this if you live in big cities…"
How Will You Squeeze Some Extra Language Practice Into Your Busy Day?
As you can see, no matter how busy you are there are plenty of ways to add a few minutes of language practice here and there throughout your day.
In many ways, it’s simply a case of making a mental shift and asking yourself ‘How can I fit in some practice today?’ instead of telling yourself you don’t have enough time.
Of course, you won’t be able to do all of these activities every day, but the whole point is to get creative, use whatever time you have and start to make the language you’re learning a part of your daily life.
You'll be glad you did when you're enjoying an adventure abroad and can speak to people in their language.
What are you going to do find more time to learn a language? Which of these ideas have you used and which ones are you most excited to try out? Let me know in the comments below!
Resources Related To This Article
The Anti-Tourist Club
The Anti-Tourist Club is a training and support centre for curious adventurers who want to do travel differently.
It is where anti-tourists like you and I come together with a common mission:
To put learning at the heart of our adventures and unlock the kinds of meaningful travel experiences most tourists never have.
Do you struggle to understand fast, spoken language? Conversations helps you understand native speakers & transform your listening skills in less than 90 days. The course is structured as a story told over the course of 20 conversations between native speakers and uses the kind of real language you can expect to hear on the streets when you travel.
As an avid reader, LingQ is a tool is use almost every day to practice reading in my languages. This useful programme, allows you to import articles and books to read in a foreign language. Best of all, you can look up and save new vocabulary with a single click.
Uncovered is a beginner programme for language learners available for Spanish, French, Italian, German and Japanese. In Uncovered, you'll learn through the power of story. This comprehensive beginner programme uses a fun and natural method that makes learning a pleasure, and grammar a breeze!
Glossika's method is deceptively simple. You read and listen to new sentences, which get gradually more difficult and complex as your progress. This might not be the most exciting resource on this list, but it's a very effective way to internalise the structures of a language without having to learn lots of grammar rules.
Want to be ready to speak with the locals when you travel? Then you need to practice your speaking before you go! The best place to do so is through italki where it's easy to find language partners and speaking tutors. I do most of my speaking practice with tutors I hire through italki.