The number one excuse people give for not being able to learn a new language?
Not enough time.
To be fair, I understand where they’re coming from. To even get to a survival level with a language requires at least 75 hours of focused effort, and to be really comfortable requires hundreds and even thousands of hours. That’s a lot of time for anyone, let alone people who have to work, go to school, take care of a family, etc.
The thing is, you don’t have to have an empty schedule or a perfect lifestyle to find the time to learn a language. People from all walks of life find the time. For example, in the past two years, I learned Spanish and German up to pretty high levels by squeezing in time wherever I could.
If you sneak in a half hour of effort—like studying, watching TV in your target language, listening to the radio, or reading comic books—four times a day, that adds up to two hours a day, or over 700 hours a year.
Here are my three favorite ways to sneak in language learning.
1. Use your commute time.
Right now I live about twenty to thirty minutes away from where I work. That’s forty to sixty minutes a day of time that’s essentially wasted.
If you drive to work or school every day, you can:
Follow a Pimsleur course. It’s audio based and tailor made for riding in a car solo.
- Listen to the radio. When I was learning Spanish, I was fortunate enough to live in a city with four different Spanish-language radio stations.
- Listen to podcasts. For any language, you can find instructional podcasts. If you’re more advanced, you can also find podcasts in your target language that provide news or info.
- Listen to music. Simply being exposed to the sounds of your target language primes your brain for language learning, and there’s no better way to get this exposure than music. The rhythms are infectious and, most importantly, it’s fun.
If you take public transportation, you probably won’t be comfortable following Pimsleur courses, which have a speak-aloud element. But you’ll be able to do things drivers can’t, like watch videos on your phone or complete lessons on language learning apps.
2. Find dead spots in your schedule.
Nobody goes nonstop 24/7. Everybody has areas of their schedule that are unaccounted for. Find these dead spots and use them.
Examples in my life:
- When I first wake up and I’m lying in bed.
- My lunch break, which I usually take at my desk.
- While my son is watching TV in the early evening.
- The half hour after my son has brushed his teeth and before he gets in bed.
It doesn’t take a huge commitment to use these times to drill vocabulary words, watch a video on YouTube, complete a lesson in a course I’m taking, read a news article, or read a page or two of Harry Potter.
Not counting my commute time, these dead spots add up to over two hours of my day. Also, since they’re spread out throughout the day, I get continuous, repeated exposure to my language.
3. Add your language to your social media accounts.
How often do you check your Facebook or Twitter profile? For me, it’s unfortunately quite often. So I began using my social media time to sneak in even more language learning.
First, you can change your language settings. That is, you can make your Facebook or Twitter profile display in whatever language you’re studying. That way you get your language right in your face every time you log in, and you’re literally forced to use the language in a meaningful way to navigate around the site. (Admittedly, this may be a little daunting, especially if you’re a beginner.)
Second, you can follow pages or accounts that publish in your target language. You’ll get the language in the posts themselves, but you’ll get links to interesting articles and videos.
Give these tips a try for three weeks and see what a difference they make. You’ll be speaking and understanding your new language before you know it.
I’m a language enthusiast. I’ve studied Arabic, Spanish, and German pretty seriously, and I’ve also spent a lot of time studying English, my native language. My first “real” job was as a translator, and now I’m a technical writer by profession.
I run the site Language Surfer to give people tips and techniques for picking up new languages. I also want to help people realize they can get a lot of benefits from their new languages even if they’re not perfect in them.