How to learn a language on a tight schedule
Have you ever found yourself wanting to learn a language, but not knowing where to start? Have you ever signed up for a language class, only to find out that you didn't get what you need from it? Follow these steps, and you will be sure that it will never happen again.
1) Define the desired outcome
Before you hit the (language learning) road, you need to know where you want to go. Answer these questions to make sure you are headed in the right direction:
- Why do you want to learn this language?
- What would be the best possible outcome of your study?
- After you have studied successfully, what will you be able to do? (that you can't do now)
An example could be: I want to learn French so I can travel everywhere in French speaking countries an communicate with locals for any travel-related needs, without having to speak English.
If you dig a little deeper, it means:
- Learning to speak and understand French up until level A2 (basic needs) or B1 (advanced needs, including problem solving)
- Vocabulary limited to everyday topics such as food, sleep and transportation.
- Very little reading and writing skills, and little grammar needed
Write down your desired outcome, as detailed as possible. You will need to refer to it later.
2) Commit to making it a priority
One you have defined what you need to study and why, it's time to commit to your language study. If you are like me, what is not a priority just never gets done. If learning a language is important for you, commit to making it a priority. This means that when you will have free time, you will decide to spend it on your language study rather than on something else. Not all, but at least some of your free time.
As a rule of thumbs, you can hope to make progress if you commit at least 2 hours a week to your study. This could be a one hour focus study session in the weekend and 10 minutes daily review. Of course, the more time you give to your study (provided you study the right way, see next steps for that), the faster you progress.
3) Define short term goals
I know you don't want to hear about "goals" - they're such a scary thing, right?
Actually, goals are really easy to set and achieve. It's just a matter of answering a few questions.
Once you know where you're headed and you're committed to getting there, you need to find the shortest road. You find it, by answering this question:
What can you do right now, to move closer to your desired outcome (a.k.a ultimate goal)?
Get a little bit more specific by giving it a time frame:
What can you do this week, to move closer to you ultimate goals?
What can you do today? What can you do every day?
The answer to these questions are your short term goals. Write them down.
Taking our traveling example again, a good first step you can take today is reading this article to learn how to make the French love you.
And this week you can learn how to order a coffee or your favourite food and ask for the bill.
4) Identify activities that will help you reach your goals.
Once you have defined what to learn right now to move one step closer to your goal, you need to figure out how to do it. An activity is an actual physical action which helps you reach your short term goal. "Learning vocabulary" isn't an activity, it's a goal. "Reviewing flashcards" or "writing down new words in your vocabulary notebook" are activities which help you learn vocabulary.
Figure out exactly what you can do to reach your short term goals. Then pause and figure out how long these activities take.
Note: sometimes what you can do right now and the activities to do it are one thing. For example if you aim to be able to understand spoken French at a regular native speed, what you can do now (which is also the activity) is to listen to podcasts or watch movies.
5) Schedule these activities. Make a plan.
When can you get these activities done?
Find adequate time slots to fit them in your schedule and put them in your calendar. Having an appointment in your calendar makes it look official and increases the chances that you will actually 1) remember about it and 2) show up for your study.
We assume that you know when you will have time to fit these activities in your schedule. If you think that you are way too busy to get even a little bit of language learning done, I have great news: time is hiding in every corner of your schedule, and you will find it when you know how to uncover it.
It's the topic of my free live workshop: Time mastery workshop for busy language learners. Just sign up here and you will never run out of time again.
6) Create a fall back plan
Even when you have found the perfect time slot, and you have an appointment in your calendar, life can still get in the way, and destroy your beautiful plan.
You can't avoid it, but you can have a plan B. Decide beforehand on what you will do if your original plan doesn't work out. One of my favourite trick is to schedule my language learning activities in the morning. This way, I have good chances of finding time later in the day if my morning session doesn't happen for some reason.
7) Schedule a review of your plan
So, now you have a great plan A, and even a great plan B. You know your goals, how to reach them and when you will take action. You only need one more thing: schedule a moment to look at your plan again and figure out if you have been able to execute it successfully. I suggest scheduling a review of your plan every week. If you plan on studying daily, and/or creating habits, it can be good to use a habit tracker everyday or review your plan every evening at the beginning.
This will have two effects:
- First, you won't be able to forget about your plan entirely, since you will have to assess its success.
- Second, you will be able to reward yourself for following through successfully, or to modify your plan if it turns out that it somehow doesn't work.
Note: every successful language learner has created plans which didn't work in the past. It would be unrealistic to expect every plan to work "as planned" on the first try. However every plan will eventually work out after enough little tweaks. Don't get discouraged.
8) Execute your plan.
Go through your week and execute your plan. Strive to do your language activities as you planned them.
9) Review your plan and tweak it if necessary
When time has come for your review, ask yourself the following questions.
Have I been able to follow through with my plan?
If yes, congratulations! Reward yourself, you deserve it.
If no, ask yourself;
Why couldn't you follow your plan? What got in the way?
How can you modify your plan to ensure that you don't run into the same problem again?
Come up with a new plan for next week, and repeat step 5-9.
If you have already reached your short term goals, set new short term goals to continue your study. Repeat steps 4-9
That's it, 9 simple steps to successful language planning. What is your ultimate goal? And what can you do right now, to move closer to it? Let me know in the comments.
Would you like to join a community of learners who routinely smash their goals and make massive progress in their study? Good news, in my live class, Time for language learning, we do just that. Enrolment is currently closed but will open soon. In the meantime, sign up here to join us on a free Time mastery workshop for busy language learner. You will even get a special bonus for attending live.