How do language learners get so much done?
Let me share how successful language learners seem to learn so fast, get more done and appear smarter than struggling language learners. They set habits that are easy to stick to, and adjust their routines accordingly.
5 things to do for setting goals and habits, and sticking to them:
Creating a schedule for the week
Using a language planner
Setting an anchor in your week
Adjusting your routine accordingly
One method of doing so is habit stacking, which I first came across in James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. If you do something regularly, attach another habit to it. For example, if you brush your teeth, you can do some squats. If you always take out the trash on the way to work, you can stop to water the plants right after it.
You can apply habit stacking to language learning, too. For instance, if you take the bus to work daily, why not review your language flashcards on the bus? If you come home and take off your shoes, you can listen to a language podcast at the same time. If you always read before bed, you can do some vocabulary study after that too.
Mastering this ability to create habits and stick to them can truly change your language learning life.
Creating a schedule or routine
You can use a language journal (see below) or use a weekly printout. I’ve designed one that you can use, available only for $1 here.
Step 1. Print it out and fill it in.
Step 2. Write in the times you studied.
Step 3. Keep at it!
Some people start small and get a smaller routine established before expanding. Some people start with a heavy routine.
Using a language planner
This can be as simple or as complex as you like. A language planner could be anything, such as
- a sheet of paper for a week like the one I linked above
- a spreadsheet you set up on your own
- a weekly paper journal like the one I use in this video:
Tips for making language learning goals
- YouTube video about common goal-setting mistakes
- Language goals and habits I set at the start of a year
- Interesting and fun ways to track your learning blog post
Setting an anchor
Benny Lewis and I spoke about this in the video below on balancing work and languages. Our anchor is something that no matter how busy our week gets, we can commit to achieving it each week. For us, it’s having a language learning lesson with a tutor.
I use the language tutoring platform italki for Hungarian, Korean, Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog lessons. (For the record, I don’t take lessons for each language simultaneously in a month, but have 2–3 months where I focus on 2 languages at a time)
By booking one italki lesson a week, I have set an “anchor” of the bare minimum I can do. Even if I can’t do anything else relating to language learning in a week, I know that I have this lesson that I have to show up for. I always feel better at the end of a lesson, knowing I’ve achieved something, showed up, and practiced a language. Try to focus deeply when you do this so you can make the most out of your time. For more about deep focus, I suggest reading Deep Work by Cal Newport.
If you’re keen to try out italki as a platform to practice languages with community tutors or professional teachers, you can get $10 italki credits after your first $20 spend when you sign up and book a lesson using this link.
Your anchor doesn’t need to be a language lesson, it can be one session of listening to a podcast, working through a lesson online, or using a textbook — the bare minimum that you can commit to weekly.
Adjusting your routine
I apply an agile framework to my language learning. This is something we do working in tech, and essentially means reviewing and iterating your work and processes regularly. Here is a video that fully explains what I mean by it and how I combine languages and tech/product design thinking.
My framework for agile routine adjustments
At the end of each week, in my language learning journal, I …
- Check what is working (e.g. “I managed to keep up with two italki lessons this week and listened to a podcast, so this is doable for me”)
- See what isn’t working (e.g. “I told myself to do 1 chapter of my textbook and it was too much to get around to”)
- Notice what can be improved (e.g. “Doing 1 page instead of 1 chapter of my textbook can be more doable”)
- Change my process or routine accordingly (set goals or checklists for the next week)
You can always adjust your routine. The first step is just to set it up and then try and stick to it. If it’s too easy, add more to it. If it’s too hard, drop some things. Nothing is set in stone, and there’s no shame in changing your schedule if needed.
A final word
Finally, refrain from comparing your methods to those of others. Everyone online is trying to sell you their method as the best. The best method is the one that works for you.
Try various methods for a week or two, iterate upon them, and then you’ll find your own unique method to fit your lifestyle. If you’re struggling with comparison, I highly suggest reading The Comparison Cure.
Wishing you all the best in your learning! 💖