When You Don’t Have Time to Study, Stop Studying

When You Don’t Have Time to Study, Stop Studying

It’s always a wonderful thing when you find time in your day to do all the things you want to do. Unfortunately, so many people today are completely overwhelmed with things in their life that they always seem to run out of time. We always tell ourselves that we will dedicate an hour, two hours, 30 minutes, etc., everyday to studying a language, but do you find yourself struggling to meet those amounts from time to time? Do you miss that quota everyday? If so, let’s take a look at ways you can be more effective in your language learning by not “studying” as much in the sense that we typically think.


Do What’s Important to You

First off, what is it you really want from a new language? Do you want to be able to read literature pieces in their original forms, watch foreign movies, or expand the number of people with whom you can speak? Each one of these requires different skills within language learning. When you are pressed for time, only spend time improving what you intend to do with the language. If your primary goal is to be able to read then being able to speak is something that you might not focus your time on. In contrast, will you see a benefit in your speaking if you delegate time to reading? To effectively use the time you have, it is best to use as much of it for your primary language learning goal. You get out what you put in, so if you put in the time for your main goal, you’ll find those same results.


Talk to Yourself

This is by far my favorite one. There are 24 hours in a day and we all spend some of that time by ourselves. Why not take that time to practice? I talk to myself everyday in a foreign language about what I am doing or what I have done. This not only helps me feel comfortable speaking, forming sentences, and thinking on my feet, but it also helps to make myself aware of words or phrases that I don’t know and I need to use. If you spend a lot of time at the gym, but you can’t say it, that may be a word that is important for you to know how to say. This is also a fun way to pretend to have a conversation and will help you prepare what types of questions may be asked and what to listen for regarding those questions. If you are talking about going to have coffee with a friend and you ask yourself, “Was it a quiet cafe?” you will have to know how to ask that and in turn know what to listen for when that same question is asked in a real conversation. Doing both sides of the conversation can really help expose areas that you need to improve within your language learning. You can also turn this into a challenge by talking about various topics and seeing how long you can carry on a monologue. I like to ask somebody when I leave a social setting, “What topic should I talk about?” and then carry on a speech about it when I’m alone. It keeps it fresh since somebody else came up with the topic but you still have to use the words you know.


This is also a wonderful time to exaggerate your speech patterns. Nobody sounds like a native when we start. Every foreign language sounds a bit odd; if it didn’t we wouldn’t consider it foreign. These different noises and shapes we have to make to produce this language can seem uncomfortable and awkward. Being alone can give you a great time to really exaggerate how to generate this new language. Nobody else can hear you, it’s totally fine. When it does come time to practice in front of people, subconsciously you will dial it back but these sounds will feel less strange and more comfortable to both hear and create.


Translate Conversations

Maybe you don’t have as much alone time as me. Maybe you are surrounded by people from dawn till dusk. This is an even better way to utilize the conversations you have around you! I like to play a game where I see how well I can translate conversations I’m engaged in WHILE I am in them. Somebody may ask a question and then you task yourself with translating it (probably best to keep it in your head as to not confuse them) prior to responding. If there is more than two people in the conversation you can challenge yourself by translating everything that is said before somebody can respond to it. Not only does this allow you to again push your vocabulary and grammar, but also helps to see the direction of conversations to help you anticipate what will be said next. Especially as you begin a language this can really help in realizing the direction of conversation and vocabulary that you can focus on.



More than anything, when we set down a time and place for studying we break ourselves away from our everyday life. We associate using our language in only one location. If you can only recall a language when you are sitting at your desk, how will that affect your ability to recall when you are in an outside environment? Will you be able to remember everything or will you be searching for your notebook that isn’t sitting next to you? The more you are able to break away from the “studying environment” the more comfortable you will be in actually using a language in a natural state. Sure, the first time you try to talk to somebody on a ski slope will be confusing, but there also is a rush as you recognize the accomplishments of at least having SOME interaction that you didn’t have in front of a computer screen. As you walk through the grocery store can you say types of food you are purchasing? Try recapping what you did today as you do your household chores at the end of the day. Allowing yourself to use the language while you go about your day will help to associate the language as something you use during your day.


All of these practices have helped me to make speaking another language be more of a natural part of my day instead of a separate part of what I do each day. When we force ourselves to only think of “studying” the language we forget the purpose of learning the language in the first place: to “use” the language. This was never more evident than when I was driving at night during a rainstorm yet carrying on a conversation in a foreign language. The conditions on the road were subpar so I was able to focus on my driving and still be aware of the dialogue I was having at the same time. Sure it might not have been a graceful conversation but it was a conversation nonetheless. Pushing yourself out of the study environment can really help move you outside of just “studying” and starting to “live” in a language.

This post is contributed by Alex. Alex is a Mechanical Engineer living in the Washington, DC area who became passionate about learning other languages and cultures. He enjoys making people laugh, embracing every day, and doing what intrigues him at the time. He currently is learning Mandarin Chinese and Arabic but counted 13 different languages he can say at least one word with. In the future, he hopes to polish up his Spanish and next pursue American Sign Language before moving on to a few European languages.
Alex’s blog, “What Did You Just Say?”, follows his journey through the struggles of learning a new language (Arabic) from day one. He hopes that other people will be encouraged by seeing the mistakes he makes to allow themselves to be more comfortable about pushing themselves to learn a new language and share the struggle. The blog breaks down some of the tips that Alex was able to learn and use as he was able to get to a conversational level of Mandarin Chinese in a short time.
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