Managing Language Learning When Life Happens

From time to time, I decide that it’s time to get organized. That’s when I prepare a beautiful weekly schedule and I promise myself to stick to it. To be fair, I often don’t. I’m sure that the best language learners manage to do everything they plan 100% (or at least 95%) of the time but the point is you can still be pretty good at languages without being perfect. Today, I’ll tell you how to manage your language learning when life takes over.

Life Is Unpredictable

Here I was over a month ago with my new language learning plan that looked completely doable. 10 hours of language learning per week covering all my language needs. Sweet!
And then life took over. First, we had house renovations to finish off. Getting rid of unwanted things, buying new ones we needed, all a lot of admin with a full-time job+. Then the move came and made me realise that OMG I’m no longer a 23 year old who came to Cape Town with two suitcases. Just after we moved in, it turned out that the house still needed some work so we dealt with builders when working from home. And then we fostered a second dog. This is life and life in unpredictable.
It’s important to schedule your language learning because otherwise you’ll never progress. You need to find the time to study and to practice. Still, sometimes life takes over. You can beat yourself up about it or try to do your best given the circumstances.

When Time’s More Precious Than Ever Prioritize

To see true progress with language learning you need to do many things: listen, write, speak, read… There are grammar exercises to do and mistakes you keep making to eliminate. There’s always more and more you could do. When the circumstances are right you can do all of these things but when life is a bit crazy, you have to cut all the fluff out.
Have you heard about the 80 20 rule? It’s been popularised by self-development and productivity gurus such as Brian Tracy and Time Ferris. According to this rule, 20% of what you do gets you 80% of your results. It’s a really useful thing to keep in mind in terms of language learning.
What it means in practice, is that some of your activities give you better outcomes than others. Now, in my learning and teaching experience what exactly this is depends on a person. For me, it’s the repetitive drilling by speaking and doing exercises that works best. However, I’ve seen people who learn most effectively while actively listening or reading.
Think about when you feel like you’re learning and retaining the most. I’m not talking here about activities you like the most but the ones that you think are the best for language learning. When you have little time focus only on these things. For more tips on what to do when time matters more than money, read my other blog post.

Trick Yourself Into Learning

Prioritizing what works the best is very important so that you spend minimal time learning while getting maximum return. It’s very helpful when you’re tired and finding motivation is tough. It’s much easier to tell yourself “only this one hour class today and I’m done for the week” than feel that it’s just one thing among many other activities to tick off the list. The first scenario feels invigorating (doable, at worst), the second one daunting. Tricking yourself into learning is sometimes the only option to still have anything done!
You can also add additional strategies to your language learning in dire times. Choose a movie or a series in your target language over something in your native language. Read a comic book in a target language for fun. When researching something on Wikipedia for leisure, try reading the article in the language you’re learning. There are many ways to add a bit of language to your life in a way that doesn’t feel like work. I speak more about such things in my post 5 Easy Language Learning Opportunities.

Don’t Be a Douche to Yourself

It’s very easy to be hard on yourself, when things are a bit out of control. After all, you were supposed to be doing this or that and it’s just not happening. How can you be so stupid and lazy? There are people who have three kids, a responsible job AND a side business! Blah blah blah blah blah, your brain continues to make you feel bad. It’s counterproductive.
This isn’t a self-help blog so I won’t go on about what to do about your inner critic. For me, meditating, exercising, sleeping well and breathing deeply helps. You can try these and see for yourself. In any case, allow this voice to stay with you but try not pay attention to it. There are millions of people worse off than you are and millions of people who are better off. You are who you are, just chill and do your best whatever it means.
Beating yourself up about the lack of progress just kills your motivation. It also makes you feel like learning is just another chore. This isn’t good for you and can get you on a bender where you keep improving your mood with short-term pleasure. A day or two of being lazy won’t kill your language learning goals. Being a douche to yourself may turn a small detour into a big one, though. The longer the break, the more difficult it is to get back on track.

Just Do It. Thanks, Nike!

Identify what you consider to be your priorities and just do it. No excuses. For me, those were two sessions of Russian every week. It didn’t matter that some of them happened on a Sunday evening, I kept my promise to myself. Sure, I was ashamed in front of my teacher and language partner that I clearly haven’t done anything since our last meeting. I was ashamed and I forced myself to do it anyway.
Do whatever it takes to keep you going even if it’s at snail’s pace. It does feel well to achieve even the smallest goals.

Ok, meus amigos. That’s it for today. I hope this PEP talk will help you with your motivation and language learning goals when life is a bit too out of hand. Shihemi se shpejti!

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