The alarm sounded 2 hours before I was due to get up. I resented its intrusion into my sleep and grumpily turned it off. No, this was not going to work. I'd heard of people having great success with early morning language learning, but on this cold, winter morning five years ago, I knew that it wasn't going to work for me. You see, I hate mornings! I can't have meaningful conversations until at least the third cup of coffee and I know from experience that this isn't the best time for my brain to absorb knowledge. I could do it at midnight, or later, but not first thing in the morning! I'm a night owl.
I'm interested in language learning because I teach English to adults online. I've been learning German since I was at school and, although it's taking a back-seat at the moment, I'm also learning Turkish.
When's The Right Time of Day to Learn a Language?
I honestly believe that there is no definite answer to this. The right time for you to learn depends on the type of person you are, whether you're an early morning lark or a night owl. The other responsibilities you have throughout your day also play a big role in taking that decision.
Some people love to be up early when nobody else is around. They can fit in their language learning when the house is quiet and nobody else is awake. If they get up early, they can learn at a time when their mind is fresh, rather than struggling to keep their eyes open after a long day at work.
Other people like to work at the other end of the day. I'm definitely one of those people!
Unlock More Time In Your Day For Productive Language Learning
There are plenty of langauge learning activities that you can do on your commute or during your lunch break. It doesn't have to take long, but it means that if you're prepared, you can put that 10 or 15 minutes of spare time to good use.
I work for myself now and have much more freedom in terms of organising my day. But back when I had a full-time job, I used to work long hours and spend a long time commuting in and out of London. Let me tell you what I did to fit language learning into my day, so that it wasn't left until last thing at night.
I've also picked up some tips from my customers who are learning English. The biggest problem that some of them have is that they're really motivated, but they have really busy schedules and need to find the time to squeeze in the language practice.
1. Take Your Phone With You
Phones can be used in so many different ways to help with your language learning. The good thing about using your phone is that it's always with you and it doesn't take up room in your bag in the same way that a bulky book would.
Some of my customers have a long list of apps that they use for language learning. Some help them remember new vocabulary, others are to find language tandem partners and chat with native speakers. The point is that they're easily accessible and you can do some language practice even if you only have 10 minutes while you're waiting for the bus, or a bit of time during your lunch break.
If you have a tandem partner who's waiting for your answer, you have a higher sense of urgency or motivation than if you had a vague idea about needing to learn a few more words.
There are plenty of language app reviews online, and I'm not going to go into too much detail here (find Fluent's review section here - ed.). When it comes to my own language learning, I am more likely to use the native or standard apps to learn languages.
Here are some examples:
A Podcast app – to listen to podcasts in German and Turkish. Some of them are specifically for language learners, others are just about things that I find interesting. If you want help choosing an app and learning how to download podcasts, check out this article here on Fluent.
Facebook and Twitter – to keep up-to-date with news in my target languages and to talk to my language partners.
Skype, Viber and Facetime – for having realtime conversations with your language partners.
A radio app such as TuneIn – so that you can listen to live radio broadcasts in the language that you want to learn.
Audible – for streaming audio books.
The native news app on iPhone, the BBC news app, or another news app of your choice – more useful for people who are learning English if the app only supports English content, but you can subscribe to particular publications or add areas of interest.
The Music app – for playing my German and Turkish music. Trying to understand the lyrics is a great way to learn new words. Also, if you listen to the tracks again and again, you are more likely to remember the words.
Some of these apps are only useful if you have a good data plan or free wifi. Try checking if your provider offers free hotspots, or pop to a free wifi café. Even if you are using your normal data plan, podcasts can be downloaded at home. This means you don't have to stream them, and the Facebook and Twitter apps aren't too hungry for data.
2. Go For a Walk
It's easy to spend your lunch break stuck at your desk, particularly if you have a lot to do. Whilst you may not want to go for a walk in the rain or snow, a walk on a nice da can really help you to clear your head and come back to your desk feeling refreshed.
Some of my customers like to listen to podcasts when they're cycling or walking. I don't like to wear headphones when I'm walking because I feel it cuts me off from the rest of the world, but I often used to go to a nearby park so that I could read my German books or listen to podcasts and eat my lunch away from the distractions of the office.
3. Are There Any Language Exchange Partners Nearby?
To be honest, this was usually something that I did after work, so there was no need to rush back. However, a couple of times I found out that one of my German or Turkish friends was going to be in the area, and I would meet for lunch or a quick coffee with them in my break.
This was an enjoyable way to meet email contacts face to face and to get in some language practice. These opportunities need to be organised, so it's good to be present on forums where language learners in your area spend time. For me, as someone who does a lot of online socialising, meeting people face-to-face added great variety to my language programme.
4. Find a Good Book
It doesn't matter whether you like reading traditional paperbacks, books on your e-reader, or audiobooks. Try to have a book with you in the language that you want to learn.
One of my customers likes to read English books on the bus. She reads them on her Kindle and can quickly look up new words in the built-in dictionary.
If you don't know what to read, ask some native speakers for recommendations. Just make sure that it's the kind of book that you would be likely to read and enjoy in your own language, and make sure that the language level is right for you. If it's too hard, it'll feel like a chore and you won't want to pick the book up. If it's too easy, you might enjoy it, but you won't learn very much.
5. Build Your Vocabulary
There are so many ways in which you can do this, such as using an app to test yourself or creating your own lists of new words. One of my students carries a set of flash cards around with her because she says she spends long enough staring at her computer and her phone. I have a spreadsheet with new words, example sentences translations and a filter for whether I've learned them.
As with choosing the right time of day, I believe you have to find what works for you in terms of learning new words. Try out a few systems and decide which one works best for you. Then incorporate that into your day. For a deeper examination of the best methods for learning new vocabulary, check out Kerstin's book The Vocab Cookbook.
Planning is Key. Don't just hope that you'll find time some time in the evening. The one thing that applies to everyone is that the best way to keep words in your long-term memory is to use them, so try and create opportunities to do that as well.
6. You Could Even Have a Lesson!
The idea is not as crazy as it may sound. A number of my customers use their lunch break for an English lesson when they are working from home. Sometimes, I used to meet my Turkish teacher in a nearby café for a lesson at lunch time. We did conversation practice whilst we were eating, then ordered coffee and saved any reading or writing activities for later in the lesson. It helped me pick up Turkish quicker and more easily.
Take Action In Your Lunchbreak
These are just a few ideas about how you can improve your language skills on your way to work or during your lunch break. I'm sure you can think of more.
If you try to do them all at once, it will soon feel overwhelming and you'll probably want to give up! I don't mean that you should use every break for these activities – you no doubt have plenty of other things that you need to do.