3 time-friendly methods to fit language learning into your daily life

3 time-friendly methods to fit language learning into your daily life

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Babel is the official language partner of Utrecht University, offering individual and group Dutch courses, from introductory to advanced levels.

When we talk about making time for language learning, our first instinct is often to seek out clever tricks for sneaking more learning opportunities into already overfull days. But if you already feel overworked, even such hacks might still feel like yet another thing to do on top of a very large pile of other commitments.

I want to suggest that our first step should instead be to make mental space for language learning. Making the time for language learning then becomes possible when you get to know how your own brain works and are more able to choose learning methodologies and “clever tricks” that are likely to be efficient for you. The goal is to choose methods that are both brain- and time friendly. 

Creating mental space

I’ve written before about the importance of understanding your personal motivations for learning a language, which, combined with concrete goals, help keep you motivated on your language-learning journey.

But it’s also important to consider more fundamental questions about what makes your brain tick and how you interact with new learning opportunities. Think back to a past language learning experience, whether it be a long-ago school grammar lesson or a more recent attempt to learn a language.

Did the structure of learning verb conjugation tables make you want to run out of the classroom, or did they appeal to you in their orderly rows and columns? Did you enjoy trying out new words and phrases in short conversations, or did that experience produce feelings of self-consciousness or fear of failure?

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Understanding our neurological needs and preferences can help us choose suitable learning methods, but it can also help us to be more attentive, patient and forgiving of ourselves as we explore different ways of engaging with a new language.

Be wary of learning strategies advocating a “right” or “best” way of learning. While researchers have identified several important conditions for brain-friendly learning, it’s up to you to try the different methods tied to those findings and see what works best for you, also bearing in mind that your needs are always changing.

Past success with a method doesn’t always indicate future suitability. The way I think about it, creating mental space for language learning means being open and willing to explore different approaches to meeting your needs at a specific place and time.

This all said, it seems clear that our brains work, change, and develop in amazingly diverse ways based on our exposures and experiences. With that diversity in mind, here are three brain- and time-friendly methods for fitting language learning into your daily life, and why they seem to work.

Creating time

Here are three brain- and time-friendly methods to fit language learning into your daily life:

1. Talk to yourself

Yes, really! Not only is practising short conversations and exchanges in your head a great way to grab a few moments throughout your day for language learning, but it also helps prepare your brain to learn and retain more information when you later have similar conversations with other people.

Brains learn best in situations perceived as safe, and fear and anxiety strongly inhibit the learning process. So, especially if you experience anxiety when practising your new language skills in the real world, pre-practising scripts in your head (or even better, out loud!) can develop your self-confidence and increase your ability to learn and grow when you do try out your conversational skills in public.

2. Take an online course

Online courses provide flexible language learning but can also support some important neurological needs in unique ways. A well-designed online course pulls together a variety of formats ⁠— audio clips, images, videos, or interactive exercises ⁠— to catch and maintain your interest.

There is a lower risk of disengagement due to boredom compared with the traditional classroom, and you’re also able to immediately go back and review concepts you’re struggling with.

This is a key point: a well-designed online course encourages you to immediately take the time to consider the new material and to make it your own, whether by reformulating the information in different ways or by making connections with things you already know. This process is essential for deep and lasting learning.

Allowing space for our brains to process information in their own way and at their own speed makes online courses a time- and brain-friendly way to learn a language.

3. Keep a journal

About a year ago, I started setting aside five minutes every evening to write and reflect in Dutch. In a reasonably short time, the process helped me to develop a richer vocabulary about topics that matter to me, which in turn has helped me feel more comfortable developing friendships in Dutch. What’s more, research has shown that being able to reflect on yourself and your thoughts can help process memory, regulate emotions, and organise new information: all key steps in successful learning.

Language learning is made up of moments

In the end, language learning doesn’t have to mean sitting down at a desk with a textbook for three hours to memorise irregular verbs. Language learning is made up of moments, not hours. Making time means choosing short activities grounded in solid research that are likely to result in a high personal return on investment.

These three ideas are only the beginning and I encourage you to seek out additional methods that fit your lifestyle and needs.

Are you ready to take on the challenge of learning a new language? Check out which language courses Babel has to offer!



Kiera Reifschneider

Kiera Reifschneider helps academic and business professionals communicate their work in clear and effective ways. She grew up in Seattle, Washington and studied in the U.S. and Canada. She has...

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