But you have a family, a job, duties, other hobbies… how can you possibly fit languages into that? It sounds impossible… except it isn’t.
The clock isn’t your enemy…
Time administration is one of the administrative skills you will never regret learning.
Most of the time we go around living life by schedules dictated by other people. School from eight to two, with a break in the middle. Work from nine to five. A two hour flight preceded by another two or three hours checking in. A half hour bus. All these proceedings make fitting a language learning routine in the middle seem like a Herculean task.
But what if I told you, you CAN administer your time so that any language you want to learn fits in your busy day?
Painted with a very broad brush, time administration applied to language learning is essentially learning to cut out appropriate periods of time for every task of your day and then putting them in a productive order. This doesn’t mean you need to stop doing the things you do in your free time in order to fit a language—it means you need to learn how to assign time slots to that language and fit them where they work for you. Further along the article, we’ll talk a bit about the tools you can use to measure and adjust these tools in a way that fits you individually.
…but procrastination is.
I want to approach procrastination before we go on to the meat and potatoes of this article, because I want you to treat procrastination like Rocky Balboa would any rival on the ring. If you don’t train yourself to beat it, you’re likely not to.
I say one requires training to beat procrastination because refocusing one’s mental energies on work or studies (rather than Facebook or a game) isn’t easy. Your mind is wired to be attracted to what requires the bare minimum of it, and if
you’ve accustomed it to a routine of idle web surfing, breaking out of the cycle will be hard. I’m not saying either that you should stop surfing the web—this is a fun activity, but it has its time (which probably isn’t the few minutes when your brain is active and receptive to a short language session).
If you know yourself to have a strong grasp on yourself, then accounting for Facebook and other distractions as a “slot” in your day (that is, assigning a few minutes to it in between tasks) is possible, but in all honesty I’ve yet to meet the human being that is capable of that. If you’re ready to go cold turkey in order to train your brain to stay off the distractions until it’s distraction time, then try Self Control (for Mac) or Self Vault (for Windows).
How to manage your time slots?
Now, there’s an infinity of time management techniques (way more than those reviewed on this Wiki article, but they are a good start) you can apply to integrate learning a language into your life without leaving anything important by the wayside.
Any good management technique, however, starts by identifying two things:
1. Your goals.
2. The priority of said goals.
Therefore, always start by identifying what you want to do about your language. For starters, do you want to talk? Read? Sing? All of the above? Once you’ve decided on a goal, you can go on to decide the activities that will lead you to your goal, and the time you want to spend daily on them.
Once you’ve decided all these, you need to decide your priorities. If your fridge is empty or that report is due tomorrow, you’re obviously not going to prioritize checking your vocabulary, so assigning short slots through the day is better. However, looking out the window on the bus home barely registers as a goal, so you’d do well prioritizing a language related activity over that.
Time pockets are your allies
On that note, and as you’re familiarizing yourself with time management, learning what qualifies as a time pocket is very useful.
Time pockets are all those downtimes during which you’re doing nothing and have no tasks at hand. These are hard to think of as “slots” because they vary in duration, but think of them in terms of your daily commute (if you don’t drive), your lunch break, time spent waiting for anyone to show up for lunch, and so on.
So how DO I administer my time?
If you’re the type to imagine things visually, think of your day as a pie chart, and slice this pie chart in three large pieces: sleeping time, working time and off time. Sleeping time is evidently not a period of time when you can do anything, so it goes unsaid that you cannot assign slots to any tasks during that time.
Working time and off time are where you can start figuring out when you can assign slots to language learning tasks. Keep in mind the part of day where you’re more active, though; if you’re the kind of person whose energy tapers off towards noon, then you may want to push short language learning slots toward the morning instead of long slots in the afternoon.
Your keyword: balance
The easiest part of learning productive time administration for language learning is actually learning how to “cut” your time slots. However, the hardest part is changing your mentality to one that values your time as a tool for language learning, since we’re used to giving our time to everyone but ourselves.
Languages will provide you with an incredible tool for learning and immersing yourself in other cultures; the only problem is that you need sustained effort to get anywhere with them. If you learn how to balance your everyday life with languages through proper time management, you’re sure to be on the path to a life of interesting experiences.
Siskia Lagomarsino is a language blogger, translator and tutor for English, Spanish and Japanese, currently living in Mexico City. You can read more by her at The Polyglotist, where you’ll find articles on how to make language learning easier, or visit her Facebook page.