In our New Year's message to our users, I sent around a challenge to commit to 5-15 minutes a day of language study. That's all. I have known so many people who have deferred language learning to an unspecified date in the future, only to never actually do it. The list of excuses can be long, but there are some common threads:
- I don't have enough time
- I just need to go to the country and live there
- I just need to get through this project at work first
If you find yourself making these excuses now, evaluate them. The second is, of course, not true so let's rule that one out. The biggest excuse is about time: having time now, and expecting to have time in the future. The long and short of it is you always have some time and you can never expect to have more time in the future.
Committing to a small amount of time every day is perhaps the most important thing you can do to achieve your language goals. Here's why:
Taking Time Makes Time
When you spend 5 minutes of concentrated time on learning something, your mind turns fully to that materials. Later in the day, you might be reminded of something you learn during those 5 minutes. Perhaps you spend that small bit of time learning before your morning commute. Without any additional effort, your mind will often naturally turn to that material during the commute. A 5-minute commitment then turns into 15-20 minutes of actual focus and practice. Commit to a minimum, but let that time extend naturally.
Time-based Approaches Work over Time
Instead of setting a goal based on the amount of material, setting a goal based on the amount of time to spend each time creates a manageable and repeatable process. Some days you might feel you learn nothing; other days you might feel you learn a lot. What matters is spending the time, not how much you get done. Looking back over a collection of days and weeks, however, you will see progress and that is incredibly motivating.
Some Useful tips
- Commit to a minimum you can manage, then allow yourself to spend more time. If you commit to 5 minutes, you'll feel good about yourself when you spend 10. If you commit to 15 and only spend 10, you'll feel bad. It's the same amount of time spent, but the feeling is totally different.
- Don't worry about learning. It sounds strange, but it's good to actually "let go" of learning. Don't worry about how much you're learning. Put your faith in the process and just make sure to put your time in.
- Use your time wisely. Take your time and use both high-value content and work to store the material in your mind. Use memory systems to ensure retention. If you're only going to spend a few minutes, make them count!
- Be ready to get back on the wagon. If your commitment is 20 minutes a day and you fall off the wagon and go a few days without training, have a "get back on the wagon" plan. Instead of staying locked-in to your commitment, allow yourself an easy means of getting back into the commitment. Get back on the wagon by spending 5 minutes reviewing the materials you were working on before you stopped, then restart your 20 minutes the next day.
- Use a timer. It's a simple, but important point. If you're constantly looking at your watch, you're not focused on the material you're learning. Just set a timer and go, fully concentrating on learning in those minutes.
Be honest with yourself in making a commitment. If you don't actually want to learn a language, be honest and admit it. If you do want to learn, then get started and be consistent. Good luck with 2015!