9 Time-Finding Hacks for Language Learning

Posted in: Expat Hacks, Language Learning

time language learningAre you learning a foreign language?

One of the most frustrating things about language learning is finding the time for it.

Learning a new language can seem overwhelming, especially if you are only exposed to it when you leave your house to pick up your groceries.

But when you start listening to it in the shower, in the car, when you exercise… it stays fresh in your mind and you will be more comfortable to start conversations with native speakers.

Remember: you don’t have to speak perfectly to start speaking. (Try speaking from day 1.)

If you’ve been having a hard time finding the time, this is the list for you!

My Top 9 “Time Finding” Hacks For Language Learning 

  1. language hack speakerLearn in the shower. I used to waste shower time just getting clean: how crazy was that!? Now I take a Spanish lesson every morning with a bluetooth waterproof speaker, my tablet and a Pimsleurs program with Audible. When I leave the program running while I coat myself in sunblock, get dressed and do my makeup, I cram in a 30 minute Spanish lesson. It’s wonderful, the Spanish goes in while my mind is fresh.
  2. Learn in the car. Make use of car time by listening to language learning programs. Everyone loves to listen to their favorite music while driving, but as an expat you need to cram in whatever time you can to learn. Trust me, when you start communicating more freely, you’ll be happy you didn’t just lazily listen to music all the time! 🙂
  3. Learn while doing chores. Do you ever wash dishes, vacuum the floor or iron cloths? Use that time! Listen to language programs on your iPhone, watch movies in the language you are trying to learn, listen to the local radio station…
  4. Learn while shopping. Use strangers (friendly strangers who have some time on their hands) to teach you the language. I do this all the time! When I’m buying at the market I point to something and ask (in Spanish) “how do you say that?” People are more than happy to help by providing the word I need to learn. I repeat it, if I say it wrong they help me until I say it right.
  5. Learn in the bathroom. This is not a big topic of conversation, but who does not read on the can (the loo, the head, the john, the toilet) once in awhile? Make use of that time. Keep some simple language books nearby. Kids learning books and readers are a good choice, they have pictures (which help with learning comprehension) and easy words. You can usually find them at bookstores, school supply stores and paper supply stores.
  6. Learn as you exercise. Do you run, jog, walk or bike? Take advantage of that time to listen to language learning programs.
  7. Learn as you socialize. Talk to whoever you can about (or in) the language you are learning. If you are at a lunch with expats, talk about what you’ve been learning. Chances are your friends will want to share what they have been learning as well. Talk to native speakers, taxi drivers, people behind you at the market, the person waiting on you at a restaurant, the girl next in line at the dentist office… just say what you know, ask simple questions, little by little you will advance.
  8. Learn on public transportation. Don’t let that time on the bus slip by. Listen to your program. Granted you may not feel like repeating out loud what you are learning, but you can repeat it silently to yourself.
  9. Learn as you fall asleep. Do you like to read as you fall asleep? Keep some of the same type of readers or learning books as mentioned in #5 near your bed. You will learn some simple sentence structure and common vocabulary.

Pay Attention As You Listen

If you really want to learn you need to pay attention as you listen. Just having something on in the background is not going to do much in the way of usable language. So focus.

Choose programs that allow time for you to respond or repeat what has been said before moving on. When you watch movies, have subtitles on in English. When you hear a phrase you want to be able to say, pause the movie, back it up and repeat it a few times.

Focused listening while doing other things will help you learn the language, but should not take the place of  study. Even if you just get up 20 minutes earlier each day to do some study, it will help and you will see improvement.

time hack language

Have you picked up or invented some of your own time finding hacks for language learning? Please share them in the comments.

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Meet the Author

Since moving to Ecuador in 2009, Dena and Bryan have made their living as bloggers. Dena is a partner at Storyteller Media, a content marketing company for Canadian travel brands. She is a contributor to Bryan Haines and is co-founder of Click Like This - a photo tutorial blog.

10 comments… add one
  • Bob Weisenberg Dec 16, 2014, 8:02 am

    This is great advice. My wife and I are living northern Italy now, and I was a little frustrated with my progress until I suddenly decided to try and talk to myself all the time in Italian, including trying to think in Italian. This has been a huge break through, because instead always having to switch from speaking and thinking mostly English to suddenly speaking Italian, I’m already there all the time. Honestly, it’s like being in an Italian class all day long. My progress has suddenly skyrocketed.

    Of course, this is far too frustrating until you are already at an intermediate level in reading the language. But once there, try just living in the language all the time and watch your progress take off!

    Thank you both for your wonderful website. Hope to meet you when we’re in Cuenca for three months April 1 to June 30.

    Bob Weisenberg

    • Bryan Haines Dec 16, 2014, 9:51 am

      Glad to hear it Bob!

      Hope you enjoy Cuenca! It’s a beautiful city.

  • Jon Bowes Oct 28, 2014, 10:12 am

    Learn as you socialize.

    This is pretty much the best thing that I have found. Reading books, studying dictionaries etc. etc. It’s all good, but nothing will cement a new language and make it practical like talking to some random locals and letting them show you the town. The other tips are really good, though many of us travelers don’t have the room for a bluetooth portable speaker, or a car haha.

    • Bryan Haines Oct 29, 2014, 8:07 am

      Agreed – it is pretty important to combine study with socialization. The unscripted interaction forces learning and retention.

      Obviously, the bigger tools are optional – not so easy to fit into a backpack… 🙂

  • Mcooks Oct 19, 2014, 1:47 pm

    Excellent tips! I use almost all of these, and after being immersed for a little over 2 years, the natives say that we speak really well (considering how short a time we’ve spent learning). We know that part of this is simple kindness, but we appreciate the encouragement and help from each of our local friends and even strangers. 🙂

  • Jeff Oct 19, 2014, 10:19 am

    I actually have two very good hacks, but comments regarding said hacks were hacked from a recent article Bryan posted on leaning Spanish. Perhaps they weren’t appropriate because they weren’t books, but let me know if you want me to re-post. Actually, either or both could be mini-articles, in and of themselves. Just in short, one is a way to effectively use Google Translate as a learning tool (it *is* possible!). The other one is using music to learn Spanish, but not just by listening to it. I’d be happy to present a short article on either if you’re interested, or try to condense them both into a beefy post here.

    Cheers!

    • Bryan Haines Oct 20, 2014, 7:33 pm

      Hi Jeff – please feel free to share your approach in the comments. I see one comment here about using Google Translate as a learning tool.

      Thanks!

  • Natalie Oct 19, 2014, 7:33 am

    Hi All; I actually followed my mothers lead last year when I moved to Quito Ecuador to care for her. I experienced an extremely difficult and challenging transition period, due to culture shock and the language barrier. After recently visiting my hometown in the states, and experiencing reverse culture and sticker shock…I have returned to Quito, where my mother and I are always warmly welcomed back by our local friends and people of Ecuador. Whether or not I can speak the language, the challenging transition period with all its trial and tribulations are part of my new adventurous life here in Quito, Ecuador. After recently visiting my hometown in the states, to reverse culture and sticker shock…I returned to Quito, where my mother and I are truly blessed. I understand spanish, but I am learning to speak the language little by little…with the assistance of my friendly neighborhood locals, and I picked up the book SPANISH FOR DUMMIES while I was in the states.

  • maria Oct 18, 2014, 8:35 pm

    our student run blog might help! We as a class write weekly about whats going on in the world. Its all in spanish and reading it will be good practice! please visit us at laschicasdelmundo.wordpress.com

  • Maria Mincey Oct 15, 2014, 6:55 am

    Very interesting perspective! I’d love to read this.

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