What if I asked you to find 7 hours in the week to dedicate to something you want to do, whether it’s exercising or learning a new language or learning to play an instrument? What do you think you would say? Most people would probably respond with a “Yeah, right! I don’t even have 7 minutes in a week!”. We’re all so busy nowadays that it’s easy for us to say we don’t have time to do something. However, what if your boiler broke and you came home from work to find your basement completely flooded? I bet you would find the time to get it fixed. You would find those 7 hours needed to mop up the water, call the repair guy, call the professional cleaners to clean your carpet. That’s the point that Laura Vanderkam made in her TED talk “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time” – we find time to do things when they’re a priority. Vanderkam did an experiment asking various women to keep a log of all the things they did during their week. They had to write down every single thing they did and how long they spent doing it. What she found was we often say we don’t have enough time to do something when the reality is we just don’t want to do it. Think about something that you always say needs doing but you put off. It could be sorting through your wardrobe and throwing out old clothes or dusting your blinds or tidying the garden. It doesn’t matter what it is, most of the time the excuse for not doing those things is “I don’t have time”. Yet, if someone wanted to pay you €100, 000 to do those things, I’m guessing you would probably do them and do them quickly. It’s not that you found the extra hours needed to do them, but rather you found the motivation to make them a priority. So let’s translate this now into how you can make time for language learning.
1. Write next year’s performance review
Decide what goals you want to have reached by the end of the year. It doesn’t matter what your goals are, get them down on paper. Some examples could be:
- Read a book in English
- Join an English class and achieve a 95% attendance rate
- Have a conversation with a native speaker
You could even break this down into smaller monthly targets to motivate you in your language learning.
- Read an article in English at least 3 times a week
- Write a letter in English once a week
- Watch your favourite show in English
Once you know what your goals are, you can work on achieving them and make time for language learning.
2. Make it a priority
This means building it into your timetable. There are 168 hours in a week – that is a lot of time. A full-time job of 40 hours and 8 hours of sleep a night (56 hours a week) still leaves you with 72 hours a week For other things. Find the spare 15 or 20-minute slots that are scattered throughout the day and dedicate them to learning and practising. If you take the bus or train to work, download apps on your phone and use the time to practise. Instead of taking an hour to eat your lunch, do it in 45 minutes and spend 15 minutes learning your vocabulary. Make time for language learning wherever and whenever you can.
3. Keep a language-learning diary
Track your progress. Write down how much time you’ve spent practising your language. Write down new vocabulary. The more you write down, the more you see that you are learning and it will motivate you to keep going. You can also go one step further and create a log like Vanderkam suggests. That way, you’ll be able to see where and when you can make time for language learning.
4. Focus on what matters
This is important to language learning but it’s not something that many learners, or indeed teachers, know how to do. More often than not, this will involve throwing the textbook away. I’ve seen many learners stop learning because they don’t feel that what they are learning is relevant to them. Textbooks are great when it comes to attending and following a class. They give students structure and allow them to see their progress. However, as a student, you also need to take responsibility for your own language journey. There will be things that are relevant to you that won’t be relevant to the other members of your class. You need to find out what those things are and prioritise them.
5. Be consistent
With language learning, consistency is key. You have got to make it a priority and practice regularly if you want to see any results. Start today. Make the time for language learning and learn how to be a good language student.
Watch Laura Vanderkam’s TED Talk here: