In hectic times like ours, a lot of people struggle to find time for activities that make them happy, such as language-learning. I offer professional consulting for language learners and basically everyone who comes to me for advice knows that they could have made a lot more progress if they just had more free time.
It is a fallacy that we "have" free time. Ever since social networks discovered the "endless scroll" technology (where you no longer have to click through to another page of results but it keeps loading more results as soon as you approach the bottom, and the same happens when reading a blog article or watching a video), there are no natural stopping points anymore to our consumption habit. It is very easy to start browsing social media when we suffer momentary discomfort, even if it's just boredom, but stopping after we've started requires immense willpower. This means that most people don't have any noticeable "free time" anymore, because they get on social media before they notice that there is free time.
Hence my first point of advice for those who want to recover time for language-learning: make deals or appointments for your learning.
For example, in my case, I set the following daily goals:
- at least 30 minutes on language study before noon, usually in the form of Anki while enjoying my daily dose of caffeine
- at least 30 minutes between noon and 6pm, usually in the form of some textbook study, or listening to foreign language podcasts / radio while doing household chores
- at least one hour in the evening, usually in the form of reading a book or watching a movie or TV series
This means that when I am unsure what to do, I don't immediately go on social media but spend time on these goals first. Of course sometimes ingrained habits or discomfort is too strong and I do find myself on social media without having made a conscious choice to go there, and then a second trick kicks in: I follow a lot of target-language accounts, so it is very likely that my feed will contain a link to an article or a video in my target language, which can then be the kick-off point to happily going down ever more rabbit holes while practicing my language.
For people whose time is not their own, for example parents of young kids or those whose daily life leaves little besides working and commuting to work, there are other tricks to clawing back some time for ourselves and our passion for languages.
Tip: re-define what "language-learning time" may look like. It doesn't have to be sitting down with a textbook or with a list of vocabulary.
Language-learning time could be answering an email from a colleague who happens to speak the language you're studying. At my old job, I even organised "language lunches" - French on Mondays, Spanish on Tuesdays, Italian on Wednesdays, and so on - where expats could relax chatting in their native language over lunch, while learners could join for exposure to the language.
Language-learning time could be meeting a friend for coffee. If you want to go for a coffee but don't have a convenient target-language friend yet, try the Amikumu app to detect nearby native speakers of your target language. This also works to while away waiting time at airports and similar.
Language-learning time could be listening to a Michel Thomas course or a podcast in your target language while commuting or while doing housework. Whenever I do this, it makes me feel like superwoman, because I can accomplish two hours' work in one hour.
Language-learning time could be watching that telenovela you're addicted to.
Language-learning time could be curling up with a good book.
Language-learning time should feel good!
Language-learning time could be joining a target-language sports club, cooking club or book club. Find the immigrants and expats in your city and there are sure to be some who have the same interests as you.
Language-learning time doesn't have to involve anything that you aren't already doing - just start doing it in your target language.
Final tip: Challenges can help you find the time that currently goes unnoticed in your schedule. Some of us - and I'm definitely among them - are motivated by seeing highscores and trying to get a little bit further up in the ranking, even if there are no prizes. So when the person above me has logged just 5 minutes more than me, you can bet that I will find another 5 minutes' downtime somewhere today.
When I first participated in such challenges, it allowed me to see just how many opportunities there are to fit a bit of language practice into my average day. So I heartily recommend free language challenges as a way to find new study habits, some of which may stick with you after the challenge is over. Another edition of the 6 Week Challenge and the Tadoku Challenge just started - it's not too late to join. For an overview of language challenges, see this earlier article of mine.
Good luck with your studies!