Language learning on a busy schedule

Being both a teacher and a learner, I know how tricky it can be to find enough time to work on improving your language skills. We all have busy schedules, with different tasks and obligations vying for our attention. And even when we don’t, there’s the laziness that often prevents us from getting any effective learning done. So, what can you do if – for whatever reason – you can’t prioritize your study time over other things, but would still like to make progress?

The trick is to find ways to incorporate target language content into your everyday life, in a seamless way that wouldn’t feel like a chore and that wouldn’t conflict with your schedule. If you feel you can’t possibly allocate any extra time for grammar study, in-depth reading or vocabulary practice, use the time you realistically do have to use the target language (i.e. the language you’re in the process of learning; in further text sometimes abbreviated as L2) instead of your native language (L1). Here are just some very simple adjustments to your daily routine that can make a lot of difference:


If you tend to be forgetful like me, you probably write such lists all the time. So from next time, write them in L2. You’d be surprised how much vocabulary you get to revise just by getting into the habit of writing down these everyday items in the language you’re learning: various food items, utensils, sundries… Plus weights and measurements. The sort of vocabulary that often gets overlooked in formal courses, but which comes up all the time in everyday situations. 

If you think of anything you don’t know how to say in L2, look up those new words and write them down. The beauty of this is that it’s very simple, you don’t even have to write full sentences, just jot down the key words.


Most of us spend a good part of the day sitting in front of the TV or listening to the radio, even if it’s just running in the background. Have you tried finding content in your target language? Thanks to the internet, it’s extremely easy to find TV programmes, series, newscasts, music streams etc. in almost every language imaginable. Whatever language you’re trying to learn, create conditions that ensure maximum exposure to it in your everyday life; online media serve that purpose perfectly.

Here’s an additional comment: if you’re at a lower level of learning, and you don’t understand much of what is being said, don’t get discouraged, and don’t give up. Listening will help you familiarize with the rhythm, intonation, speech patterns and phonetic features of the language you’re learning – aspects that are often overlooked in traditional language learning, but which are all extremely important. Initially, just focus on listening to the sounds of language rather than trying to understand every single word. As you continue to make progress with your coursework (assuming you attend a language school or have a tutor / language coach), you will surely notice gradual improvement in the overall comprehension.


Another way to “trick” yourself into learning is through playing games on your smartphone. Let me share a personal example: at the time when I was struggling with my Czech homework, hardly doing any self-study apart from the weekly lessons (due to sheer laziness to do anything!) I started using the Duolingo app on my smartphone. Lessons there come in the format of simple gap-fill and matching activities, including elementary listening and writing practice, all in a fun way that has never felt tedious to me. Using this free app, for no more than 15 or 20 minutes a day, really helped me remember new vocabulary and revise grammar rules we’d covered during the formal course with the tutor.

Duolingo courses are available for a number of languages, but depending on your target language, check out what other apps might be available. They don’t have to be specifically designed for learners, either: my personal favourite are crosswords and other word games, but the selection of those will depend on your actual interests and current level of learning.

Those were just some simple suggestions, but you can think of other ways to introduce more L2 into your everyday life, in ways that wouldn’t interfere with your regular activities. Start by analyzing what your daily routine looks like, and then see where and how you could substitute L2 for L1 as a form of unobtrusive language practice.

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