4 Ways To Learn A Language Even When You're Extremely Busy

4 Ways To Learn A Language Even When You’re Extremely Busy

learn a language when you're busyOne of the biggest challenges that most language learners face is simply trying to find time to practice on a regular basis.

You probably know just how important it is to build a habit of studying regularly. But actually putting that into practice is harder than it seems.

Between work or college, family and friends, and all those things you just need to get done, there just never seem to be enough hours in the day to learn a language.

And unfortunately, when you’re very busy language learning can easily become one of the first things to get booted from your packed schedule.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to overcome these challenges and find opportunities to add some extra language learning into your day.

The whole point of this article is not to help you magically clear your schedule so you can study languages all day. (If only!)

Instead, I’m going to show you how to make use of whatever time you have throughout the day to keep taking small steps forward in your learning.

The main reason that this matters so much is that learning a language is always more effective when you practice on a consistent basis.

Regular study allows the brain to get the repetition it needs to remember the new vocabulary you’re learning and make grammatical connections.

Studying for 2 hours once a week is not the same as studying for 20 minutes six days a week.

Both add up to 2 hours of study time in total, but if you spread your learning out over the course of the week you’ll be repeating the material more regularly and this will make it much easier to remember.

If you practice a language for large chunks of time on a less frequent basis, you’re not learning in a very efficient way.

You’ll have forgotten much of what you learned in your previous sessions and you’ll have to spend extra time reviewing that material before you move on to new things.

It also makes it more difficult for you to start thinking in your target language because you’re not making it part of your daily life.

Even just 5 or 10 minutes practice daily can make a surprising difference over the course of a month or two.

Where To Find The Time?

Since you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you probably already have a pretty hectic schedule. So when are you going to fit in time to learn a new language?

There are few different times that I find perfect to ensure I get some language learning done every day:

  • first thing in the morning
  • during my lunch break
  • during occasional short 5-10 minute breaks from work during the day

But in truth, it doesn’t really matter when you fit in your language practice. If you’re busy, get creative about it and look for any time at all that you can squeeze a few minutes of learning into your day.

There are plenty of activities that you can complete on the go or in a short amount of time, which allow you to keep making progress even if you can’t sit down for an hour of focused study.

1. Listen Constantlylisten constantly

No matter what language you’re learning you need to spend lots and lots of time listening.

It’s through exposure to the language that you’ll start to get used to how it sounds and how words are pronounced.

The great thing about listening is that you can listen anywhere, anytime you have a few free minutes:

  • In the car
  • On the train
  • While talking to work
  • While preparing your coffee/tea
  • During your lunch break

All you need is a smartphone, a pair of earphones and some listening material. So no matter how busy your day gets, you can probably still find a few minutes to do some listening.

I probably take this one to the extreme. My girlfriend often jokes that she can’t get a word in because I always seem to have ‘those damn earphones in!’

But the reason for that is that it allows me to make use of what would otherwise be ‘dead time’ in my day. For example, when doing things at home like washing the dishes or preparing dinner I can listen to the language I’m learning at the same time.

This allows me to spend a lot more time with my target languages every day than I would otherwise be able to.

What Should I Listen To?

Your listening material can come from anywhere and will likely vary depending on your current level. As a beginner, you’ll need more basic, focused material whereas at an advanced level you can listen to almost anything.

For beginners, I recommend VocaBooster, a resource is designed to help you master the 500-600 most important words in the language you’re learning. All the words are presented in the context of sentences and come with audio so you can learn to use them in a natural way.

As a beginner, the VocaBooster audio that is ideal for starting to get the hang of the basic vocabulary and structures of the language.

Once you’ve reached an upper beginner or intermediate level, you’ll have a lot more options for listening material.

At this stage, it can be tempting to try and dive into native level podcasts and audiobooks. But at this level, you’ll still struggle to get the most out of those kinds of materials. Instead, I recommend Glossika.

The Glossika Fluency programmes contain audio recordings of 1000 sentences spoken at real speed by native speakers and are easily the best listening materials I’ve found to this point.

No matter what materials you choose to use, just get started. The more you expose yourself to the sound of the language, the more you’ll be able to understand what you hear.

And it’s when you can understand most of what you’re hearing that you really get to enjoy the language!

2. Learn New Words On The Goanki flashcards

When you have a busy schedule, it’s all about finding the little ways you can get a few minutes of language practice into your day.

I’ve always found flashcards to be one of the most effective ways of doing this. With smartphone apps like Anki, you can design your own language flashcards and carry them with you anywhere you go.

Got 30 seconds while waiting in line at a coffee shop? You can learn or review a couple of words.

Waiting for a bus? A great opportunity to use your flashcards.

Flashcards are great because there’s no minimum amount of time you need to spend with them. You can get value out of them even if you only have a minute or two free.

And because you can keep them on your phone (which most of us carry everywhere nowadays!), you can literally take advantage of any waiting times you have in your day to practice some vocabulary.

Flashcards are also a great tool for using on your coffee break or when you need a quick rest from another task. Why not get up from your desk and take 2 or 3 minutes to have a stretch and review some vocabulary?

3. Read Short Articles During Your Coffee Break

Not all of your practice has to be intensive. Listening and reviewing vocabulary is great, but if you’re anything like me, they’ll tire you out after a while.

Reading, on the other hand, can be a more leisurely way to get some language practice into your day.

Short articles from newspapers and blogs are one great way to fit reading into your busy schedule. They’re easy to find and won’t take up much of your time. But you’ll get to review old vocabulary and see lots of new words in context.

If you’re interested in current affairs and sport, Euronews is ideal as it is translated in 14 different languages.If you’d prefer to read about other topics, just google ‘newspapers in [country]’ or ‘blogs in [language]’ and you’re sure to find plenty of options.

However, if you’d prefer to read about other topics, just google ‘newspapers in [country]’ or ‘blogs in [language]’ and you’re sure to find plenty of options.

One trick that works quite well is to go to the google home page of the language you’re learning (i.e. www.google.es for Spanish, www.google.fr for French, etc.) and search for terms in your target language.

google foreign language search

Searching in your target language on the local google page is a great way to find interesting content to read.


As with the other ideas on this list, you can take your reading on the go by finding articles and reading them on your phone.

For reading practice, I tend to use LingQ.lingq

LingQ is an invaluable resource that will save you a lot of valuable time!You can import any article into the system, then read it and look up words you don’t know with a single click. This means I can read and enjoy and even if I don’t have much time and I don’t have to lug a heavy dictionary around with me!

You can import any article into the system, then read it and look up words you don’t know with a single click. This means I can read and enjoy articles and even if I don’t have much time and I don’t have to lug a heavy dictionary around with me!

There’s even a mobile app so you can read on your phone or tablet while out and about.

4. Have A Quick Conversationhave a conversation

One of my favourite ways to get a little bit of language practice into my day is to simply schedule a short conversation.

You’re probably thinking, “I’m reading this article because I’m busy and I don’t have enough time to learn a language. How am I supposed to make time for conversations?”

I hear you! That’s a very fair point!But actually, finding people to speak with isn’t as hard as you might think and conversations don’t have to take up hours of your day.

But actually, finding people to speak with isn’t as hard as you might think and conversations don’t have to take up hours of your day.

One thing I like to do is schedule short conversations at lunch time once or twice a week. Just like you, I have plenty of work to be getting on with, so I restrict these sessions to 30 minutes.

Organising A Quick Conversation Online

If you’re busy and don’t want to waste any time, hiring a tutor via italki is a great solution. You can book a 30-minute session and get some speaking practice in during your lunch break.

30 minutes might not be enough for a full-on language ‘lesson’, but if you’re just looking to practice your conversation skills, it’s perfect. Look for a tutor that is just happy to chat with you and correct your errors.

Even in the middle of a busy day, spending 30 minutes speaking with someone during your lunch break is quite manageable.And if you just focus on conversation practice, it’s actually quite a relaxing and enjoyable break from your work too. In many ways,

And if you just focus on conversation practice, it’s actually quite a relaxing and enjoyable break from your work too.n many ways,

In many ways, it’s just like having lunch and chatting with your colleagues except that you’re chatting with someone else in your target language instead!

Finding People To Speak With In Your Cityquick conversation cafe

Another great way to get conversation practice before work or during your lunch break is to look for places nearby where people who speak your target language hang out.

In a recent episode of the Lingua Materna podcast, Conor from Language Tsar told me about how he used to visit a café in London every morning where he could practice his Portuguese:

Most people can actually do [this] if you live in big cities… If you live in the UK for example, you can probably practice almost every language under the sun somewhere in London every day in you really wanted to.

Actually, when I was learning Portuguese, I used to stop off in a Portuguese café on my way to work at a law firm [in Brussels]. They thought I was a bit strange at the beginning because I didn’t really speak much Portuguese!

But after a month they got used to me coming in every morning and getting better at Portuguese, because I would spend those 15 minutes every morning drinking coffee with these guys.

How Will You Squeeze Some Extra Language Practice Into Your Busy Day?

As you can see, no matter how busy you are there are plenty of ways to add a few minutes of language practice here and there throughout your day.

In many ways, it’s simply a case of making a mental shift and asking yourself ‘How can I fit in some practice today?’ instead of telling yourself you don’t have enough time.

Of course, you won’t be able to do all of these activities every day, but the whole point is to get creative, use whatever time you have and start to make the language you’re learning a part of your daily life.

Once you do that, fluency will follow in its own time.

What are you going to do to add a little extra language practice to your day? Which of these ideas have you used and which ones are you most excited to try out? Let me know in the comments below!

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James Granahan

I'm a language acquisition expert and mindset-oriented learner. I love to learn new skills and push myself out of my comfort zone. I'm passionate about online business, travel and languages. Access the FREE e-course '5 Steps to Revolutionize the Way You Learn English for Business': http://goo.gl/IFTkWl