As we mentioned in a previous blog post about creating a learning routine, the most important part of any such schedule would be that it works for you. There is very little point in trying to fit 5 hours of language practice into your day if you already struggle to find time. The key to making progress in your learning is creating a habit and working on improving your skills continuously, how little or much you can manage. So, if you can’t pull off several hours a day, don’t worry about it. Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
That being said, there are some strategies that you can keep in mind when putting together your learning routine. These have been proven to help keep your brain focused on acquiring your target language and you’ll see more progress if you put them to good use.
Start and end your day with language practice
Bookending your day with language practice is a great of maximising results.
Waking up in the morning, your brain is less cluttered with everything that got pressed into it during the day, which makes this a very good time for getting in some language practice. Of course, this also really depends on your personality type; there are those for whom giving up some precious morning snooze-time would be tantamount to a living Hell. If that’s the case, trying to force yourself into a morning practice session might just release a wave of irrational hatred towards your target language and that won’t help anyone.
You should also try to give evening language practice a go. Working with your target language just before bed lets you “sit” on it overnight and hopefully you’ll be able to process some information better. Just remember to keep the evening practice more to revision so you don’t overburden your brain, which can lead to some unpleasant sleep issues.
Focus on what’s important
When you’ve finally settled on times that work for your learning routine, it’s also important to keep your priorities in mind. The learning routine will be different from person to person and really depends on your learning goals. If your aim is to improve your speaking skills, you should put more emphasis on that in your routine than translating poetry, for example.
However, you should also keep in mind that the four language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking are all inter-related and while you might want to focus more on improving one or two of them, you can’t eliminate the others. What you can do, though, is freely jumble the skills around and choose what’s important to you.
Take time for revision and spaced repetition
Revision and repetition is the easiest way to see great results in your learning routine. Instead of focussing on something new in each of your study sessions, you should always make time for revision. This helps to create stronger neural pathways to past knowledge and “settles” it into your brain.
This is essentially the strategy behind many of the language learning apps you might have heard about as well. Most of them rely on some form of spaced repetition. The idea behind that is to go back to material that you haven’t grasped more often and gloss over the stuff you know, so you can give more attention to the areas that you still need work on.
Many of the apps and modern software have made headway gamifying the concept but you can create your own spaced repetition schedule by putting revision first and focussing more on areas of learning that give you trouble.
Make use of the 80/20 rules
The thing about language is that it’s mostly a complex tool for communication and that’s really what you should be keeping in mind. If you’re very much interested in the minute details of syntax and morphology, by all means, dive right into those issues. However, most language learners should keep in mind the first 80/20 rule.That means that you should be using 80% of your time looking at the big picture – practising speaking, reading, writing, or listening in accordance to your proficiency level, and only 20% fussing over the details of grammar and looking up every word.
The other 80/20 rule is the Pareto principle which, in essence, means that 80% of results are produced by 20% of causes. Putting that in practice in language learning means that you should focus on activities that really help you acquire language. These depend on your own goal for learning your target language but it’s certain that, for example, going out and trying to start a conversation with someone will benefit you a whole lot more than sitting by your desk and learning every single grammar rule before you open your mouth (bringing us back to the first 80/20 rule).
Conclusion – Focus on how you can effectively achieve your personal goals
The most important part of your learning routine is that you’re able to stick to it. Everything else is flexible and should be based on your personal goals. One of the easiest ways to see improvement and retain what you’ve learned is to often go over material that you’ve already learned and put more effort into learning what gives you trouble. However, you should also keep in mind the big picture and use strategies that will really help you acquire your target language, so remember both of the 80/20 principles.