Quick Tips To Maximize Limited Language Learning Time

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
    Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot
    🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW
    🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW

    Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
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Quick Tips To Maximize Limited Language Learning Time

Are you one of these people who put off learning another language because you just don’t have enough time?

Or perhaps you are learning another language but find it difficult to make effective use of limited available time like I do.

Over the last week I’ve had to really think hard about how to make proper use of my scarce free time to keep up with my Arabic translation and Irish study.

As I’ve already outlined in one of my forum updates, my time at present is taken up by the following:

  • 30-40 hour normal, average work week
  • family and partner time
  • gym and Muay Thai
  • Arabic translation study
  • Irish language study
  • running this website
  • recreational time
Language Learning Time

My schedule isn’t anything too far out of the ordinary.

Most people have the same if not more to commit to in a normal week, especially if they have kids or a very demanding job.

I’m here in Australia for another 6-7 months before I fly off to another part of the world and immerse myself in another language so I have to make the most of the time I have while I’m here.

[UPDATE: Since writing this, I’ve lived in South Korea, Russia, Georgia, Egypt, Qatar and now the United States. Phew!]

Quick pieces of advice to learn big in little time

Okay, so here are some very effective things which I do regularly that will help you learn lots of new language in the little time that you have:

  • First of all, know that you actually retain more new information by having shorter study periods than long ones. Doing a quick 10 minute study session of a few new expressions or vocabulary before you head off to work is in many ways better than spending an hour in the books. You remember more by studying less!
  • Print out a few lines of new conversation and take it to work with you. I do this occasionally and while I’m at work I’ll periodically have a glance at it even if I’m busy.
  • If, like me, you have a job where you’re left alone for a while and can think and speak to yourself while working, bust out some foreign language and chat to yourself. Coworkers might think you’ve lost it when they see you talking to yourself but who cares right?
  • Put some audio on your iPod and listen to it in the car on your way to work or at the gym. Remember the advice I gave you about using VirtualDub and AoA to extract the audio from your favorite movie scene and put it on your iPod? This is better for your listening comprehension skills than music is. Music helps but it’s not natural, conversational language – you need to be getting a lot of exposure to normal, native-speaker dialogue.
  • If you have an iPhone, use a free SRS flashcard program to quickly flick through a couple of new words while you’re standing around waiting for something. The one I use is called FlashCardlet and it’s free in the app store. You might be waiting to see a doctor or sitting on the toilet – might as well learn a word or two while you’re waiting.
  • If you’re at a higher level in another language like I am with Arabic and you have a few minutes to spare in the morning while drinking your caffeine kick-start, read the news. Use a news aggregator or an RSS feed reader with all your favorite foreign news feeds in one place, have a dictionary handy or Google Translate open in another tab for terms you’re not sure of and catch up on what’s happening in the world around you.
  • If you have a native speaker friend but don’t have enough time or are unable to go visit them, see if you can make one or several times every week for a phone or Skype call. I’ve actually just done this myself – I’ve organized Skype sessions with an Egyptian friend once a week to use my Arabic. One conversation a week is better than nothing and it gives you a weekly goal to study for.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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Excellent advice. This is an excellent blog that I will start following.




Just took a quick look at your blog and noticed you’re studying through UNE. I actually did Applied Linguistics there as well.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
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