My routine: the when and how of language learning

Personally, my favorite interviews, blogs, and articles are when language learners divulge exactly how they learn best. Print or online? Asimil or Rosetta Stone? Free or expensive? It fascinates me to know their routines. So when I was asked about mine, I knew I had to share. […]
​I received an email asking about my learning routine. After thinking about it, I decided that it all depends on what phase of learning I am in. It’s hard to add up to a total.
My learning style has three phases:

  1. Structured Course
  2. Little tasks
  3. Immersion

PHASE 1: Structured Course

I like to start off with a structured course. For Spanish I used Duolingo, for Italian I used some Practice Makes Perfect books, and for Chinese I’m working with the Chinese Link textbook series. This way I can get the basics of a language down pat and not have to rely on my own devices. It’s also the only time I will pay for any materials. Luckily I am borrowing the Chinese Link book from my school’s Chinese teacher, but I would have bought something if that wasn’t the case.

For these, I make really specific goals—for example, I’m in this phase for Chinese right now, and I want to finish the first four chapters of the book by the end of first semester. It’s important to start off with a rigid plan, or else you will lose motivation very quickly.

So, I try to do this every day. That way, I will reach my goals quickly and be able to move on to the fun parts of learning. Typically I will spend 30 minutes each night right before going to bed working on Chinese Link.

This is by far my least favorite part of learning a language, but it’s worth it to have a solid foundation.

PHASE 2: Little Tasks

Between the “I need the basics” and “I’m pretty much fluent” phases, you need to get practice with the language. So instead of boring myself to death with the second book in my textbook series, I do lots of little things. Right now for Italian, this may include…


All of these things take 15-25 minutes to do, and I try to do something every day. Sometimes I can fit them in at school—if I finish a test early or have extra time in study hall, for example. But normally I do them at night after I’ve finished all my homework.

PHASE 3: Immersion

Oh, man. This is really why I learn languages, to be honest. I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily learning because of cultures, or countries, or a global mindset. The biggest reward for me is that I can live life two separate ways.

My Spanish is here now—when the Pope came to America, I didn’t have to seek out English-dubbed versions of his speeches. Just a couple hours ago I ordered pizza from Papa John’s in Spanish…just because I can. My phone is set to Spanish.

The bottom line of this phase is, if you would do it in your native language, do it in your target language.

It’s obviously hard to say how much time I spend on this each day. But if you think about it, every time I’m on my phone, listening to Spanish music/podcasts, etc., I am getting language practice in. That’s a lot!

So as you can see, I spend a considerable amount of time each day in other languages, but only a small chunk of that can be put on a schedule, and an even smaller chunk is done out of a traditional textbook. The hows and whens of my routine may change all the time, but as long as my “why” stays the same, I can learn anything! 🙂

Sydney Sauer • October 28, 2015

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