If you don't currently have a daily language learning routine in place, then the idea of spending a chunk of your hard-earned free time to learn a language every day might seem intimidating to you. Even scary.
It makes sense, too. I mean, why spend your free time doing something so boring and mundane as a language course, or a tutoring session?
Those were the kinds of things you used to do in school. Not for personal enjoyment, but as hard work. Why do that to yourself deliberately, in your own private time?
It's a tough question, but it's something that you'll have to reckon with if you want to be a successful language learner. Language learning is hard work, in many ways, and you will need to exercise a certain amount of discipline to get anywhere near fluency. There are no true shortcuts, nor magic wands.
That's not to say it has to be all hard work, though. You don't need to constantly have your head buried in a book or your eyes glued to a smartphone app.
There is a way to get more done, with less, if you're smart about it. All you need to do is schedule a little fun along with your daily dose of language learning.
Let me show you how.
But first, let's talk about why we need to have fun in order to learn.
The Importance of Having Fun While Learning
Modern day education seems to have trained people to treat fun and learning as two different things. Fun is what you have when you're not learning, and vice versa.
If you've ever learned a skill through a leisure activity like a sport, or a video game, however, you know that fun and learning can go together in a variety of ways.
When you integrate fun into your learning, you often:
Generally speaking, all of these factors help adjust your mental state in a positive way, making you more open to the information or skill you're trying to absorb. In short, fun makes learning faster.
But is it possible to integrate fun and leisure activities into your language learning? Furthermore, is it possible to do it at the beginning stages, when you're more reliant on books and courses?
Absolutely. We just need to make a few key tweaks to your routine, first.
Make Fun a Key Part of Your Language Learning Schedule
Take a look at your schedule.
(If you don't have a written schedule, take a moment to quickly write one out).
Try to isolate the time that you can reasonably dedicate to language learning every day.
What do you have? Thirty minutes? An hour?
Regardless of the number of minutes, take that number and calculate 20% of it.
If you have 60 minutes of learning time, that's 12 minutes.
If you have 30 minutes of learning time, that's 6 minutes.
That number is now your "dedicated fun time". For every sixty minutes that you learn, twelve minutes of it at minimum must be devoted to doing something fun in your target language.
Why 20 percent of your time? No reason, really. It's just a simple rule of thumb, loosely based on the Pareto principle. You can theoretically divide it however you want.
Whatever you do, just don't spend more time on fun than you do on learning. That's counterproductive, and will stall your progress.
Always Have Something to Look Forward To
At this point, you may be wondering why it's important to schedule your language learning fun in this way.
The reason is quite simple: to maintain your motivation, you need to have something to look forward to. If you're sitting down for some hard study, it becomes much more pleasant if you know you'll be doing something enjoyable afterwards.
When you build fun directly into your schedule, you can focus better on the learning tasks in front of you. The enjoyable activity you have scheduled becomes a "light at the end of the tunnel", which motivates you to continue forward, without distraction.
On the opposite end of things, organizing your schedule in this way also keeps you from feeling guilty about spending your free time not actively learning. Since you'll ideally rotate regularly between periods of learning and periods of relaxation, you can give them both your undivided attention at the appropriate time.
Use Your “Fun Time” to Build and Replenish Motivation
In theory, you could use your non-learning time to do anything: take a walk, surf the Internet, play a video game.
But to get the most value out of this system, I recommend that you choose leisure activities that are specifically related to the language you are learning.
Why? Because even when you're not deliberately learning your target language, doing something fun that's related to your target language or culture will heighten your desire to keep learning.
Regularly reassociating your target language with something you enjoy doing will keep it from feeling like hard work, and give you something to look forward to as your skills improve.
What kinds of enjoyable activities am I suggesting?
Any leisure activity is a good one here, as long as it's related to your target language and/or culture, and it's something you can do in short bursts.
Whatever you do, don't worry so much about trying to do something appropriate for your current skill level. Of course, as your skills grow, you can certainly try to do these activities directly in your target language, but remember, that's not the priority here. The priority is to enjoy yourself, and associate that enjoyment with your language and culture of choice.
Time to Become a More Relaxed Language Learner
In a world where learning is often equated with burying yourself in books for hours at a time, it's easy to forget that too much work and too little play can often be a quick road to burnout, instead of mastery.
To keep ourselves alert, refreshed, and interested in the language we are trying to learn, we need to break up our learning schedules with small periods of fun and relaxation.
If you make an effort to keep those fun periods connected to the language and culture you are learning about, then you will be excited and motivated to do more learning, creating a feedback loop that ultimately helps drive you towards language learning success.
Try it out for yourself, and let me know how it went in the comments!
Written by Kevin Morehouse
Kevin Morehouse is a language coach and teacher who is on a journey to make the world a more multilingual place. A member of the LucaLampariello.com team since its inception, Kevin's principal role is that of writer, editor, and content developer. He is currently learning Korean, his primary language focus since mid-2017.