When I tell people that I speak thirteen languages, they often think that as a polyglot, learning languages is all I do with my time. They're convinced that I spend the majority of each day studying, and that I have little time for anything else—including friends, dating, travel, and other free-time activities.
This is definitely not the case. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite—I rarely spend more than one hour a day studying any individual language, even the ones I've just started.
I do spend a lot of time learning, of course, but I don't do it with my face buried in textbooks, nor do I do it at the expense of living a full life. Instead, I make choices that help me connect the languages I learn with the life I want to live, and the people I want to spend my time with.
Today, I want to share several strategies that will help you live the life of a polyglot, just as I do.
Let's begin by maximizing learning time through smart and efficient scheduling:
Link Your Languages to Your Lifestyle
When trying to schedule time for learning languages, most people devise a learning schedule that is similar to the ones they had in school.
Namely, they devote a single block of learning time to the language, outside of which no learning is done. This block of time is typically taken out of what would be the learner's free time.
While this may be a good scheduling strategy for some people, it has an unintended side-effect of making language learning seem like work, especially since you're sacrificing free time to do it.
Instead of sacrificing free time to learn, a better strategy is to look for blocks of unused time throughout your day, and use that time to learn or maintain languages.
For example, when I'm at home, I often like to cook myself lunch around 1:00 PM. This requires me to spend 30 to 45 minutes preparing a meal, and then eating it.
Hypothetically, I could spend all of this time focused on cooking and eating. However, since my ears (and occasionally eyes) are free while I'm readying my meal, I like to stream Russian TV news from my laptop, and listen to that.
This strategy of using "dead time" to learn allows me to schedule significant amounts of learning time without impacting my social life and leisure activities.
You can do the same for any regular activities that don't require the full attention of your eyes and ears, including cooking, waiting in line, riding on the subway, or even taking a shower.
Look for gaps in your schedule that allow you to read, listen to podcasts, watch videos, or otherwise consume any content in your target language or languages. If you can, turn each of these gaps into language learning time, and do so daily.
Do What You Love, but Do It In Your Target Language
In the last section, I shared strategies for making the most of unused time, so that you don't have to sacrifice your free time to learn.
Even if you don't have lots of unused time in your schedule, there are ways to organize what you do in your free time so that you can practice your languages and do what you love, all at the same time.
The best way to accomplish this is to keep doing all of your favorite free-time activities, but do them in the language you are learning.
Case in point: I love to read.
If you've ever seen any of the videos I've filmed in my apartment, I'm sure you've seen my personal bookshelf, which is lined with hundreds upon hundreds of books in all of my favorite topics, including history, politics, cosmology, neuroscience, and more.
You may have also noticed that relatively few of these books are in Italian, my native language. In fact, the overwhelming majority are in the multiple languages that I've learned.
Why do I bother reading books in other languages, when I could just as easily read them in my native language?
Because reading in my target languages allows me to learn about the content of the book and the language that the book is written in.
As the metaphor goes, this kills two birds with one stone. Instead of spending an hour of my day reading a German text and spending another hour reading in Italian about World War II, I can spend a single hour reading a German book on WWII, and get the same amount of value, if not more.
You can do this for nearly any interest you have:
Thanks to the Internet, it's surprisingly easy to find connections between the language you are learning and your core interests. Just do some searching online, and with any luck, you will be able to replace your usual free-time activities with the same activities in your target language.
Form a Strong Connection with a Native Speaker
Here's what I do: First, do what you can to connect socially with native speakers of your target language. For example, you could:
(Note how travel is at the bottom of the list. While traveling can go a long way towards helping you connect with natives, the most efficient and inexpensive way to truly live a polyglot's life is to simply take advantage of the opportunities in front of you.)
Once you've met at least a few native speakers, interact with them regularly, and if you can, try to interact mostly in your target language.
Once you're close enough to consider each other friends, treat them just as you would any other close friend. Meet up with them in person to hang out, send them text messages, share stories, go to parties—anything goes!
If you take the time to build and maintain interpersonal connections in your target language, it can do wonders for your learning and overall progress.
This has happened to me many times. For example, I regularly attend language learning meetups in Rome, and also occasionally host travelers through AirBnB.
Through these activities, I've gotten to know many native speakers, and been able to form deep, meaningful relationships with them.
In particular, I have many fond memories of walking the streets of Rome with foreign friends, and just observing the ways they see the world through their languages. I ask them questions, they share their insight, and the whole thing becomes a powerful, emotionally-charged language learning experience.
As a language learner, you'll learn the most when you can find a way to use the language for its intended purpose: communication. Forming deep connections with living, breathing native speakers is the best way to ensure that you'll never run out of reasons and means to communicate in your target language.
Start Living Like a Polyglot
The keys to living a polyglot's life are not what the average person would expect.
While most assume that all polyglots are either shut-ins who spend eight hours per day studying, or rich people that do nothing but travel and take language courses, the reality is quite different, and much more accessible to the average person.
The truth is that with the right tools and mindset anyone can learn languages anywhere. The key is to focus on:
Focus on these, and you, too, can live the life of a polyglot.