The holiday season is upon us, a time of fun, family, gifts, and gratitude. But it can also be a time when our language-learning habits fall by the wayside. Travel, new environments, disrupted schedules, less-than-restful sleep, and some formidable hangovers can all throw a wrench in our plans to continue making progress in our target languages. Here are my three best tips for keeping up on your language learning even when your daily routine gets turned upside down.

1) Rig the game to win: commit to a tiny daily language habit.

“The habit of the habit is even more valuable than the habit itself.” ―Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before

No matter how busy your December days become, try your best to get at least a tiny bit of language exposure or practice each day (what I call “minimum effective habits“). For example, you might normally spend an hour reading Japanese each day. Commit instead to just 5 minutes. You can read more if you have the time or motivation, but rig the game to win by defining “success” as just 5 minutes. Otherwise, your brain will see the five minutes as a “failure” to reach your ideal of an hour and you will likely then do zero minutes the next day. Five minutes of language input is far better than no minutes. Acquiring a language is largely a mind game, and a big part of the psychology soup of success is self-identity. Completing even a tiny language habit each day―even if it’s only a fraction of your normal or ideal volume―helps reinforce your identity as a language learner and makes you that much more likely to continue showing up each and every day.

2) Complete your daily language habit first thing even if you’re a “night owl.”

I am not a morning person. In fact, I am what sleep expert Michael Breus calls the “Wolf” chronotype in his great book The Power of When (meaning that I have a hard time getting going in the morning and am most awake and productive in the afternoon and evening). Though I much prefer to get the bulk of my language practice later in the day, I highly recommend completing your minimum effective habits first thing regardless of your chronotype and natural biorhythms. You may not be at your best when you first roll out of bed, but at least you will check off your daily language commitment before the day gets eaten up by errands, festivities, and one too many glasses of spiked eggnog…

3) Learn in the bathroom!

If you are an introvert like me, you likely already leverage occasional trips to the bathroom as a way to escape the overstimulation that holiday parties often entail. Don’t get me wrong: I love people and greatly enjoy parties, but too many back-to-back conversations can quickly drain my energy tank. Fortunately, a few minutes alone can quickly recharge my batteries enough to enjoy more socializing. Regardless of where you lie on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, why not use this same bathroom escape trick to squeeze in a few minutes of extra language study during holiday festivities? For example, you can open the Anki app on your smartphone and complete a short round of spaced repetition flashcards as you recharge your tank and head nature’s call.



I hope these three strategies help keep your language learning train on the rails during the holiday season and allow you to fully enjoy the festivities without abandoning your learning habits completely. Remember: done is better than perfect, and a little progress is far better than no progress. I wish you a fun holiday and a fulfilling New Year!


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