As I’ve interviewed dozens of polyglots (those fluent in multiple languages) for The Language Mastery Show, I’ve discovered that the world’s best language learners don’t succeed because of outlier intellects or unusual genetic predispositions. They succeed because they develop and stick to daily habits and routines that provide the input and practice their brains need to a acquire a language. And guess what? You and I can do exactly the same thing, whether we want to learn our first foreign language or our fifteenth. One of the most important daily habits I’ve observed is that polyglots are extremely efficient with their time, and find ways to sneak in a little language study here and there no matter how busy their work or personal lives may be. Here are three ways that polyglots squeeze in daily language practice:
1) Complete your “minimum daily habits” first thing
I am not a morning person. Never have been and probably never will be. I’ve long scoffed at the advice to study or exercise first thing early in the morning, knowing that my energy and motivation are almost always at their lowest in the early AM. But I finally realized that part of the advice is sound: the “first thing” part. It matters not what time you complete your habits, but the sequence is indeed crucial.
So whether you wake up at 4:30 every single day like former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink or roll out of bed at 11 (since you were up until 3 am writing or coding), what matters is that you “get after it” before distractions, procrastination, and fatigue whittle away at your resolve.
For more on this, see my post Commit to Tiny Daily Language Habits So Easy You’ll Do Them Even When You’re Unmotivated.
2) Leverage tiny scraps of unused time throughout the day
As polyglot Barry M. Farber puts it in How to Learn Any Language:
“Harnessing your hidden moments, those otherwise meaningless scraps of time you’d never normally think of putting to practical use, and using them for language study—even if it’s no more than fifteen, ten, or five seconds at a time—can turn you into a triumphant tortoise.”
Anytime you find yourself waiting in line, waiting for the elevator, etc., whip out your phone and study a few SRS flashcards.
For more on this, see my post Too Busy to Study a Language? Harness Your Hidden Moments!
3) Pair language learning with another activity you already do
Instead of trying to create completely new habits from scratch, you can instead pair them with firmly entrenched habits you already do without significant effort or thinking. Gretchen Rubin calls this the “Strategy of Pairing” in her great book Better than Before, and it can be a very effective way to add in new language learning habits with minimal effort.
The key is creating what psychologists call implementation intentions, “if-then” statements that link a given action you already perform on autopilot with a new desired behavior. For example:
- “I will study 10 flashcards in Tinycards every time I get into or out of bed.”
- “I will listen to a JapanesePod101 podcast when I brush my teeth.”
- “When I commute to work in the morning, I will complete my day’s Glossika reps.”