Japanese Tips

3 Easy Ways to Make More Time for Japanese Language Learning Every Day

Aug 09, 2023

"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot." —Michael Altshuler

In the end, mastering Japanese is largely about mastering your day.

We are all allotted the same 24 hours, but successful language learners figure out how to pack in more language immersion and practice during each turn of the earth.

The choice is yours. If you use your time wisely, you can make rapid progress toward Japanese fluency. But if you fritter away your time on distractions and minutiae, you will never get fluent no matter how many years pass by.

So how can you make the most of your precious time and fit in more Japanese study each day? Here are three powerful, proven ways to maximize daily Japanese immersion and practice.

1) Use "Habit Stacking"

In his book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, the social scientist BJ Fogg shares a simple but powerful way to build new habits: use existing habits as an "anchor."

"When talking about Tiny Habits, I use the term Anchor to describe something in your life that is already stable and solid. The concept is pretty simple. If there is a habit you want, find the right Anchor within your current routine to serve as your prompt, your reminder. I selected the term 'anchor' because you are attaching your new habit to something solid and reliable."

Instead of trying to build a completely new routine from scratch, you can instead build upon an existing habit you already do every day without thinking (e.g. brushing your teeth, making coffee, etc.). In essence, you stack the new habit on top of the entrenched routine (hence the term "habit stacking").

In practice, habit stacking usually takes the form of a so-called implementation intention:

"When I do X, then I will do Y."

For example:

  1. "When I brush my teeth, I will listen to a JapanesePod101 podcast."
  2. "While I wait for my coffee to brew, I will finish one Duolingo lesson."
  3. "Before bed, I will complete 1 page in Remembering the Kanji."

2) Leverage “hidden moments” throughout your day

“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.”
―Barry Farber, How to Learn Any Language

Even the busiest person has small chunks of otherwise wasted time littered throughout the day. Why not use these for language study or immersion?

For example:

  1. Waiting in line
  2. Waiting for the elevator
  3. Waiting for a call to connect
  4. Waiting on hold
  5. Waiting for meetings to start
  6. Commuting (especially if by bus, train, subway, etc.)
  7. Walking
  8. Shopping
  9. Doing household chores
  10. Doing yard work

While you’re waiting in line for your morning cup of joe, you could use the time to quickly flip through a dozen flashcards in Anki. Then waiting for the elevator at the office, you finish three more cards. While on hold with customer service later in the day, you blast through another twenty. You get the idea.

Such brief bursts may not seem like much at the time, but they can add up to quite a bit of time on-task when you add them up over days, weeks, months, and years.

3) Create a study schedule

“The word [routine] connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.” ―Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

Though the word “routine” is often used as a synonym for “ordinary,” a properly designed Japanese study schedule can create extraordinary results:

  1. It allows you to focus all of your energy on actually learning, not deciding what to do or when to do it
  2. It helps you banish procrastination, aimlessness, and laziness
  3. It “defends from chaos and whim,” as author Annie Dillard puts it

Taking a little time up front to create an effective daily language learning routine will save you a significant amount of time in the long run. Moreover, it helps ensures you spend time each day doing the few language tasks that truly matter:

  1. Immersing yourself in interesting, authentic, comprehensible Japanese content (see How to Immerse Yourself in Japanese Anywhere in the World).
  2. Practicing communicating in Japanese with a native Japanese speaker using a site like italki or an app like HelloTalk.

For step-by-step tips to set up your Japanese study schedule and a detailed sample daily routine, check out my book Master Japanese: How to Learn Japanese Anywhere in the World.