Finding time to practice a language is one of the biggest challenges that all language learners face. There just never seems to be enough hours in the day to achieve everything you want to do. And unfortunately, when you’re very busy language learning can easily become forgotten and neglected.
The main reason that this matters so much is that learning a language is always more effective when you practice on a consistent basis. This allows the brain to get the repetition it needs to remember the new vocabulary you’re learning and make grammatical connections. Studying for 2 hours once a week is not the same as studying for 20 minutes six days a week. Both add up to 2 hours of study time in total, but if you spread your learning out over the course of the week you’ll be repeating the material more regularly and this will make it much easier to remember.
If you practice a language for large chunks of time on a less frequent basis, you’re not learning in a very efficient way. You’ll have forgotten much of what you learned in your previous session and you’ll have to spend extra time reviewing that material before you re-learn it. It also makes it more difficult for you to to start thinking in the target language because you’re not making it part of your daily life. So you can see why it’s important to make time to practice a language a little bit everyday! Even just 5 or 10 minutes can make a surprising difference over the course of a month or two.
But where are you going to find the extra time to practice a language? You probably already have a hectic schedule. There are two main times that I have found perfect to ensure I get some language learning done everyday – early in the morning; and in short work/coffee breaks during the day.
In this post, I’m going to focus specifically on those ‘coffee breaks’ and how you can use them to practice a language.
1. Memorize Vocabulary
A short coffee break is the perfect time to review the vocabulary you’ve been learning or to learn a few new words. After all, no matter what language you’re learning you’re going to need to know a lot of words!
There are lots of great apps you can download to help you learn vocabulary but I normally like to use Memrise or Anki. Memrise has a fantastic interface, a good repetition system and is a lot of fun to use. Anki on the other hand, is an app that can truly be customized to your needs. You can create your own flashcards very easily and use them to learn the words, phrases and structures that are most important to you.
Apps like this are incredibly powerful language learning tools for so many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that they allow you to take advantage of every spare minute you find in your day to make some progress. While you’re waiting for the kettle to boil you can easily review 10 or 15 words. Likewise when you’re waiting for a bus or train. Imagine how many new words you could learn using your coffee breaks each week just by implementing this one activity!
2. Play games
Using games or other challenge/level based apps can be a great way to do some quick language practice on your phone during your coffee break. Probably the most well known app of this kind is Duolingo, which you can download and use for free. Duolingo is far from a comprehensive language learning program but it does have a lot of positive points.
For a start, each level is quite quick so you’ll have no problem squeezing in a couple of rounds during your coffee break. I also really like the competitive nature and gamified style which really gets you motivated to learn. If you have colleagues in the office who are also learning a language you can become friends on Duolingo and see who’s making the most progress! Your coffee breaks are about to get competitive …
3. Listen to a podcast
Another great way to get some quick practice is to listen to a podcast.
If you’re a beginner, there are lots of great podcasts for learners available in a variety of language The Coffee Break Spanish/Italian/French come to mind as a particularly good example! These short guided lessons are perfect for your commute or during your break.
For intermediate and advanced learners, podcasts are an ideal immersion tool. They’ll help you get used to real, natural spoken language and give you a lot of insight into the culture of the language you’re learning.
One of the great things about podcasts is that they’re easy to repeat so if you don’t understand something you can just go back and listen again.
4. Watch a short video on YouTube
If you want to get some listening practice but podcasts aren’t really your thing, then YouTube is the place to go! You’ll be able to find short, fun videos in your target language on almost any topic you can imagine.
One channel I particularly enjoy for language learning is Easy Languages. This channel’s videos are all interviews with real people on the streets of cities all over the world! This means you get real life speech from natives in a very natural setting. Each video includes transcripts and subtitles in English and in the target language to help you practice and the videos are short so you can easily repeat them as many times as you need to!
5. Listen to the audio from a course or textbook you’re studying
If you’re currently studying with a course or textbook to help you practice a language, make sure to download the audio to your phone and bring it everywhere with you. Repetition is so important in language learning and reviewing this audio on your coffee break is a great way to reinforce the material you’re learning.
You’ve probably heard of (or used) some famous audio courses like the Michel Thomas Method or the Pimsleur Method but you can use other materials too. If you’re using a textbook, then use the dialogues and recordings from that book. If you’re working with texts or conversations with a teacher, why not ask them to record a reading of the text for you so you can listen to it in between sessions?
6. Read a quick article
A coffee break is the perfect amount of time to sit down and read a short article in your target language. Search for topics you enjoy on google or read the latest news on Euronews (available in 14 languages!).
To make your reading experience even more productive, I’d suggest using a tool like Readlang or LingQ in your browser so that you can quickly look up words you don’t know. Both of these applications allow you to see the translation of a word with just 1 click and save it to learn later on.
Practice Your Writing Skills
All of the language learning activities you might do can be divided into two categories: input and output. Input activities are things like learning vocabulary or reading where you’re inputting the material into your brain; output activities are things like speaking and writing. You need to have a good balance of both in order to get the most out of your practice sessions. Too much input and you’ll understand a lot of the language and never be able to use it; too little input and you’ll be stuck at the same level for ages without ever expanding your vocabulary.
Writing in a journal every day is a great way to add some output to your language practice and it can be done in just a few minutes! Keep a notebook with you and jot down some sentences when you have a break from work and over time you’ll start to see some surprising improvements in your writing skills.
Of course, if at all possible, it’s a good idea to share your writing with a tutor or native speaker and get some corrections as well!
Have a quick conversation!
If you work for a big company in an international city you may even be able to have a quick conversation with someone who speaks your target language in the office! In cities like London, Dublin and New York there are so many people from all over the world who have come to work in local companies and you never know where you might find someone to practice with!
However, even if you can’t find a native speaker to practice a language with in your workplace, you can still easily get some conversation practice during your coffee break. Apps like HelloTalk allow you to connect with native speakers and conduct language exchanges through live chat and instant messaging. Think WhatsApp for language learning! This means you can easily keep a few fun social conversations going throughout the day to get some extra practice in the language you’re learning.
Get some feedback from a native speaker
Getting corrections is a something you shouldn’t ignore when learning a language. After all, if no one is correcting your mistakes, you’re just going to keep making those same mistakes over and over again! What’s the point in that? If you can find the time to practice a language, make use of that time and get corrections on your work!
If you’re working with a tutor you may be able to email them your work to get regular feedback. But for quick things like word pronunciations, short phrases and sentences I like to use an app called HiNative! This cool little app allows you to post questions, phrases and recordings and get feedback from native speakers for free. In return, you can help them out by answering their questions about English! How useful is that?!
Take a quick lesson!
If you have a slightly longer break you might even be able to find time to take a quick language lesson! On Rype, there are teachers available 24/7 so if you can find the time to take a class during your lunch break, there’ll always be a teacher ready to help you learn!
So there you have it! There really are no excuses for not finding an extra few minutes in your day to practice a language. With the wealth of portable resources that we now possess, it’s become easier than ever to you use your coffee break to really make positive progress! 5 or 10 minutes may not seem like a lot but it really does add up fast if you apply yourself most days. Just 10 minutes each working day adds up to almost three and half hours each month. When you think about it that way, it would be crazy not to use that time to practice a language!
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