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24 Time Hacking Tips from Language Hacker Benny Lewis


Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

For busy language learners, it can feel like your constant thought is “I don’t have enough time!”

I’d like to share some simple shifts you can make in your life so you can manage your time – and have more time available for language learning.

Many of these we’ve shared on Fluent in 3 Months (Fi3M) before – and much of the advice comes from Fi3M founder Benny Lewis. Benny’s aim in creating Fi3M was to share language hacks – faster and smarter ways to learn a language.

In other words, we want to help you learn a new language in less time – or in the small pockets of time you have available through your day.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to have all our best advice on time management in one place.

Before we begin, there’s a quote that’s popular on Pinterest, which I really like. You may have seen it.

“You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce.”

While you can argue that your 24 hours aren’t the same as Beyonce’s – you don’t have assistants, teams, or stylists helping you out – you still have the same 1,440 minutes a day. The key is to make the most of each one of those minutes.

Now, here are the tips from Fi3M’s Benny Lewis on just a few ways you can use the 24 hours you have each day more effectively when it comes to language learning.

1. Get Feedback on Your Mistakes

If you want to be sure that you’re actually using the language correctly, talk with a native speaker who can provide feedback. Not only will you learn to use the language more effectively, you’ll get a better ear for it and start to pronounce it more closely to native speech.

From: How Adults Learn: 6 Important Things to Know

2. Create Personalised Vocabulary Lists

Instead of spending countless hours memorizing vocabulary lists from a textbook, I create my own personalized vocabulary list, ensuring that I’ll learn the words that I’ll need to know first.

From: Busted: 6 Common Myths About Polyglots and Language Learners

3. Avoid the “Just Do Something!” Mindset

A very popular way to kill time in language learning is to simply do ‘something’ and feel that it's at least dragging you in the general direction that you need to go. No! Sometimes doing ‘something’ is barely better than doing nothing. Do something worthwhile!

From: Solving specific problems rather than trying to learn everything

4. Focus on Learning What Matters

Trying to become a master of everything at once will not allow you to make progress on anything specific swiftly enough to feel progress, and you can get demotivated.

From: Why hard work isn’t what makes good learners

5. Apply the 80-20 Rule to get 80% of the Results from 20% of the Effort

Successful language learners find ways to use the little they know in the maximum possible ways; this adaptation of Pareto's principle is an absolute must for people focused on speaking well as quickly as possible.

From: The Pareto (80-20) principle in language learning

6. Count Hours, Not Years…

“Now add up your ‘hours’ based on this new system, but actually counting the time you put in and you will see a dramatic difference. ‘Five years’ of two hours of passive listening a day, four hours of grammar studying a week and two hours of actual practise with natives per month would give you about 364 ‘hours’ (based on my weighted units) of genuine work. That's fifteen days worth of work in your ‘five years’.”

From: How to learn a language in hours, not years

7. …Or Count Minutes, Not Hours

If you’re suffering from guilt or stress about how behind you are on your study hours, then maybe you should stop counting how many hours you’re practising for a few days, and instead see how many more minutes you can squeeze into a day.

From: “I’ll Do It Tomorrow” – Solving 3 Mindtraps that Make You Put Off Language Learning

8. Use the 5 Minute Pockets in Your Day

I highly recommend micro-commitments and zoning out in your target language. Committing for five minutes is a lot easier than committing for thirty minutes, and after five minutes I often find myself thinking “this isn't so bad, just another five minutes”.

From Fi3M Team Member Joseph Lemien, in Learning a New Language: Secrets of Language Learning Pros

9. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

If you charge into the frustration, embrace it, and fill up all your free time with it, then you WILL get to the other side much quicker.

From: The only way to get far quickly is to get out of your comfort zone

10. Avoid Useless Information

If you removed two hours of social media you’re just – let’s face it – not doing anything terribly productive, just consuming random bits of news and sound bytes, you could literally become a proficient [language learner] in that amount of time.

From: Intensive Language Learning and the Tim Ferriss Experiment

11. Stop Using “I’m Too Busy” as an Excuse

If you sleep eight hours a night, then you have 112 hours a week to play with. If you work full time for 40 hours a week, then there's still 72 hours left over.

From: How I Learned Fluent Italian While Working 60 Hours a Week

12. Can’t Find Time? Make Time!

No matter how busy you are, how much you work or socialise or devote your time to other important projects in your life… you always still have some time left over that you may be currently wasting!

From: How to make time if you are too busy

13. Go Public With Your Language Goals

One of the best ways to encourage progress is to tell others about your objectives. Making your mission public will also make it real. There will be more at stake and you won’t want to fail.

From: 5 Rituals to Help You Learn a Language Faster

14. Remember: There Are No “Perfect Conditions”

What I prefer to do is try to make things as ideal as they can possibly get and then handle problems quickly and swiftly, whenever possible, if they come my way so that I can stay on track.

From: Absolutely perfect learning conditions? An unrealistic pipe dream that holds you back

15. Eliminate “Time Sucks”

We are all very busy, but many of us still achieve great things because we organize the time we have control over much better, and remove things that suck time out of our day, like television.

From: The many reasons (32 so far) why we DON’T succeed in learning languages

16. Keep a To-Do List

What has worked better for me, has been setting up a to-do list of precisely everything that I need to do that day and deciding approximately how much time it will require.

From: 21 ways to work, socialise & sleep well, maintain inbox 0 with 400+ emails, AND intensively learn a language all in a day! Time hacking 2.0

17. Use the Pomodoro Technique

Use the Pomodoro time-hacking method to increase your productive sprints. By alternating 25 minute work sessions with 5 minute rests, you allow your brain to get some breathing room and are able to get in more focused work.

From: The CIA is Wrong: It Doesn’t Take 1,000 Hours to Learn a Language

18. Remove Distractions

If you’re going to sit down for a session of language learning, take a few moments to turn off all the electronic attention-hogs that surround you. Go away from your TV, turn off the wifi on your devices, and close down unnecessary applications or windows.

From: 5 Simple Research Proven Hacks to Stop Wasting Time and Start Learning Fast

19. Stop Comparing

If someone is a smarter language learner than you, has more free time than you or whatever, well good for them I suppose. But who cares when it comes to you and your situation?

From: Questions that waste your time

20. Focus on One Day at a Time

The question should never be “how long does it take one to learn a language” but “how long do you have?” or “How intensively are you willing to invest your time?”

From: How much time does it take to learn a language?

21. Immerse Yourself at Home

An immersion environment is all about finding opportunities to bring the language into your current lifestyle and activities.

From: Language Immersion: How to Create an Immersion Environment on Your Phone

22. Just Start!

What would you be doing right now if you really wanted to learn a new language? The key idea here is RIGHT NOW, and the answer is something. Anything. It really doesn't matter what you do, just start, and start now.

From: How to Start Learning a New Language (Right Now. Today. Seriously).

23. Try “Blending”

Think about what you actually do in your free time and try it entirely through your acquired language! I've played chess in Italian, read computer and men's health magazines in French, taken dance lessons in Spanish, windsurfing lessons in Portuguese, flirted with pretty girls in Esperanto and chatted in MSN and Skype in Irish Gaelic.

From: Combining learning languages with your hobbies

24. Use Mini-Missions

Apart from the actual benefits and doing something practical to reach your “end” goal, there is a great sense of achievement that you can feel every day in reaching your objective.

Will You Make the Time to Learn a Language?

We hope you enjoyed this collection of tips from Benny Lewis on how to learn a language even when you’re busy.

If you want more time hacking tips from Benny, here's a video he made on the topic: 

We’d love to know how you find time to study language. Feel free to share your time management strategies in the comments below.

Need a little extra help making time for language learning? We’re really excited to announce our new course on building solid language habits. Learn more about how you can fit language learning into your schedule.

author headshot

Shannon Kennedy

Language Encourager, Fluent in Months

Shannon is Head Coach for the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge. She is currently based in Southern California where she performs as a professional musician. Her passions are cooking, reading, traveling and sharing her adventures in language learning.

Speaks: English, French, Mandarin, Russian, Croatian, Japanese

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