When you decide to learn a language, one of the first questions on your mind will always be:
When am I going to find the time to learn?
For most, the instinct is learn as much as possible, but only on certain days of the week. This mimics the most common work and school schedules, where you “work” for several days in a row (usually five), and then take a couple of days off to rest.
While this may be an attractive option from the perspective of work/life balance, I don’t believe it’s the best option for language learning, when you’re attempting to build up a life skill.
For language learners, I believe the best learning schedule is a daily learning schedule. This is because an everyday language learning habit provides 5 key benefits that other learning schedules do not.
The following is a description of those five key benefits.
Let’s dive in!
1. Learn More, Faster
The first benefit of a daily language learning schedule is perhaps the most obvious: If your learning time per day always remains equal, you will always learn more on a seven-day learning schedule than on any other timetable.
Let’s look at some examples:
Learner A and Learner B are English speakers who are both learning Cantonese.
Learner A decides to learn one hour per day, five days per week.
Learner B, on the other hand, decides to learn one hour per day, seven days per week.
At the end of one year’s time (365 days), Learner A will have amassed a total of 261 learning hours, while Learner B will have amassed a total of 365 learning hours.
With a daily learning schedule, Learner B has 104 more learning hours under his belt than learner A does. At the current rate, it will take Learner A almost 21 more weeks to catch up to Learner B’s one-year total.
Worse yet, if both learners keep up their current schedules for a total of five years, Learner A will be a total of two entire years behind Learner B, all because learner A decided to take two days (or two learning hours) off per week. Clearly, Learner B ends up not only learning more than learner A, but also learning at a significantly faster rate.
You too, can obtain faster results in your language learning if you decide to set a daily learning goal, and stick to it.
2. Make Learning a Habit
At first, language learning may seem like a chore. Instead of using your free time to rest and relax, you need to consciously motivate yourself to put aside that time to practice your language skills. At this stage, deliberate language learning requires discipline, planning, and forethought, as it is not fully ingrained into your lifestyle.
This is, however, not always the case. With time, a dedicated language learner will reach a point where setting aside time to learn a language is just as easy and automatic as setting aside time to eat lunch, do housework, or even brush your teeth. This point is when language learning becomes a habit.
If learning your target language is truly important to you, you’ll want to make it into one of your habits. This way, it will be fully integrated into your lifestyle, and you won’t have to worry so much about daily motivation or discipline. Language study will just come naturally and reflexively.
The problem with habits, however, is that habits take a certain amount of repetition before they become automatic. Science currently disagrees on the number of repetitions that are necessary to form a daily habit, but current estimates are in the range of 21 to 66 days, or even longer. And that’s only if you do your desired “habit action” every day in a row for that time period.
If you’re not learning on a daily schedule, you will, of course, have gaps of a day or more during which you are not learning. On these days, you are not reinforcing your learning habit, meaning that it will take longer for the habit to take hold, if it even does at all.
For the fastest route to habit creation, make sure that you are doing what you can to learn every day.
3. Become a More Adaptable Language Learner
When you start learning, it is easy to want to learn under the same circumstances all of the time—for example, by reading the same textbook, at the same desk, at the same time, for the same length of time every day.
But life, quite simply, isn’t that regular. Disruptions happen all the time, and can take many shapes and sizes.
Maybe you go on a one-week vacation with your family, where you’re far away from your textbook and desk. Maybe you’re stuck in traffic at your scheduled learning time, and won’t have extra time later. Maybe you’re even sick in bed, and don’t have the energy to sit up at a desk and toil over a textbook.
If you’re on a non-daily schedule, it’s easy to use any of the common situations above as an excuse to take a break and not get any learning done. After all, you “break” for a few days every week, so what’s the harm in taking off a few extra days?
The truth is that short breaks, when unexpected and unplanned, can turn into even longer breaks, which can eventually turn into not learning at all.
A learner on a daily schedule is less likely to fall down this slippery slope, simply because he or she has committed to learning every day, regardless of current circumstances.
Being prepared to learn daily means that you are prepared to work around any changes in your schedule in order to get the same amount of learning done. And a large part of that preparation is making sure you can improvise your daily study routine by substituting in a wide variety of language learning activities.
The learner on vacation, for example, can improvise by bringing along a book in his target language to read whenever he has down time.
The learner stuck in traffic can achieve his daily study goal by listening to a foreign language podcast or radio show in the car.
The learner too sick for book study can watch a foreign language movie, or even stream target language music from his computer or phone.
If you commit to learning a language every day, you will be forced to become more adaptable and broaden the scope of your learning activities. With more adaptability, you will be better-equipped to handle any potential disruptions to your learning schedule.
4. Endure Setbacks with Ease
Sometimes even the most adaptable of language learners will find a day where opportunities for language learning will be minimal or non-existent.
For non-daily learners, these unexpected breaks will be treated like any others, and may lead down the slippery slope of language learning failure that we discussed above.
For daily learners, these unexpected breaks are of little long-term consequence, as they will likely have already developed a true language learning habit. And the best part about habits is that it takes more than a day to unravel them. Though not incredibly resilient, habits are strong enough to occasionally endure one or two missed days.
The trick, however, is to never miss more than two days in a row. If that happens, even the daily learner is at risk of stopping fully, and will have to expend effort to rebuild the habit to its former strength.
Learn every day, and you’ll be able to endure any setbacks in your schedule without considerable risk to your long-term goals.
5. Prepare for Long-Term Learning
The durability of language skill can be summed up in four words: use it or lose it.
If you don’t deliberately practice or maintain your target language ability, it can decrease with time, all the way down to practically zero.
This means that if you’re learning French now, and still want to be able to speak French five, ten, twenty, or even forty years from now, you’re going to have to continue learning and using the language throughout that time.
The daily learner is best equipped to take on a long-term learning regimen. Since he or she is already used to regular, habitual learning, with minimal breaks, he or she has what it takes to make that habit last indefinitely.
If you’re not used to daily learning, you will be more prone to the breaks and disruptions that lead to a stop in learning. Once stopped, your skills will diminish quickly. If you learn every day, you will avoid that.
There is nothing quite as important as daily learning for short-term and long-term language learning success. In this article, we’ve covered five such major benefits. In short, everyday language learning allows you to:
- Increase the depth and speed of your learning
- Build a language learning habit as fast as possible
- Adapt and diversify your learning activities, as necessary.
- Bounce back after unexpected disruptions
- Maintain and grow your language skills indefinitely
These benefits are immensely powerful; so much so, in fact, that any learner can greatly increase his or her chances of success by merely switching to a seven-day schedule from their current one.
As far as daily time commitment is concerned, we recommend that you start with 30 minutes minimum of language study every day. As you gain experience and proficiency, you may adjust from there.
Now go and get learning! And remember that when learning a language, every day counts!