What To Do When Your Language Study Routine Gets Derailed

I try to make it a point to only write about things that I’ve experienced so that I can speak knowledgeably to them and share what’s worked and what hasn’t. I believe that this gives me the greatest chances of positively impacting other language learners habits, routines, mental states, and ultimately their outcomes with their target language.

With that in mind, I wanted to talk about what happens when your normal study routine gets derailed. For me, I try and guard my normal study time as fiercely as I can, but let’s face it – life happens. When it does, I find that it’s best to have a default back-up plan ready so that you can instantly go from recognizing the disruption and moving to a secondary activity or strategy to remain productive and continue making progress.

I recently had this experience with my current Spanish language mission. Over the last week or so, I’ve had a number of meetings and a few days out of town thrown in that disrupted my normal routine of using my laptop to study the sounds of the language with an online course and developing my “language hacking” scripts. In this situation, it would have been easier to do nothing at all and to wait until the next time I had the perfect circumstances to continue studying. However, it’s important to recognize that having the perfect circumstances to study are rare and to focus on what you CAN control.

My backup plan in situations like these is to use my most convenient phone apps to spend some time with the language in practical ways that will have cross-over to my primary language study methods. For instance, in this case I used duolingo and memrise to work on conversational phrases and high frequency vocabulary acquisition. I like these because they offer bite-sized chunks of learning material and they contain words that I will very likely use in typical situations when speaking Spanish.

This might seem really, really obvious. However, had I not thought in advance about what my default back-up plan was and consciously decided that it would be to use these apps, I very easily could have squandered what little study time I did muster on trying to decide what I should do. So in this case, I was able to secure a handful of 15-minute learning sessions that otherwise could have been wasted.

There are other possibilities that you could plug in to be your default back-up plan. For instance, you could speak phrases out loud to yourself in the target language, or try to translate things into the target language from your native language. You could also try one of the following:

  • Read a secondary reading source (comic, novel, etc.)
  • Listen to a language learning podcast
  • Watch a YouTube video
  • Text a native speaker on an app
  • Try to write a paragraph describing anything in your target language

These are just a few to get you started. For now, spend 5 quiet minutes and plot out what your default back-up plan will be, and comment below with your ideas so that others can benefit!