Sustainable Language Learning Practices

Immersion is great for language learning. But how do you make progress when you’re in your own environment?

I’m making this list primarily as an effort to build my own habits, but I’m sharing them with you as well.

I’m a person who dislikes routine. That means I have to find a way to study. A way that doesn’t burn me out, but still allows me have continuous progress. There has to be variety too.

The keyword here is sustainable. Not the 5 million-new-words-a-day type of learning that you won’t do anyway or will make you insane.

Taking Classes

I usually attend classes on the weekends. Weekdays aren’t really practical for me but I need exposure. If you have no other habits then at least attend some sort of class or tutorial. I actually don’t get to study enough for it but it still gives me regular practice. Sometimes what you learn isn’t applicable but it’s the interaction that’s important.

Writing a Journal Using Your Target Language

If you’re learning a new writing system, actually write it down. I got spoiled for too long with software-based input methods which meant a degradation of my actual writing skills. I could recognize Chinese characters well when I see them or choose them from the input method editor but I couldn’t remember how to write them down.

Currently I’m also trying to use words that I learn in my TODO lists and plans, texts that are meant for my own eyes.

Italki has a Notebook feature that others can comment on so you know if what you’re writing is correct, but it’s up to you if you want to make your journal public.

Listening to Music from Your Target Language

One of my favorites. I look for lyrics when I can’t understand the song; this is fun and easy to sustain and gets you learning a few words at a sustainable pace.

Bring Portable Flashcards

What I actually recommend is an app like Anki on your phone or tablet so that it’s with you everywhere and you can work on those flashcards while commuting, waiting in line—whenever you have idle time.

Bring a Dictionary Everywhere

Sometimes you want to know the word in the language you’re learning for objects or situations you encounter in your daily life. But if you let that moment pass, you’ll surely forget it later on. Unless you have an eidetic memory. I used to have a pocket dictionary in my bag to do this, but nowadays I have a set of dictionary apps on my phone and tablet so that I can look up new vocab anytime of the day.

Some of these may not work for you. What’s important is that you try to discover what does, list them down, and revisit your practices every once in a while to update or streamline them.

So, what’s your sustainable language learning habit?