Am I too busy to learn a language?

3rd February 2017

Have you ever been so busy you didn't have time to wash your socks? That's what last month was like for me. The start of term and some exciting new projects at joy of languages (more on this later) made January an insanely busy month. This meant most of my language learning plans went down the pan - together with my dignity and personal hygiene. As February looks like it's going to be another big month, I need to regroup and come up with a plan.

No one is busy

They say no one is too busy, it's just a matter of priorities. I like this idea, but I've never really put it into practice. If I'm honest, I know I sometimes use busyness as an excuse not to do things. When I step back and look at my day, it's easy to see how I could create more space by prioritising better. I often waste a lot of time worrying about details; If I focus my energy on the important things and stop faffing about the small stuff, I should be able to free up some time. I also tend to run around doing things I think are urgent, but in many cases I could do them later, or another day (or not at all). This month, I'm going to slow down and make more time for language learning (and washing my socks). When I catch myself using the "I'm too busy" excuse, I'll know it's time to move things around and look for opportunities to get some language learning in.

What's going on this month?

Here are some exciting projects that have been keeping us busy at joy of languages this month:
  1. I wrote a guest post for the lovely folks over at Fluent in 3 Months: the best way to learn a language: what the science says
  2. Our Italian crew is growing fast and we did our first live Italian class on Saturday. To get invites to future classes and find out when courses open, join our Italian club here.
  3. We've teamed up with Brian Kwong from the Add1Challenge to create a special Add1Challenge for Italian learners (fantastico!) We'll let you know more about this soon.
  4. Brian's helped 1000s of people learn a language over the past few years. He'll be sharing some of his best advice in a free workshop on Tuesday 3pm GMT. Sign up here: How to stay motivated and reach your language goals.
  5. The #languagediarychallenge is going strong, and we've now got over 500 photos and videos of people talking about their day in the language they're learning. Well done everyone! We'll be announcing the winner of January's challenge at the end of Brian's workshop. Look out for the next challenge in March.

My Language Learning Plans February 2017

I’m learning 5 languages at the moment. To manage them all, I give myself 1 sprint language that I focus on intensively and 4 marathon languages which I study in a slower, steadier fashion.


My sprint language is Chinese as I'm currently doing the add1challenge for Mandarin. Over the 3 month challenge, I'm aiming to learn as much Chinese as possible so I can have a 15 minute conversation in Mandarin Chinese on day 90. I recently recorded a 30 day update, which went like this: In January, my plan was to:
  • Keep working through the Pimsleur and Assimil courses. I did bits and pieces last month, but I need to get a move on if I want to finish them by the time the challenge finishes mid march.
  • Read 1 graded reader story per week. I fell behind with this and only managed half a story in the whole of January. I'd like to get back into 1 story per week for February.
  • Finish the elementary series of FluentU. This is my favourite resource, so I managed this without too much trouble! But so far I've just been watching the videos, which is starting to feel a bit too passive. This month I'm going to try the translation method where I translate a video from Chinese into English and back again. This will give me more practice in building sentences. I'll aim for one video a week.
  • Have 3 conversation lessons per week with a native speaker on italki. This is another one of my favourite ways to learn, so it was easy to fit the lessons in. I'm going to keep this up in February.


I've been studying German for 1 hour a day (most days) ever since I started back in December 2015. January was a little sporadic, but I'm getting back into the flow. To make sure I stick to my hour a day, I use the “don’t break the chain” technique, which involves putting a mark on the calendar for each day I study. Once I get a long chain, it motivates me to keep going as it’d be a shame to break the chain. Here you can take a look at my German chain and see how it's going. The only way to really know if I've made progress this year is to compare myself speaking German at the beginning and at the end of 2017. Here's where my German's at now:



I've got a big pile of Italian books that I want to work my way through this year. I started in January, but I didn't read a lot. In February I'm going to try to read for 30 minutes before bed, most days.

My (unread) Italian book collection


In January I wanted to work on my Italian pronunciation for 10 minutes per day. I only managed a few days last month. The main problem was that I hadn't really decided what I was going to do in the 10 minutes, so I ended up feeling a bit lost and putting it off. So for February, I've made a plan:
  1. Warm up (tongue twisters or reading passages aloud)
  2. On alternate days:
    1. Work through my Italian pronunciation book
    2. Annotate Italian sentences, record myself saying them and compare to the original

French and Spanish

My goal is to move up a level in both of these languages by the end of 2017. To know if I've made progress, I need some before and after videos! Here's where I'm at now: In January I aimed to translate a 5-minute dialogue per week into English and back into French/Spanish. I managed this some weeks, but I struggled to keep up. I'm going to take it down to 3 minutes so it's more doable (and I can leave more time for fun things like watching French and Spanish TV). I also aimed to learn 5 new words per day. I didn't manage this every day, but I think this is a good pace. I'm going to try to be more consistent with this in February.

How about you?

What are your language plans for February? Let us know in the comments below!  


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