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10 Pro Tips: How to Learn a Language with a Full-Time Job

by Michele
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10 Pro Tips: How to Learn a Language with a Full-Time Job
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I’m busy, you’re busy, we’re all busy. So, how do you learn that foreign language you’ve always dreamed of when you seem to never have any spare time? Here are my top tips for learning a foreign language even with a full-time job.

I know how you feel. You’ve got the passion to learn a new language but you just can’t quite figure out how to fit it in with your busy lifestyle. I’ve got a full-time job and when I’m not at work, I’m back at my desk working on my blog, The Intrepid Guide. You might say I have two full-time jobs. On top of that, this year I’ve decided I’m going to learn Norwegian. My goal is to reach A2 level by the end of the year.

Update: I’ve since spent 2 weeks in Oslo on a Norwegian language holiday and I’m now B1 in Norwegian! So, is Norwegian hard to learn? Here are 12 common mistakes Norwegian students make and how to avoid them.

It might seem like there just aren’t enough hours in a day, but I’m going to show you how you can optimise the time you already have so you can learn any foreign language and take advantage of all the health benefits that come along with it!

How to Learn a Language with a Full-Time Job

Don’t have much time? Watch the summary video below, otherwise, keep reading :)

1. Join a language class

How to learn a language with a full-time job - Join a language classOut of all the tips I give you in this guide, this will be the one with the biggest commitment, but I highly recommend you implement it. Joining an evening language class fits in perfectly at the end of your working day and is a great way to kick off your language learning goals since it blocks out 2 hours of your time each week to focus on the language. When you’re left to your own devices, it’s hard to get started as you may not yet have the discipline.

Languages classes are a great way to keep yourself accountable since you’re paying for the class and knowing that all the other students will be there will help prevent from making excuses to skip class.

When I started learning Italian, French, Afrikaans, and now Norwegian, the first thing I did was to sign myself up for an evening language class. I also really enjoy language classes because it’s a great way to meet new people and make friends with whom you share a common interest. Years later, I’m still in contact with many of the friends I made back in Melbourne and in Rome when I was learning Italian. They are some of my closest friends and we even organise annual trips together.

If you’re looking for a reputable language school, check out the school where I’m learning Norwegian. Cactus Language School teaches 20 languages in 11 locations across the UK offering numerous group evening language courses. Each school is centrally-located which makes it easy to get to to after work. They also offer private lessons, Skype lessons, and Study Holidays in more than 120 locations all over the world!

This summer, I even went on a 2-week language holiday which was organised through my language school, Cactus. I learn a lot and consider it one of the best ways to improve your language skills in a short amount of time.

2. Optimise your ‘dead time’

How to learn a language with a full-time job - Language Learning AppOptimising your ‘dead time’ is a great language learning hack. Your dead time are the moments in your day that don’t require much mental effort or concentration such as when you’re commuting to work on a bus or train, walking from one place to the next, or during your lunch break. These pockets of time are perfect opportunities to slip in some extra language learning time. Even a 5-minute micro lesson pays dividends. I talk about this in detail in my 3-step method for learning languages like crazy, even if you have a crazy life.

What you choose to do with this time is up to you and how you feel on the day. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Download a language learning app such as Mondly, Memrise, Duolingo, Drops, or Clozemaster and spend a few minutes in the app learning new vocabulary and grammar. Most of these apps allow you to set push notification reminders so you never miss an opportunity to learn. As a special bonus to you, all my readers get an exclusive 95% OFF Mondly with lifetime access to 41 languages.
  • Type up your notes from your language class and save them on Google Docs. Download the Google Docs app and you’ll have access to these notes anytime you can spare a few minutes. Revise what you’ve learnt on your commute, over lunch, or just before going to bed.
  • Listen to music, audio or a podcast in your target language – This is perfect for when you’re driving, doing the housework, or even while you’re at work (depending on what your job requirements). Listening to the language is a great way to tune into the sound of the language which will improve your comprehension and pronunciation. Create a Spotify playlist and start adding your favourite songs to listen to. Use my link and get 2 free Audiobooks on Amazon’s Audible.
  • Turn on dubbing and subtitles on Netflix – We all love to relax at the end of the day with a TV show or film. If you’ve got yourself a Netflix subscription, look out for subtitles and audio available in your target language. To quickly find what’s available, visit http://netflix.com/browse/audio and use the drop-down menus. If you can’t find your target language in the list, head over to the search bar and type in the name of the language (eg. Norwegian). You’ll see a bunch of programmes to watch which you can sort through using the “Explore titles related to:” section. For more tips, check out my complete guide with 22 genius tips for language learning with Netflix.
  • Use DisneyPlus – DisneyPlus has tonnes of movies and TV shows with loads of languages available. Here are 44 best movies on Disney Plus for learning languages.
How to learn a language with a full-time job - Find Shows on Netflix in your target language

Find Shows on Netflix in your target language

3. Every minute counts

Your day might be so busy that you trick yourself into thinking that spending even as little as 5 minutes a day won’t do much in getting you closer to your language goals. Trust me, every minute counts. Keeping the language fresh in your mind is key to remembering what you’ve already learned and keeping momentum.

Aim to inject some exposure to the language at different intervals throughout the day so the language is never far from your thoughts. Start with your morning routine, then your lunch break, then either after dinner or just before settling into bed. Do something that will bring your focus back to your target language.

Alex Rawlings suggests, in his book How to Speak Any Language Fluently, spending 15 minutes in the morning revising what you’ve learned the day before, 30 minutes at lunch learning new material, then 15minutes at night revising that new material. If this still sounds like too much, then scale it down to what works for you.

4. Enjoy the journey

How to learn a language with a full-time job - Learn what you likeThe key to sticking with your language learning goals is to enjoy the process. You have to learn what you like. Most people give up learning a language because they’re doing too much and get overwhelmed or they’re bored by the material. Boredom is a sign that something’s wrong and you need to change things up.

Make sure you’re learning to say things that you find interesting and like. Find a balance between using a variety of language learning tools and consistency. If that sounds like too much then find one resource you enjoy and focus on that before moving onto the next.

The more positive experiences you have, the more likely you’ll be willing to continue learning. Find a move TV show you love and know like the back of your hand and watch it with subtitles or dubbing turned on. Are you a massive Harry Potter fan? Chances are you’ll be able to find it in your target language since it have been published in over 80 different languages across the world. Choose your language from this list of Harry Potter books.

5. Set yourself a goal to work towards

How to learn a language with a full-time job - Set yourself a goalIf you’re like me and work well with deadlines, then maybe you should set yourself one. Do you have a trip coming up where you want to use the language? Do you want to have a conversation with your waiter at your favourite local Italian restaurant? Great! Choose a date you want to make this happen by and work towards it.

Not only am I aiming to reach A2 in Norwegian by the end of the year. I’ve also set myself a short-term goal of being more conversational by April ahead of my Immersion Study Holiday I’m going on thanks to Cactus Language School. I’ll be going to Trondheim in Norway for a 2-week study holiday where I’ll have morning classes then free-time in the afternoon to go exploring. Just knowing this trip is on the horizon keeps me motivated and gives me something to look forward to. Find something that resonates with you, set a date, and go for it!

6. Reduce distractions

How to learn a language with a full-time job - Instagram NotificationsOne of the biggest distractions we all face is social media and if you’re not careful it can be a real time suck, robbing you of precious language learning time. However, there is one trick to prevent you from getting lost down the rabbit hole of spending mindless hours on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

My top tip is to turn on notifications for language-related accounts you follow so you see them appear in your feed first when you open up the app. This way you’re guaranteed to see the accounts that actually help you rather than hinder your progress.

For me, now that learning Norwegian is my top priority, I’ve turned on notifications for accounts such as Iye Learns Norsk and Norwegian Word of the Day on Instagram.

To turn on notifications on Instagram, go to the account you want to see notifications for, click on the three dots in the top right corner, then tap ‘Turn on Post Notifications’. Voilà!

7. Track your progress

How to learn a language with a full-time job - Track your progressLooking back and seeing how much you’ve progressed with the language is a great way to keep yourself motivated to continue learning. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is by recording a short video or audio recordings of yourself speaking in your target language.

Even after a few weeks, you can see your progress. Maybe your accent has improved, your vocabulary has expanded or your sentences have become more complex. Whatever it is, congratulate yourself on constantly improving, even if the progress is small.

It wasn’t until I went to Tromsø, Norway for the first time since starting my Norwegian evening language classes that I could see how much I had learned. I could understand most conversations around me, ask basic questions, and ask for help at the supermarket. Being able to see my progress in action did wonders for my motivation. I could see how much I had learned in as little as 10 weeks.

8. It’s not a race

How to learn a language with a full-time job - It's not a raceThere will always be someone out there who knows more than you, have more time than you, or speaks more languages than you. It’s important not to get caught up in other people’s progress with the language or let your ego get in the way. Avoid comparing yourself with others. It’s hard, I know, but you have to remember we are all own on our journey and have our own restrictions to deal with. Don’t look sideways at others, just look straight ahead and focus on your own language learning goals.

I know that my progress with Norwegian will be slower than it was when I learned Italian or French simply because I wasn’t running a blog at the same time. This is something I still struggle with, but I have to remind myself not to be so hard on myself and that I’m doing the absolute best I can with the time I have available to me. Progress is still progress, no matter how much you do.

Another time you should remember it’s not a race is when you’re using language learning apps. They’re so good at gamifying the process and spurring you on to get to the next that you risk not actually retaining what you’ve learned. Remember to take offline what you’ve just learned by writing down the new grammar rules or vocabulary in your Google Doc or notepad. Start creating your own sentences to reinforce what you’ve learned. For more practice, use Quizlet to create flashcards that you can use during your ‘downtime’.

9. Get back in the saddle

How to learn a language with a full-time job - Even minute counts - Start todayLet’s be honest, life gets in the way. So, don’t be disheartened if you need to take a break from language learning for a while. Maybe there’s a major project at work and you need to work back late for a month or you’ve got family and friends staying with you for a week. Whatever it is, don’t let these lapses in your language learning put you off.

Take the time you need to recoup and promise yourself to avoid delaying jumping back in the saddle more than you need to. The longer you leave it, the harder it will seem, even if it isn’t. Remember, learning something the second time around is much easier than the first.

10. Read, write, speak, and listen

How to learn a language with a full-time job - Listen to musicVariety is the spice of life… and language learning! Depending on your needs and goals with your target language, it’s important to have a well-rounded understanding and grasp of the language. Evenly divide up your time so you’re spending an equal amount of time on reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Language classes are perfect for this as they allow you to do all four.

Outside of class, most language learning apps will help you practice your reading, writing, and listening. The HelloTalk app is great for practising all four areas with native speakers who give you feedback. This free app allows you to either record and send audio messages or write messages to you can practice whatever area you want to focus on. Download HelloTalk for your iPhone or Android.

Next Steps: A goal without a plan is just a dream

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as having a special gene that makes you more adept to language learning. Polyglots the world over attribute their success with language to finding and using tools and resources that personally resonate with them. Beyond that, it just takes time, passion, and perseverance.

Now that you know how to get your language learning off the ground, it’s time to make a plan.  Sit and jot down the pockets of time in your day where you can start to inject some language learning. Start small if you have to then build up and expand if and where you can. Sign up for a language course, download a couple of language apps (Mondly is my favourite), create a new Spotify playlist, and add programmes in your target language to your favourites on Netflix. You’ve got this!

Want to know more about learning languages? Start here!

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10 Pro Tips: How to Learn a Language with a Full-Time Job

Over to you!

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