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Sample Language Learning Routine - I Will Teach You A Language

Sample Language Learning Routine

Have you ever asked yourself what the best language learners actually do everyday? Just how do they manage to get so fluent so quickly?

The answer may surprise you.

As you’ve seen me talk about many times on iwtyal.com (yes, this abbreviated link works!), it’s really not about the fancy techniques or the outgoing personality. The most successful language learners know how to show up everyday.

Teachers teach. Taxi drivers drive. Pilots fly. Language learners… well, they do stuff with languages. Not once a week – but at every opportunity. Their passion won’t allow them to do otherwise.

This post is an excerpt from one of my favourite Japanese language resources: Master Japanese. It describes a sample immersion schedule employing the tips, methods, and tools detailed in the guide itself. As you’ll see, you can adapt any of these ideas easily for any language.

Enter John Fotheringham, author of the guide…

Sample Immersion Schedule

john fotheringham photoThe schedule is based around a 9 to 5 job, but can be easily tweaked to fit any lifestyle or work schedule. Keep in mind that this schedule represents a best-case scenario where you use all possible opportunities to immerse yourself in Japanese. I don’t expect that a normal human being will do all these things every single day. Just try to do as much as you can most of the time, and you will be on the right track.

7:30 am: Wake Up. I take three deep, conscious breaths to start the day off right. I remind myself how excited I am to be learning Japanese, and how important learning the language is in my life. I then spend 10 minutes playing a kana game on my iPhone.

7:40 am: Shower. Using the steamed-up shower door, I write out as many kana as I can from memory. If the mood takes me, I also sing lines from Japanese children’s songs hoping that nobody is listening…

7:50 am: Getting Ready. I play a “Newbie” level episode from the JapanesePod101.com podcast as I get ready.

8:10 am: Breakfast. I prop my iPad up on the counter and begin playing an episode of Cowboy Bebop (カウボーイビバップ) with English subtitles turned on while cooking and eating breakfast.

8:30am: Commute. As I contend with rush-hour traffic, I listen to an episode of Japanese with Michel Thomas or Pimsleur, making sure to speak aloud when prompted. This works great since I am alone in my car, but I would probably opt for listening to a podcast or reading manga if I were on the bus or train.

9:10 am: Morning Meeting. Yay, meetings! Everyone’s favorite. Instead of doodling, checking email, or just zoning out, I instead use the opportunity to discreetly study. My colleagues think I am looking at the same boring PowerPoint on my laptop that they are, when I am in fact going through my Japanese Core 2000 deck in Anki.

12:30 pm: Lunch. I read 5 pages from hodou no owaru tokoro (歩道の終るところ・ほどうのおわ るとこと, the Japanese translation of Where the Sidewalk Ends). I read first for understanding, quickly highlighting—but not yet looking up—any unknown words or structures. After I’ve given a page a once through, I then go back and look up any unknown words in the Midori app on my iPhone or using Tangorin.com if my laptop is handy (the latter is preferable because you can directly export saved words to Anki). If I want to look up any new structures, I first use Tatoeba.org to see if I can figure the patterns out on my own, and then consult A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar if I’m still unsure.

1:30 pm: Tutor Session. I go back to my car, fire up the Skype app on my iPhone, and have a 15- minute chat with my tutor. I ask him questions about particular words, phrases, and constructions that came up in that day’s listening and reading activities. I find this type of tutoring to be far more effective for me since the entire session is focused only on what I don’t yet understand, and far easier for the tutor since they then don’t have to prepare a “lesson” in advance.

1:45 pm: Anki Session. I go back to my desk and finish up my lunch break with a quick 10-minute Anki session. I am pleased to hit the green button on some cards that proved more troublesome this morning.

4:30 pm: Afternoon Meeting. Oh boy, more meetings! Since the afternoon meeting is even more worthless than its morning counterpart, I discretely look up some new words that came up during my lunch-time tutor session.

5:30 pm: Commute. I listen to the rest of the Michel Thomas CD from this morning. Again, I make sure to actually speak aloud when prompted as passive understanding is far less important than active recall.

6:30 pm: Gym. I re-listen to this morning’s podcast episode as I warm up on the treadmill, and then listen to some high-octane Japanese music as I hit the weights.

7:00 pm: Dinner. I wind down from the day with another episode of Cowboy Bebop or re-watch this morning’s episode if I’m feeling extra motivated. The wonderful music gets my toes tapping and head bobbing as I cook.

7:30 pm: Nightly Entertainment. I stream a Japanese movie on Netflix. To help prevent the blue light from screwing with my circadian rhythm and making it hard to fall asleep later, I don my geeky orange glasses, dim the lights, and turn the brightness down on my device.

9:30 pm: Before Bed. I listen to another Newbie level episode from JapanesePod101.com as I brush my teeth and get ready for bed.

9:45 pm: In Bed. I crack open hodou no owaru tokoro (歩道の終るところ・ほどうのおわるとこと) and re-read the pages I went through during lunch, and read another 5 pages.

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So there you have it! Thanks, John!

I have a tough time myself when I’m not living in an environment where my target language is being spoken all the time. I struggle to stay motivated at times, and here in Qatar it’s especially difficult! Tinkering with my day and proactively looking for those Cantonese resources which actually fit in and around my work has been really important for me.

I thought I was doing quite well, but seeing this schedule really made me think about just how many hours in the day can be made available for language learning if we want it badly enough!

How badly do you want it?

master japaneseWhat I want you to do before you move on with your day is this:

  • Grab a bit of paper and write down 5 points in your day where you could fit in some language work
  • Gather the resources you need to do this
  • Start today!

Did you do it? Good.

If you found this sample routine useful, there are a mammoth 537 more pages of awesomeness in the guide itself. Click here to check it out!

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  • unlocklanguage

    Wow, quite the schedule. It’s one of the things I have the most trouble with before starting…how will my day look each day? And how will I work it around what I already do? Will it be difficult to form new habits?

    I like seeing what others are doing to have success, thanks for posting.

    • Great, but it’s worth pointing out what John says at the beginning about this routine being the “ideal” – he wouldn’t expect anyone do be able to do all the things on the list.

      But imagine if you could……….!!

  • Thanks for clarifying the “ideal” part, Olly. I think we language bloggers sometimes unintentionally intimidate the very learners we are trying to empower by not spelling out the difference between “best-case” and “minimal effective dose” strategies.

    • Sure, although the reality check can be a wake up call too. I remember first seeing this and thinking “Wow, I really should be squeezing more out of my day! “

    • I felt a bit like that reading “How bad do you want it?”…after all, a stressed out mind won’t focus well.

      • Yes, but… 🙂

        • That rhetoric rubs me up the wrong way. (the “how bad do you want it”)

  • Jake Wilson

    This feels more like an extended advert for apple products….

    • Never try to separate a man from his iPhone… 😉

      Although I actually switched from iPhone to Android and much prefer it!

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  • I’m really itching to get started on Japanese…this book seems like a good place to start. I’m learning Korean at the moment (it spontaneously happened) but Japanese has always been my first language love! I know you have a lot of resources posted but for an absolute beginner (besides watching copious amounts of anime and listening to Jap music) what would be the number one resource you recommend? There are so many good sites referred to but I still feel like I’m all over the place now trying to figure out whether to use japanesepod101 or start with hiragana/katakana etc.

  • Holy! A two hour lunch break?! What is the focus of your employ? I want your job…