Core Study Time In Your Language Routine

core study time language routineI recently wrote about my new language routine in detail. It’s a powerful routine (with a CRAZY early start) I’ve used to make fast progress in my language learning.

The most important part of the routine is something I call “core study time”.

This core study time involves 30-45 minutes of focused study. I do it first thing in the morning before starting my day.

After publishing this article, I received a barrage of questions, all asking the same thing: “What do you actually do during your core study time?”

Inspired by this, I’ve decided to write a series of blueprints for using your core study time to best effect.

Before we dive into the specific study routines themselves, we’ll start by getting clear about what this core time is and why it’s important.

What Is Core Study Time?

One of the most important skills in language learning is the ability to make steady, reliable progress over time.

This means knowing how to control and guide your progress in different aspects of a language, and actually doing the work required so you do improve.

This isn’t easy. It requires attention and effort, but does get easier with experience.

Less experienced language learners typically don’t know how to do this, and end up “binge learning” instead – jumping from one language resource to the next without any structure or plan in place.

Binge learning can be disastrous for motivation, leaving you despondent and frustrated, because you’re not in control of your learning.

The antidote to binge learning, and the secret to making consistent progress in a foreign language, is to have a regular (“core”) time when you sit down and study in a focused way – ideally every day.

Making consistent progress in a language requires a regular time in your day when you can sit down and do some focused study.

Why Does Core Study Time Matter?

The point of having a core study time in your day is not to be prescriptive about how to learn a language.

Speaking with your tutor, watching TV, studying your textbook, listening to podcasts… are just a few examples of ways to learn and engage with your target language.

However, when I see language learners frustrated with a lack of progress, it’s not usually because they don’t know what (or how) to study.

You’re probably very creative and have plenty of interesting language resources to help you. If you’re not seeing the progress you want, it’s probably because you fail to consolidate what you learn.


You try to fit language learning into your day whenever you can. You don’t have a plan. (And if you do, you don’t follow it!).

You keep yourself busy studying, without ever actually learning.

Filling your day with language activities can be a great thing to do. But in order to learn from it all, you need a period of focus, where you can sit quietly without any distractions, and focus on the task of studying the language.

This is why core study time exists.

The point isn’t what you do in your core study time. The point is that it’s there for you to focus on the most important task at hand. (The most important task will change over time.)

Core study time is the time I devote to making sure I learn what I’m supposed to be learning.

This means applying myself 100%, with complete focus.

This is why I have my core study time while the rest of the world is sleeping, although you could just as easily do it at 1pm, 8pm or 2am! (Whatever works for you.)

There are many things you can focus on during this time, and I’ll be describing them in detail in this series.

But what it comes down to is this: You simply can’t leave it to chance that you will keep learning.

Without core study time in your schedule, you’re probably only working to 50% of your ability, competing with the endless distractions of daily life.

To set aside core study time every day is to say: “This time a is a gift to myself. This is when I work to my full potential. This is an investment in myself and my future.”

What should you do in your core study time? I’m glad you asked…

  1. Core Study Sequences Part 1: Listening Comprehension
  2. Core Study Sequences Part 2: Learning Vocabulary
  3. Core Study Sequences Part 3: Lesson Preparation
  4. Core Study Sequences Part 4: Glossika Language Training
  5. Core Study Sequences Part 5: Studying Dialogues
  6. Core Study Sequences Part 6: Transcribing Audio
  7. Core Study Sequences Part 7: Reverse Translation

Do you have a core study time in your schedule? What time works best for you? What questions do you have about creating this time in your day? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Golly Olly, that’s a great strategy for getting anything done. Schedule the thing in. You’re obviously putting in some special time to get your site humming too!

    • Haha… I am indeed 🙂 Thanks for your comment, and good luck with your language learning too. Glad to hear the post was helpful!

  • Dot Read

    Thanks Olly. I’m still struggling with chronic procrastination, but your articles really do help! I will let you know when I’ve managed a whole week of 30 minutes core study time a day, because that will be a first!

    • Hi Dot… let’s make this week the week! Send me an email next Friday to tell me about your success 🙂 Try it out first thing in the morning before you allow yourself to do anything else!

      • Dot Read

        Ok, you’re on!

        • I’ll be waiting!! 🙂

          • Dot Read

            Hi Olly,

            Just to let you know that I *have* managed to do at least 30 minutes of core study time in German over the last 7 days, since you issued your challenge! I’m quite surprised at myself.

            Once or twice it was a bare 30 minutes, but several times it has been an hour or more, because I got so interested I didn’t want to stop!

            It wasn’t always at the same time of day, which I know is the ideal, (and it certainly wasn’t at 5 am!) but I just told myself I was going to do it, whatever happened. A couple of times it was 12.30 / 1 am, so technically the next day, but it was before I went to bed!

            So thank you. If you hadn’t challenged me, I don’t think I would have done a whole week of studying German every day. I just didn’t want to email you back to say I hadn’t done it!

            I’m actually enjoying it more and even found myself looking forward to the next session. 🙂

            Would it be ok to send you a quick email if I manage to get to a whole month of doing Core Study Time every day?

            Vielen Dank.


            PS I tried out your recommendation of *Draft* – it’s brilliant. So for the last 7 days I have also started to write a personal mini-blog (about battling procrastination in my language-learning) – only 100 words a day, (and for my eyes only) but a small start. It’s great to get the email reminder to tell me I haven’t done it that day – so far I’ve managed it every day. In the new year I’ll up the word limit.

            So cheers again!

          • That’s so great to hear! Isn’t it crazy how a small shift in mindset can result in huge changes?

            Yes, absolutely, please do get in touch to let me know… I’ll look forward to receiving the email of success! 🙂

  • Jing_ShenKai

    I am just ready to learn exactly what you do during your core study time

    • Hi Jing… OK 🙂 It’s coming very soon – I just thought it was important to start with this foundation!

  • Israa Raa

    Shokren for this lovely foundation
    Can’t wait to hear the rest of it 🙂
    Can you please give us tips on French
    Some how I can know the words but when they are spoken I can’t understand anything 😮
    This language is tough 😀

    • robert fish

      Written French and spoken French are very different in that similar words mesh into each when heard from a non native speaker.The tip i give to you is to concentrate on one word and to use that to as context for the rest so that you allow brain to recall the word,This allows you to solve the sentence like a jigsaw piece by piece instead of overloading when looking at the entire sentence on its own.Hope this helps

      • Great advice, Robert!

        • robert fish

          Thanks Olly, It works extremely well for me with all of my languages.

      • Israa Raa

        Shokren for your help 🙂
        Insha’Allah I will do that
        Wish me luck 😀

        • robert fish


    • This problem is related to what’s called “connected speech”. That means that when words are spoken quickly, they change and adapt. What will help you is to read texts and listen to audio at the same time. If you do that, you’ll start to recognise the connection between a word in its written form, and how it’s spoken. I really like French Pod 101 for this:

  • beau bessette

    how far along would you say you were in your learning career before you started having these epiphany moments of “what’s really important?” i’m just over a year into chinese now and while i have many great tools (including mental) i feel it would have taken much longer to realize some of these really great “oh duh!” moments you mention, ie a core study component!!

    • It definitely takes time. Most of the “oh duh!” moments (love the expression!), for me, come from the memory of having great success with something. The more clear memories I have, the more I find I’m able to analyse a particular problem that I’m having (or someone else) and know what the issue is. One of my favourite quotes is: “Self-confidence is the memory of success.”

  • Cecilia Giordani

    Hello, Olly. I feel I don’t have a structure when it comes to study. I sit more or less whenever i have time( but at least 20 minutes most days) and then I either listen to some video or podcast, or try to read an article, understand most of it and write down new vocabulary…to which I generally don’t go back to, or watch some part of a movie or a song. All without a proper goal or clear idea of what do I want to get from that day. It feels I am learning at 30% of my possibilities. I feel so lazy and disappointed but don’t know how to do it better. Thank you for your amazing words!

  • Lindsey

    Hi Olly,

    I feel like I am the “binge learning” newbie you talk about, ha. I have been learning German for a couple months, and am at the high beginner or low intermediate level. I was learning really quickly, but my progress bottomed out, and I thought it was because I didn’t have enough resources. So now I have Anki, Duolingo, Andre Klein’s short stories, podcasts, LingQ, Easy News, Easy German Youtube, 2 textbooks, (and more) that I work with on a daily basis (or try to). I’d bet my progress has stopped because I’m flitting from resource to resource without taking the time to absorb any of the actual information, ha. Thoughts?

    • Hi Lindsey! I think you’ve just answered your own question 🙂 Have a look at this for a similar take on the same problem:

      • Lindsey

        Thanks, that post was really helpful. I realized after reading your posts that I do a lot of “passive listening” rather than “active listening”. i.e. I listen to a podcast while making dinner, listening to the news while folding laundry, etc. and never really come back to the vocabulary or anything. I know you said active listening is the best, but have you found passive listening to be useful as well?

        • Honestly, I don’t derive much benefit from it until I’m at B2+ (high level). I simply don’t see much benefit in listening to stuff I don’t understand.