When it comes to finding the time to actually sit down and study languages, there are usually two big obstacles we feel that we face.
The first is that 1) we just don’t have the time to sit down and study or 2) we just don’t have the energy to sit down and study.
Our day to day responsibilities can take up a huge chunk of our time and energy, and sometimes, it’s hard to find the motivation to fit language into that equation.
But there is one simple thing that you can do to “trick” yourself into studying language more often.
And that’s to commit to just five minutes of study.
Only five minutes? But that just doesn’t seem like enough.
I know, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but those five minutes add up quickly. Imagine that you study five minutes per day every single day. That equals 35 minutes of study per week and more than two hours of study per month.
If you were avoiding study altogether because “it takes too long”, that two hours is a pretty significant improvement.
Plus, those five minutes quickly turn into ten to fifteen minute study sessions (once you’ve started it’s easy to keep going).
But I’m Really, Honestly Super Busy and I Just Don’t Have Time to Learn a New Language
The great news about this strategy is, that even if you’re pressed for time, you are guaranteed to have at least one five minute break during your day that you can use to study language (instead of browsing Facebook or Instagram or Buzzfeed).
You may need to get a little bit creative to fit it in, but if you really take a look at your schedule and what you do while you’re standing in line, commuting, on hold, or dare I say even in the restroom, you’ll quickly find time here or there that can be used more productively without zapping that last bit of energy you have going for you.
30 Things You Can Do in 5 Minutes or Less to Learn a New Language
1. Duolingo // I know that a lot of language learners have mixed feelings about Duolingo, but I have found it to be a great tool for reviewing vocabulary and grammar when you don’t have a lot of time to study. I have it bookmarked on my computer and the app downloaded on my phone and it gives me a nice break from flashcards (my go to mobile language study).
2. Flashcards // You can use your five minutes to either create a few new flashcards for future study or to do a quick review of flashcards that you’ve already created. I personally use Memrise.
3. Record an Instagram or Snapchat Video // Instagram and Snapchat videos are a fun, quick way to get in some speaking practice (and to get feedback). Each video is only ten or fifteen seconds, so that gives you more than four and half minutes to think of a quick script!
4. Watch a video on Youtube // There is a ton of great (and not so great) language learning content available on YouTube and quite a bit of it is under five minutes in length. In fact, many of the Pod101 series videos are under five minutes and they’re a great starting point.
5. Write a short journal entry // This only has to be a few sentences long and it can even just be a quick recap of something that you did or a summary of what you are going to do. You get bonus points if you upload this to either iTalki or Lang-8 for corrections from a native speaker.
6. Drops // I recently discovered this fun app available in the iTunes store and I have to admit, it’s pretty addicting. It’s available for a variety of European languages including Spanish, French, German, Italian, and English. I really like that it uses images along with the new vocabulary which is a great way to skip the “translation stage”, but just in case the photos aren’t clear, they do show you the translation immediately after the image.
7. Listen to a song in your target language // And if you don’t already know the lyrics, find them online and follow along (or try to see how much you can get on your own).
8. Participate in a quick chat on HelloTalk // The great thing about this language exchange app is that you can pop in for five minutes and then continue on with your day.
9. Play a word game (if you have someone to play with) // Our family favorites are mentioned here if you need some help getting started.
10. Go through one page of your phrasebook // Most phrasebooks are pocket sized which means there aren’t that many new expressions per page. There’s a pretty good chance you can get through one page in five minutes! My favorites are the Assimil phrasebooks (for French speakers) or the Tuttle phrasebooks and the Lonely Planet phrasebooks (for English speakers).
11. Start distilling your notebook // Spend five minutes looking through your old notes, highlighting or noting any phrases and words that haven’t yet stuck with you. If you have a new notebook, you can copy those phrases into it.
12. Listen to a recording or two or three on Forvo // Forvo is the “largest pronunciation dictionary in the world.” It has an impressive library of recordings of different words in different languages and is a great place to get in some pronunciation practice.
13. Listen to a One Minute Lesson on Radio Lingua // They have lessons available for twenty different languages ranging from Zulu to Greek to Catalan. I’ve listened to their Coffee Break podcasts and have really enjoyed them, so I’m sure their one minute lessons are of a similar caliber.
14. Do a bit of math or counting // Do you need to work on your numbers in your target language? Practice a bit a math or work on counting in your language.
15. Change the language of your phone/preferred social media account/computer to your target language // Doing this should only take a moment and you’ll immediately get in some language practice as you try to navigate your way.
16. Read a few text excerpts on Bliu Bliu // If you’re signed up with Bliu Bliu with a free account, you are given exactly five consecutive minutes to work your way through a few text excerpts, which is quite perfect for today’s topic!
17. Participate in the Instagram Language Challenge hosted by Lindsay Dow // The Instagram Language Challenge is a fun, themed challenge that you can participate in as you see fit. Each day has a topic that you use as inspiration to learn new words in your target language.
18. Find a Facebook group for people learning your target language // Once you’ve joined (sometimes you need permission from the group administrators to join a group), leave a message introducing yourself in your target language.
19. Spend some time thinking about your language learning goals // If you haven’t done this before, write them down and stick them somewhere you’ll see them often. If you have done this before, spend some time re-evaluating the goals you previously set to see if they’re still relevant.
20. Start to put together a playlist of music in your target language // This is easy and free to do with streaming services such as Spotify (or even Youtube). If using YouTube, you can simply search “[country that speaks target language][genre of music you like]”. If using Spotify, they have charts available for almost every country that you can browse to discover popular music in your target language.
21. Subscribe to LearnwithOliver’s newsletter for your target language // And then go through the first list of words and phrases that you’re sent once you sign up.
22. Visit a news site in your target language // And spend five minutes browsing the headlines to see how much you understand. Jot down a few words you don’t know to look up later.
23. Join an online language learning course and watch the first video // There are a ton of fantastic language learning courses out there. Some of my personal favorites include: Lindsay Dow’s Successful Self Study, Kerstin Cable’s Speak German Like a Native, Benny Lewis’ Conversation Countdown, and shameless self plug, my own Say Goodbye to Shy.
24. Label a room in your house with sticky notes // Okay, so I stole this one from my list of 60+ Ways to Learn a Language, but you can definitely tackle a big chunk of a room in your house in five minutes. You can also use Flashsticks if you’d like beautiful sticky notes that are already made up for you.
25. Find a word frequency list in your target language // Find a word frequency list in your target language and print it out. Take a highlighter to it, highlighting either the words you don’t know or the words that you do (whichever your preference is). This gives you a quick study sheet for later.
26. Take a look at your language’s page on Omniglot // Omniglot is a fantastic resource for an impressive number of languages. You can get started with their useful foreign phrases for your target language.
27. If you haven’t already, learn two of the most important sentences you could know in your target language // The first is “How do you say _____ in (your target language)?” and the second is “Can you please repeat that slowly?”. But if you already know these, you can learn two new phrases you think will be useful. I have guides for Croatian and Korean to help you get started and I plan on releasing more soon.
28. Spend some time with the writing system // If your target language has it’s own unique writing system (or at least one that’s different to your own), find an image or printout of it – like this one I put together for Russian, this one for radicals used for Chinese, or this one for Korean – and spend some time getting familiar with it (or re-familiarizing yourself with it). Once your five minutes are up, pin the page somewhere you’ll see it often.
29. Talk to yourself // See if you can make it through the entire five minutes without slipping back into your native language. But even if you do, don’t let that stop you! Quickly note the words you got stuck on to look up later and keep going. You can do this by selecting almost any topic – a hobby, a self introduction, an explanation of how to use something.
30. Find a study buddy // You can use language exchange sites such as iTalki, HelloTalk, or Interpals to connect with someone who either speaks your target language and is learning your native language or a partner who is learning the same target language as you. You can then keep in touch to motivate one another, get some language practice in, and to keep one another accountable. You can spend your five minutes reaching out to other learners to start the process of finding your study buddy.
If you’d like this list as a printable checklist, you can download it by clicking on the image below. You can hang it near your study space for a bit of inspiration whenever you need it to give your language study a bit of a pick me up.