Applying the Minimalist Approach to Language Learning Language Resources

As many of you know, I’ve been efforts to minimize and cut unnecessary distractions and things from my life and routine. Until recently, I used to be a serial hobbiest. Before I really sat down and thought hard about what I wanted to achieve – there just aren’t enough hours in a day – I would pick up hobbies on a whim, focusing on them and nothing else while my other interests get side-lined. This ranged from a variety of sports to jewelry making, herb gardening to collectioning.

Lately, most of my efforts to minimize have been to kick that habit. I know that I love language learning and music. I know that I need to exercise to stay fit and healthy and I’ve had the most success sticking with it through martial arts. As for the rest – well, it’s all optional and so I don’t need to do it. It just takes up time that I could be using to pursue the things that I know I love.

So, I started my efforts by eliminating physical distractions. This meant selling, throwing away, or donating all of the things I had bought as part of other interests (jewelry making, clay art, watercoloring, etc.). Without it there taking up space, I couldn’t be distracted by it, nor would I spend time arranging it and putting it away.

One I got rid of the excess, I started to realize that I also had clutter within language learning and music. I had collected books, tools, programs, flashcards, equipment, etc. that I was no longer using (or never used in the first place). Why am I hanging onto it all if I don’t plan on using it?

But it wasn’t just physical language learning materials (and music equipment) that was accumulating and taking up space. I also had a number of things taking up too much mental space.

Minimalist Language Learning

One of the things that I’ve been struggling with lately is the issue of juggling too many amazing language learning resources. My desk is covered with books – both text and native language – my iTunes library is filled with audio language lessons and podcasts, my Internet bookmarks overwhelmed with an incredible collection of online language resources, and my to-do list packed with various new-to-me tools I want to check out.

Having a wide range of material to choose from is a good problem to have, but it can be distracting. In a past post, I discussed how to choose the right learning language resources for your language learning goals, but even when you narrow down the types of materials you use, you can still end up with too many and not enough time. And sometimes, it can take too much time and energy to decide what to work with (so much so, in fact, that it can quickly eat up a good chunk of your study time).

Here are a few ways you can apply the minimalist approach to your language learning so that you can be more focused and productive in your studies:

1. Do not allow yourself to own more than you’ll use. This includes digital resources.

Stuff isn’t just a waste of physical and digital space. It also quickly becomes a waste of time. I’ve found that when I have too much stuff – whether it’s stuff stored on my computer hard drive or stuff on my desk – I spend more time sorting through it to find what I need that is necessary and to keep it organized.

I found that the quickest way to keep things from getting in the way of my productivity is to just not have them to begin with. This means you’ll 1) need to get rid of the items that you aren’t using and 2) think much harder about whether or not you really need something when it comes to acquiring new materials. Doing this will also save you a surprising amount of money.

2. Have a place where you keep what you’re currently using so that it’s easily accessible and NOTHING else should be kept here.

You should keep the resources you’re using on hand. This might mean a neat stack of books on your desk or a folder on your computer desktop.

This also means that whatever you are not using at the moment should be put away. You might stick your books on a different part of your bookshelf, in a closet or in a box somewhere and digital files in a folder somewhere else on your computer.

3. Limit the number of tools you work with at any given time.

I talk about this in some shape or form quite a bit here on Eurolinguiste. But that’s only because it’s something that I strongly believe in.

I believe that in order to be truly productive with your learning, you should focus on working with only 3 to 4 resources at a time for any given language. This isn’t to say the resources won’t change, but if you work with any more than that at once, you’re not likely to progress through them as quickly (plus you risk repeating a lot of material by using too many resources).

4. Be selective with those limited tools you work with.

What are your language learning goals? Not sure yet? Take a moment to sit down and think about them. This article will still be here when you get back.

Got ’em? Good. Write them down and stick them somewhere you’ll see them often.

Now that you’ve established what your goals are, take a look at the resources that you’ve been using. Are they helping you work towards those goals?

If not, get rid of them and spend some time finding (or creating) resources that a better suited to helping you work towards your goals. If they are helping you, then make sure they are one of those 3-4 resources that you’re working with regularly.

5. Plan ahead.

Spend the last five minutes of every study session preparing for the next. One of the toughest things about studying a language is getting started – both starting in general and starting each session. The easier you make it to pick up your studies the next day, the greater chance there is that you’ll sit down to work on language learning.

For me, for a long time, the hardest part about practicing (music) was getting started. I’d look at my sax case and think, “ugh, I have to set up my saxophone” and that would be enough to deter me from actually sitting down to practice. It wasn’t even that setting up my saxophone was hard or that it took a long time (I’ve got it down to under two minutes). It was just that there was something about that step that was keeping me from working on my craft.

So I quickly found a way to keep myself from using that particular obstacle as an excuse. I took my sax out of the case, set it up and left it sitting out where I’d walk by it regularly. The result, I ended up practicing a whole lot more (every day, in fact) just because my sax was right there. Eventually, it got to the point where practicing became a habit like brushing my teeth, so I was able to put my sax away safely. The days I didn’t practice made me feel so guilty that the “set up” process no longer kept me from practicing.

I minimized the process, or the steps I needed to take, to practice each day and in result, I got more practicing in. It just took a little planning to figure out a way to prepare myself for practice (and to make it more accessible).

These five steps are a great starting point when it comes to applying the minimalist approach to your language learning, but there are, of course, quite a few more things you can do to really break things down and focus in on what’s important. The key to doing to doing this successfully lies in knowing what you think is important for your language learning goals. And once you figure that out, you’ll also find that you’re language learning process actually becomes faster!

What about you? Do you think that your language learning could benefit from a bit of minimizing? Have you tried any of the above? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

PS. Here’s an interesting video from Tim Ferriss on Minimalism and Language Learning.

Happy studying!

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I'm a language lover, traveler and musician sharing my adventures and language learning tips over at Eurolinguiste. Join me on Facebook for daily language learning and travel tips!