How to Establish a Successful Language Learning Routine (+ Examples)

Are you one of the many language learners who have attempted to build a language learning routine, but have found yourself falling off the wagon?

If you’re wondering “What’s the secret to learning a language once and for all?”, I’ve got your back.

A lot of language learners struggle because they get trapped in apps or stuck in complicated study plans. Today, let’s dig into where you might be getting stuck and talk through some easy, practical solutions that will help you build an effective language learning routine.

Why do most attempts at building a language learning routine fail?

If you started learning your language full of enthusiasm and excitement and found that it’s not lasted, you are not alone. Getting a consistent language routine up and running can be tricky. Here are some common reasons I’ve seen for running out of steam in your language studies.

Letting Language Learning Apps Run the Show

young person scrolling mobile phone on bed

There's no shortage of language learning apps out there, and I am not here to tell you that you need to throw them all out. Apps are incredibly useful for language learners…but there’s a but!

Be careful with how you’re structuring your routines around these apps. Many of them use gamification and other features to keep you coming back. This is great for keeping a habit going…but it’s the habit of using one app, not of building your new language into your life.

Read more here about how to select a good language learning app

Read more here about how to get the most out of Duolingo 

My tip for learning languages with apps is to use them as one of your guides, but make sure you have at least 3 other touch points with your target language every week through your language habit system.

Failing to Set Meaningful Language Goals

Without clear goals, it's easy to lose motivation and direction. And you know…”I want to be fluent” or “I just want to talk to people” are not very clear goals when it comes down to it.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve in a specific time period to make the goal a lot more realistic - this will help you build that sustainable language learning routine. Some fun ideas might include calling your grandma for a chat in her native language, singing a song, or posting your first Instagram post.

Read more about how to set meaningful language learning goals here

Overly High Expectations

One of the biggest problems I see come up again and again for language learners is the belief that you can “become fluent” within a very short time.

It’s absolutely possible for you to improve a LOT in even just a month. But that won’t mean you’re done in language learning. The relaxed conversation stage typically takes a few years. Instead of asking yourself why you’re always falling short, take the long view on this one and, like Bon Jovi, find the fun in being halfway there.

Boring Language Study and Exercises

Your memories of languages at school might be all about boring grammar drills and snoozing through tedious lessons. But hey! Now that you’re in charge of learning, you get to make the rules. In my system for learning languages, the focus is never on hard work. Your brain works better when you’re having fun, so build your new language learning routine with creative ideas, four core skills, and inspiring conversations.

Now we’ve covered some of the reasons your language routine might run out of steam, let’s focus on getting things set up the right way for you!

5 Essential Things Every Language Learning Routine Needs

You’re setting up your language learning routine so you can have long-term success. Here are the 5 key elements that will make life a lot easier for you:

Well-Organised Resources

language learning books and magazines

You’ll be using apps, tools, books, courses, teachers, conversation partners, and probably a whole bunch more as you learn your language. The key is not to stick to the smallest number possible, but to make sure you organise the resources in a super smart way.

No one’s going to be able to tell you exactly which language course or book is the best one for you, because no one’s life and brain are quite like yours! So feel free to give things a try, and allow yourself to cut what doesn’t deliver.

A Balanced Approach to Consistency and Flexibility

You absolutely want to make sure that you can consistently show up in your language learning routine. This might mean scheduling regular study time, booking lessons every week, or simply sticking to a free interpretation of daily contact. While you can’t learn a language just by completing a Duolingo level now and then, it’s still not necessary to become a language robot. 🤖

A Way to Track Your Progress

Once you’re past the exciting first few weeks and months of learning a language, you might start coming into something learners call the intermediate plateau, where it starts to feel like your hard work isn’t paying off as much anymore. This is where “invisible progress” can kill your motivation, so don’t let that happen!

Tracking your progress can be super easy, and it’s the key to success in language learning. The easiest way? Use a journal or help yourself to one of the readymade trackers in my course, the Language Habit System.  

Someone to Talk To

If you want to learn a language, it’s because on some level your dream is to communicate more with people. Whether your ultimate goal is travel, career success, living abroad, or just to follow your language passions, my advice to you is to find three types of people:

  1. A practice partner, or someone else to talk to (or sign with or write to)

  2. A mentor, for example a language coach

  3. A few friends or peers who are also learning languages, for example through a language exchange

The more connected you feel to other people while you’re learning languages, the easier you will find it in the long run.

Study Variety

As mentioned above, finding fun resources is key to your success in language learning. Allow yourself to explore everything you like, everything you already do in your life, through the lens of your new language. Of course, TV shows are an easy one to try. How can you take it further? Build activities like finding great playlists to celebrating fun national holidays into your routine so you can hit those goals every day.

My Favourite Resources for Sticking to a Language Learning Routine

Now that you know the essential things your language learning routine needs, I wanted to introduce you to a few of the resources I always come back to when learning languages.

Listening to language podcasts for language learning routine

Language Learning Podcasts and Audio Courses

When I first start out with a new language, pronunciation is very important to me. That’s why I focus a lot on listening, and making sure I can take notes and understand how each sound is built. With more language progress, podcasts become a great source of stories and perspectives, and they’re available in dozens of languages.

🎧 Here are my podcast recommendations for learning German, learning French, learning Italian, and learning Spanish.

Language Learning Apps

While I don’t let my apps run the show, they can still be a useful tool for staying consistent with learning my new languages. The apps I use vary depending on the languages I learn. When learning Welsh, my go to is Ap Geriaduron, a dictionary app for my phone, and I also enjoy a bit of Memrise.

My Language Study Journal

Incorporating language journals for language learning routine

I find that handwriting and processing my thoughts with pen and paper is an absolute must-have when I’m learning languages. From French to Chinese, and Welsh to Russian, every language I have ever learnt has been documented in a notebook. The benefits? I get to keep everything organised, tracked, and make sense of complex rules in my own way.

Want to find out more about how to use my strategies for yourself? Click here to discover my mini course, Write Your Way to Fluency, for just US $9.

Language Tutors and Exchange Partners

I usually go to italki (affiliate link) or LanguaTalk (affiliate link) to connect with a teacher who will help me bring my new languages to life. Over the long-term, I also set up exchanges with fluent friends, and practice my speaking and listening skills with people I find in my own network as a language coach.

The Language Habit System

I first created the Language Habit System in 2016 and I still use this method for my own language learning routine. This step-by-step guide to setting great language learning goals, tracking the actions that matter, and figuring out where to go next, is the heart of how I stay on track. The 3 key steps are simple: Plan - Track - Review. I highly recommend you check out the Language Habit System for yourself - it’s been tried and loved by hundreds of language learners!

A Real-Life Example of My Own Language Learning Routine

kerstin cable language learning coach

At this point, we’ve got the essential steps in place and you’re on your way to building that successful language learning routine. At this point, I’ve got a few examples to share from my own approach. But remember, your routine will probably look different and that’s okay! This is just for inspiration.

First, I think about what my language learning goals are. If I’m learning multiple languages, it’s important for me to select my priorities before I go about aiming too high and burning out.

I don’t set a dedicated amount of time to study every single day, but I do have a check-in with myself about making “daily contact” with my target language. My focus is also on making sure I keep each core skill in balance (these are covered in this free training), so that means I do not do the same activity every day.

Read my super popular guide to the core skills, Fluency Made Achievable

A few of my key activities in my target languages are

  • Listening to my favourite radio shows or watching some easy TV (I like Yabla (affiliate link) for this)

  • Texting my friends or looking up a few tweets in my target language

  • Reading a few pages in one of my easy reader books

  • Going to online classes or language exchange sessions

  • Making notes in my study journal

Sometimes, I get more organised and schedule extra study sessions in advance..but not all the time. My goals are small and tangible right now because that's how I want them. They may be things like "revise yesterday's vocab list" or "make notes for chapter 4". What I'm trying to tell you here is that I do not feel guilty about picking my own language pace and neither should you.

Well, unless you're in formal education and have an exam tomorrow.

You’re on the way to a great language learning routine!

So that’s a lot of great advice for you today! Building your successful routine might not be instant, but it doesn’t have to be a chore either!

If you can build in that balance of consistency and flexibility, great goals, and even better organisation, you’ll be on your way. 

Avoid getting trapped in language learning apps and set realistic expectations for your progress. Remember to make your language learning routine fun and engaging, and connect with others who share your passion for language. 

By incorporating these elements and using the resources I’ve recommended for you above, I know that you can achieve all your fluency goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you create a language learning routine?

It takes a little bit of self-knowledge, a great study system, and some guidance through great resources and mentors. The key to language learning is to think of it as a habit that you’re building for the long-term, so it’s important to find the methods that work best for you as an individual.

How many hours should I study a language a day?

Great question, and the answer depends on how fast you need to achieve your language learning goals. I have certainly studied languages for many hours a day at different times in my life. Usually this was when I was in full-time education and learning languages was my job. Now that I am learning languages more as a hobby, I don’t have the time to dedicate many hours a day. This means the progress is slower, but it is still progress!

How do I write a self study plan?

Start by getting clear on your goals, then break those down into specific actions that you want to take so that you can reach those goals. You should allow some space to organise your resources, track your progress, and also review how you are getting on.

Want all of this ready to go in easy worksheets? Then get the Language Habit System. You’ll love it.

Can Duolingo make you fluent?

If you only ever practiced your languages with Duolingo, you would become very good at Duolingo. To become flexible enough to understand real conversations and speak with people, I recommend building a more robust study routine.

Can you learn 2 languages at once?

Yes! You can learn even more languages at the same time, and it can be a lot of fun to do this! Make sure that you match your time and energy to the language learning goals. Here are more tips for learning multiple languages at the same time.

What is the most effective way to learn a language?

Personally, I like learning independently because it allows me to make time for my target language and go at the pace that is right for me. Of course I also buy course books and hire tutors, but I like to be in charge of my learning. It is the best way to bring in my love for the language that I am learning, and to enjoy the process.

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