Time Management and Language Learning

For some people, the phrase 'time management' is a profane blasphemy.

An important skill to cultivate when setting out to learn a language is something that has nothing to do with languages, and that is time management.  Regardless of the learning method you pursue, whether that’s formal classes, tutoring, textbook learning, input-based learning, spaced-repetition flashcards, or anything else under the sun, you will fail if you never get around to working on it.  With languages especially, you need to be able to commit to and devote a lot of time as regularly as possible, preferably every day.  You can still learn new languages if you can’t devote time every day to it, but it’s going to go much slower, because there’s a snowballing effect that devoting time has.  Someone who can find time for an hour of studying every day isn’t going to just learn seven times faster than someone who can only find an hour per week, they’re going to learn exponentially faster.  And of course everyone’s schedule and list of priorities are different, so there isn’t a one size fits all solution to managing one’s time.

Time management techniques are not one size fits all, either, and they are absolutely useless to some people.  I’ve have a good number of friends who are like oil and water with planning schedules or setting aside time in a structured way, and while some of those people also totally fail to get anything done, a lot of them manage to stay on top of everything they’re trying to do, anyway.  And, of course, I’ve met plenty of people who meticulously plan everything out and also fail to get anything done, so time management isn’t some magic bullet, either.  I know, I used to be one of those people.

Regardless of anything, though, I do think that at least trying out a structured time management system is worth doing by everyone, even if you can’t stick with it due to personality clashes.  I recommend that everyone set aside a week or two and do their best to stick with a time management system, obeying all its rules and doing all its busywork.  Which system doesn’t really matter, whatever one looks the most interesting/least horrible to you.  The goal is to succeed as it for the time you try it, whether or not you end up sticking with it, and if the thing you try is something that feels like a draconian nightmare to you, you’re probably not going to stick with it even for the week or two.  After that trial period’s up, you can either stick with it or drop it, up to you, the important part is giving it a shot.

I recommend this, because I think it’s a worthwhile experience and can have lots of fringe benefits on your life outside of whatever it is you’re trying to make time to do, regardless of whether you stick with the system afterwards or not.  I have tried and failed spectacularly to stick with a rigid time-tracking system, which is where you time yourself for all or a portion of your day, keeping a log of how you spend your time.  That I ‘failed’ at this might cause you to look at me askance, then tap on the number section of this blog with your eyebrows raised, but I will remind you that those numbers are rounded estimates and not the result of me timing myself.  The times listed for watching/listening practice, for example, are the (rounded) total lengths of all the shows/movies/podcasts from the day added together.  It gives me a total for tracking here, but that is not an authentic case of time tracking.

I am a consummate fidgeter.  When I’m watching or listening to something, I pause and resume it all the time, to do things like chat on Discord, refresh a website, get up and say stupid cutesy stuff to one of my pets for five minutes (“¿Quién es un buen chico? ¿Eres tú?  Ay, ¡qué tan buen perro mío!”), or go see if the stuff in the fridge has magically changed since I checked it five minutes ago.  A twenty-two-minute episode of Miraculous absolutely never takes twenty-two minutes for me to watch, it always takes longer, sometimes significantly longer.  How much longer?  No idea, I don’t track that time.  I’ve tried, but it drove me totally crazy.  That said, I’m glad that I tried it out.

If nothing else, it gave me a good appreciation for how I spend my time, and is one of the reasons I felt comfortable upping my daily expectation of Spanish time to around three hours, as well as why I’ve taken on and slowly increased the amount of writing per day I try to get in.  It’s easy to make assumptions about how long such and such a thing takes to do, but often those assumptions are wildly incorrect, because a human’s ability to perceive the flow of time is not attuned to any sort of real clock.  Forcing yourself to attune your actual life to an actual clock gives you a lot of useful, actionable information about how you go about using or wasting your day.

That information plus time spent reflecting on your personal priorities makes it a lot easier to make real plans.  It’s one thing to tell yourself that learning a language is important to you, but you never seem to find more than twenty minutes a day to work on it, and another thing to feel that way but see you average four hours a day of youtube surfing.  Maybe that means cutting back on youtube and hitting the books.  Or, y’know, maybe that means deciding that language learning isn’t as important to you as you thought, no judgment here, relaxation time is good to have and worth retaining in this crazy-busy modern world.  The valuable thing is you can think about those things and make those decisions from an educated perspective.

And hey, sometimes you get in the habit of a time management technique and find that you really value it.  That is, more or less, one of the key benefits I get out of this blog.  A lot of systems recommend some form of progression tracking with a built-in level of accountability, such as a scheduled call with a friend or relative where you go over your successes and failures of the previous week with them.  The tracking encourages you to define a goal you can strive for (going to the gym for thirty minutes a day is a lot more concrete of an action than ‘get in shape’ is), and the phone call attaches a level of accountability to the plan.  Nobody wants to make a plan to call their mom on Sundays to talk about how their diet’s going, and need to tell her that they broke down and ate an entire pizza on Friday.  And while I try to make these blogs more than just that, they are a way for me to shout into the internet that I did not, in fact, gorge myself on pepperoni until I passed out.

I mean, I didn’t do that metaphorically speaking, Friday was rough, okay?

Anyway, let’s take a lot at this week’s greasy, shame-stained numbers.

Tuesday 8/27

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 16% of La Corona de Hielo, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 4 episodes of Danel San GMR, 1 episode of Andrea Ga ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 8/28

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 16% of La Corona de Hielo, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of Andrea Ga, 3 episodes of Daniel San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 8/29

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 16% of La Corona de Hielo, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of Diablero, 1 episode of No Hay Tos, 1 episode of Arte Divierte, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 8/30

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 16% of La Corona de Hielo, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 2 episodes of No Hay Tos, 1 episode of Arte Divierte, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 8/31

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 16% of La Corona de Hielo, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, 1 episode of Arte Divierte, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 9/01

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 20% of La Corona de Hielo, ~110 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, 1 episode of Diablero, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 9/02

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of Dinero a Mansalva, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, 2 episodes of TED en Español, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1 and 1/10 books, 650 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 12 youtube episodes, 5 podcasts, and 9 tv episodes watched, 630 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 21 hours 20 minutes

So a pretty good week all told.  I read and finished all of La Corona de Hielo this week, as the Tiffany Aching books in Discworld are on the short side.  I really like the Tiffany Aching books, their plots are really solid and fast-paced, and the witches are some of the best characters that Discworld has to offer.  I started in on Dinero a Mansalva, which had a good opening.  The main character of it, Moist Von Lipwig, is a late-comer to the series, with this being only his second book, but I was instantly on board with him.

This week I also added a bunch of new stuff to my listening rotation, including a couple new shows, Diablero, a Netflix original that’s originally in Spanish, and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which I’ve been lowkey hype about for a while.  I’ve been enjoying both, though Diablero is significantly harder for me to understand.  I’m hoping it will get easier over time.  I also added TED en Español, a podcast collecting Spanish language TED talks.  Like a lot of people, I quite enjoy TED talks, so it’s a natural addition to my listening practice.

On Duolingo this week, I came across several questions over a common point of contention in English, which is the abundance of phrasal verbs, which are far less common in Spanish.  English has a ton for lots of strange things, like “to put on” or “to get married,” that often can be restated with a non-phrasal verb, such as “to wear” or “to marry,” but often get said in the more complicated way for whatever reason.  To say nothing of the fact that a lot of those phrasal verbs can be split, and you can say “put on your jacket” or “put your jacket on” and it means the same thing.  Spanish’s rules for those sorts of things are a lot simpler.

And now, since August has ended this week, let’s take a lot at the month’s numbers as a whole.

  • Total Duolingo: 620 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 42 tv episodes, 28 youtube videos, 10 podcasts, and 1 movie watched, 2,365 minutes
  • Total reading: 2 and 3/4th books read, 2,480 minutes
  • Total writing: 1300 words written, 150 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 930 minutes
  • Total Time: 83 hours 15 minutes

And here’s the breakdown for money spent.

  • Cartas en el Asunto, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • ¡Zas!, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • La Corona de Hielo, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $5.99
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month, $10.99
  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $17.97
  • Amount Spent on Services: $10.99
  • Total Spent: $28.96

Overall, a smidge on the low side for the month, but nothing terrible, the average per day comes out to slightly over two and a half hours, which is under what I aim for, but only just.  August just ended up being busy, and not in a way that I could really work around all that successfully compared to July.  No reason to be down about it or anything, I’m not feeling hectored or stressed by the schedule, and days without extra stuff in them usually go smoothly.

For my writing for the month (which continues to be largely outside of this blog’s scope, but this is just another layer of accountability for me), I actually had a really good result, writing 20,213 words of fiction and 11,246 words for blogs, for a grand total of 31,459, finally going over the projected amount based on my daily writing goal of 1k words a day.  This is in part due to the fact that toward the end of the month, I upped my daily goal to 1,333 words, so on the days that I wrote, I ended up gaining some ground on where I had fallen behind on other days.  The writing thing is complicated to really set and expect actual goals from, because in addition to missing the occasional day due to family stuff and the like, there are also whole days devoted to editing, which takes the same amount of time to get through as writing 1k+ words, but often results in a smaller word count for the document than when I started.  Those are quality days of good work, but it leads to the monthly totals occasionally looking less charitable.  Regardless, I made the decision to up my daily expectations, because I found I could meet the new expectation without trouble, and there are lots of writing projects I want to tackle.  Going faster means getting to more things.

Going into September, I’m hopeful I’ll be able to keep moving ahead with everything.  I’d like for my total numbers to be up compared to August, and since I’m not having a birthday, that might be more manageable.  Not a lot of excitement in Septembers usually.  Maybe that’ll mean getting a lot of Spanish stuff in.

Anyway, that’ll do for this one.  TTFN.

2 thoughts on “Time Management and Language Learning

  1. I know there’s a lot of gimmicky apps out there that all promise to help you master a language in just 3 months or whatever, but one thing I think a lot of them have gotten right is adding in little tricks like daily streaks and points to keep you motivated (addicted?). I use Clozemaster, Brainscape Spanish, and LingQ daily because … well, because I’ve built up a long streak of using them. It’s habit now. There are points.There are levels. There are leaderboards, dammit.

    In the beginning it probably needed motivation and discipline to use them, but now I’m so used to finding time throughout my day to knock through all three that even when I’m busy busy I still find time to hit at least my minimum daily objectives. I could probably cut out all of them at this point (especially LingQ) and just stick with consuming media through physical books and Netflix/podcasts, but then I’d have to start tracking my time with those sources of input and I’m pretty lazy about that. I import all my ebooks into LingQ, which tracks my “words known” and makes a pleasant sound effect when I hit a new level and it sends me a weekly summary of my progress and blah blah blah. For me, it works. It’s just a shame a lot of apps sell themselves as being the only thing you need to learn a language and downplay how much time you really need to acquire the language.

    Coincidentally, I just added Diablero and Dark Crystal to my Netflix list. I’m a few episodes into Dark Crystal (it’s weird and I like it, although for once I’m a little bummed by all the English actors I’m missing out on), but I got slowed down by Carol and Tuesday. That’s another Netflix original that just came out. You might want to check it out—the director is the guy who made Cowboy Bebop and it’s pretty damn good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That streak thing is why I’m still going strong with a 511 day streak on Duolingo, despite its incredibly limited utility at this point. That streak is just so tantalizing! Stuff like that is one of the better things to come out of the gamification of learning trend. I’ve used a variety of different gamifying tools in the past to varying levels of success, but I admit that I’m a little leery of them. A lot of the time they go too far and mess up your priorities. Good habits and personal projects should carry their own intrinsic reward for accomplishing them, whether that’s being healthier, getting things that are important to you done, learning something, or improving your mood, and if those gamification tools go too far, they can end up making you start to view everything through the lens of the extrinsic reward of whatever game thing you’re playing. I used a game called HabitRPG for a while a few years ago, which is a self-tailored game system where you build your own goal structure of daily habits and goals that plug into a full blown browser RPG game, with quests and bosses and things to fight. It was engaging and fun at first, but I ended up developing a bad relationship with the system, because I got drawn into the game aspect of it over the things I was trying to do with my life. It sucked all the passion out of the things I was doing and led to me sometimes cheating the system, just to keep the game going. That all might have just been my own head, though, as I was going through a heavy depression at the time, might be worth revisiting now, I dunno. I still approach those sorts of systems with a critical eye.

      And I’ll definitely check out Carol and Tuesday, Cowboy Bebop’s one of my favorites.


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