A Day In the Life of a Language Learner

Not accounted for is the daily, mandatory block of unchecked anxiety.

A lot of advice and conversation about language learning gets devoted to the amount of time needed to spend per day working on the new language.  Of course, the exact amount of time recommended per day tends to vary with who you’re talking to, and everyone has their own minimums, too, but the consensus is that more is better.  The more time you can devote toward language learning, the better you’re off, and the less likely it is that you’re going to fail.  And as that would imply, the inverse can be true, too, and the more likely it is that you’re going to fail the less work you put in.

It’s important to note that these things aren’t in a stable ratio to each other, though.  You can’t cleanly say that spending two hours a day means you’ll learn twice as fast compared to spending a single hour, as there are diminishing returns that make some of that time less learning-rich.  And, likewise, you can’t say that spending thirty minutes a day is going to be twice as good as fifteen, because thanks to how little time fifteen minutes is, it’s likely several times better than just twice.  There is no magic bullet length of time, just different sweet spots, and what works the best for you depends on you, not the specific stratagem of some internet language person.  More is always better, minimum amount per day to aim for is probably around a half hour, everything else is customizable.

Which is all well and good, many might say, but it’s one thing to say your personal target is two hours of learning a day, and quite another thing to actually build a schedule to manage that.  One of the biggest and most difficult bottlenecks of language learning is 100% the challenge of scheduling in the learning time, and it will defeat the majority of aspiring language learners regardless of how serious, well-intentioned, or intelligent they are.  You really just gotta put in the time to get results and making yourself do that is always going to be a major obstacle.

A good way around that obstacle is to figure out the things that feel the least like work, so when you do those, it doesn’t feel like it’s “putting in the time” at all, and lots of time gets devoted to approaching things from that angle.  There is, however, another angle to it, because sometimes you just have a pretty busy life, and it doesn’t matter how good your resolve is or how fun you find the material.

For people struggling with that latter problem, there’s a whole wealth of productivity advice out there to dive into, especially for those who feel like they never have time for anything while at the same time intellectually knowing that they have lots of downtime, but this meandery blog isn’t really going there.  I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “This blog is going somewhere?” and I would deserve the snark.  But for real, I’m not organized or qualified enough to offer any sort of productivity system, and if you really wanted to ask me for advice, the best I could probably do is say, “Have you tried not not working on it?”

What I can do, however, is try and break down some of the nuts and bolts of things.  Going back through the archives of this blog, you’d see me putting in two to three hours, on average, of work on Spanish, every day, week in and week out.  Some weeks were higher and some were lower, but always hovering around 2.5 hours logged for every day, and when setting out to learn a language, that can be a pretty intimidating amount of time to be confronted by.  Not everyone can just take up a hobby that consumes two and a half hours every day, nor should they be expected to be able to do that.  The truth is, though, that I eased into that over time, and largely have managed it thanks to working it into the margins of other parts of my life, filling up otherwise dead space, or shifting similar things into my target language.  Which is something I’ve said before, and have encouraged others to work on, but that’s also a pretty vague thing to say.  It’d be a lot more clear walking through a day in the life.

So…let’s walk through a day in the life, shall we?  This last Friday, February 21, 2020, in addition to my regular logging notes, I kept extra close track of what I did and how I spent my time, to try and give some insight into how I can fit 2.5 hours of study time into the margins of my life.  Now, obviously the things that I do aren’t always going to be something that’ll work for everyone else, thanks in part to my personality and the sort of job I have, but maybe things could work for others with some slight restructuring.  At the very least, you might gain some insight into how much of a hopeless nerd I am.

Anyway, let’s start the day, breaking it down into a few discrete chunks.

Day Start

8:30 AM my alarm goes off.  This is the same time I get up every day, I used to be the sort of girl who would set the alarm to just before I absolutely had to get up the next day, regardless of when that was, but as I’ve entered my thirties, I’ve learned to fiercely value my stable sleep schedule.  I proceed to spend the next hour dragging myself upright and getting ready to be a human being for the day, which features an indecently long shower in addition to the normal stuff, and ends with me sitting down at my computer with a cup of coffee.

9:35 AM I work through a lesson of Duolingo.  Over time, Duolingo has become less and less of a focus for me, and at this point I mostly just keep up with it to maintain my daily streak (which as of this blog’s upload date is up to 685 consecutive days).  I barely think of it as “Spanish” time anymore, really, and a single lesson takes so little time I round it down to nothing, but I’ll be damned if I don’t finish it every day.  Some days it’s at this point in the routine, other days it’s in the evening, but on this specific day it was the first thing I got to.  I then switched over to youtube and finished watching something dumb I had started the night before, plus a short thing or two in my subscription feed.

10:00 AM it’s about time for me to start getting ready for work, so I flip through and settle on what it is I’m going to watch for the day.  I’m right in the middle of watching a Daniel San GMR playthrough of Undertale, and the next episode is almost perfectly an hour long, so I decide on that.  I start it up and watch it up to the point where I need to put on my work clothes and head out the door, then pause, finish getting ready, and head to my car.  I fire it up, connect my phone to the Bluetooth, then pull up the video on my phone and hit play again.  I listen for the whole commute.  I can’t watch the visuals, which is both a negative in that I’m slightly less involved in what’s happening inside the game, but a positive, too, in that I have to focus more on just the audio and can’t lean on any crutches.  My commute into work is about fifteen minutes of driving.  After I’m parked, I pause the video, connect my headphones, then hit play again and listen as I walking through the parking structure and up to the office where I work.

10:40 AM I am at my desk at work, and between the starting and stopping, I have gotten through about 35 minutes of the video’s run-time.  I pause the video, turn off my headphones, and put everything away, grab coffee, and pull up my work computer to get ready for my shift start.

At Work

11:00 AM my shift starts.  I work for a financial institution in the call center, and the start of my shift is one of the busiest times of the day.  The calls are close to back to back for a long while after I get there.  Additionally, there are some system issues, making for particularly high call volume.  My scheduled first break is at 12:30 PM, and I work straight through to that time with no chance to do much else.  Things are timed well, and I manage to go on break within one or two minutes from how I’m scheduled.

12:30 AM I go on my fifteen-minute break.  Between running to the little girl’s room and reupping my coffee so my next break time will be just as dire, I manage to crack open Mago Maestro and read for maybe five minutes, getting just a couple pages further before needing to head back to my desk.  I get ready for more calls.

12:45 PM I get back to work.  The huge rush time is starting to wind off as the afternoon goes on, and the system issues are all resolved, so I start to see some gaps between calls here and there.  Not much, though, and by the time my scheduled lunch time rolls up an hour and forty-five minutes later, I’ve managed to read an additional five minutes.  Three and a half hours at work, and I’ve gotten ten minutes of reading in.  Aww, yeah.

2:30 PM.  Lunch time.  I brought a salad with me, which means I don’t have to head down to the basement level to use a microwave (the company banished the smell of microwaved fish and burnt popcorn down to the basement, which I can’t be angry about, even if it means needing to take the elevator to have a warm lunch some days).  I turn on my headphones and put my salad together watching the rest of the Daniel San GMR video.  I’m through with most of the salad when the video ends, but I have the dregs and some fruit and yogurt to get through, and I don’t feel like eating and thumbing through my kindle at the same time, so I switch over to some of my other youtube subscriptions that are in English.  I finish off my lunch, make, drink, then make more coffee, and settle in at my desk as the lunch hour winds down.

3:30 PM I’m back on calls.  The volume of work is definitely lower, as the stock market has been closed for a while and it starts to edge into evening on the east coast.  There begins to be real gaps between calls here and there, nothing extreme, but enough for me to get through a page or two here and there while waiting for my phone to go off.  Over the next hour and forty-five minutes, I get in about a half hour of reading.  That’s unusually high for the average day, though Fridays on the whole tend to be lower volume, so it isn’t too unusual.

5:15 PM I start my second fifteen-minute break.  It’s Friday and my coffee mug’s spent most of the week just being rinsed out after three or four cups with me saying, “It’s fiiiiiine,” so I wash it in the break room with dish soap.  It’s sparkling clean again, and I read for maybe five minutes or so, as I hit 3% read for the day according to my kindle as I get back to my desk.  I’m not holding a stop-watch to time myself while I’m reading, but Mago Maestro is right around the same length as Mago Aprendiz was, and I did some timing on that one to figure out how long it took to read 1%, so this is accurate enough for me.

5:30 PM the last chunk of work starts.  The markets have been closed for a while and it’s edging into real evening territory, with lots of customers probably unaware that we’re even open.  I start getting real gaps between calls, often for five minutes or longer, with occasional spikes in activity here and there.  My neighbors are also getting chattier, thanks to the lower volume.  I read the remaining 45 minutes of my book to hit 6% for the day by about 7:30, between the calls I and my neighbors are taking.  I could keep going through to the end of my shift, but I’m starting to get a little worn down from reading Spanish and keeping up with work.  I put the book away and fill up the space between calls doing less intensive time-wastey things.

8:00 PM I clock out, submit time sheets for the week, and head home.  I could listen to more Spanish stuff on the commute home, as well, but I am pretty tired, and have something that I was watching at lunch that’s unfinished.  I hook that up to my car’s Bluetooth and drive home.

After Work

8:20 PM I get home.  I typically don’t devote much time in the evenings to Spanish, and on this specific day that holds true.  Some days I can’t get to Duolingo in the morning, or get home from work a bit shy of my hoped for 90 minutes of reading, in which case I’d do that during the after work time, but everything went smoothly, so no worries there.  I log the time spent and what I spent it on in a spreadsheet for when I write this blog, then switch over to other things.  I also stop paying attention to what time I’m doing stuff, because I don’t think far enough ahead to consider that I’d still want to include the after work section in this blog, thus shooting my future self in the foot.  I definitely eat dinner at some point at least.  I also finish some house work, spend a bit of leisure time with friends online, and fail to get any fiction writing done.

12:15 AM I go to bed.  Some people here might suggest listening to recordings of Spanish speaking while sleeping.  I think that sort of advice is metaphysical mumbo jumbo and is worse than doing nothing, since you might fool yourself into thinking you’re doing something and therefore can rest on your laurels.  I eventually fall asleep in the silence.

And there you have it, a study day in the life for me.  Now, obviously, not everyone is going to have the sort of job as me where they can spend time reading, but a lot of the ideas and principles can apply to other things.  If I worked a shift that was more regularly busy than the 11-8 one (which I have, I started on the 7:30-4:30 shift), I could still get a decent chunk of work in.  Between my commute and lunch hour, I easily fit in my watching/listening practice outside of hours devoted to working on the phone and could probably squeeze out another half hour of that just by utilizing my commute and lunch time more completely.  Or, conversely, I could spend the bulk of my lunch time reading instead, resting easy knowing I could catch up with the watching/listening outside of work, as there’s other zone out time that I could occupy, both before and after work.  I mostly moved into this schedule because I was finding the abundance of time to read between calls and didn’t want to drive myself cross-eyed and too tired to keep reading toward the end of the shift.

The main thing I’m driving at here is how malleable this all is, though of course what I’m happy doing doesn’t work universally.  After all, even discounting the semi-uniqueness of having a job where it’s okay to fill up time with reading, not everyone has a commute or hour lunch that they can fill up, either.  Sometimes you have to carve out time for language learning from a packed schedule, and that can be difficult, if not outright impossible.  Sometimes, though, you can surprise yourself with just how much you can fit into a schedule that just feels packed.

Anyway, before this blog gets even longer, let’s look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 2/18

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of Mago Aprendiz, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of Kiwillius, 1 episode of Ducktales, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 2/19

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of Mago Maestro, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of Arte Divierte, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 2/20

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of Mago Maestro, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 2/21

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of Mago Maestro, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 2/22

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of Mago Maestro, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of Daniel San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 2/23

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of Mago Maestro, ~30 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of Daniel San GMR, ~120 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 2/24

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of Mago Maestro, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~70 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1/3 books read, 510 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 11 YouTube episodes, and 1 tv episode, 520 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 17 hours 10 minutes

A nice and solid week.  Monday ended up being a bit on the lackluster side, thanks to an especially busy day at work, but otherwise pretty normal overall.  I finished Mago Aprendiz early on and moved onto Mago Maestro, which once upon a time used to be a single book that got split into two after some edits.  I’m still enjoying the series and am looking forward to where Riftwar takes me.

As sort of mentioned in the main body of the blog, I’m watching a long-form series from Daniel San GMR, so it’s been dominating my watch-time lately.  I’m inching closer to finishing it, at which point I’ll get some variation in what I’m watching again, but I’m sorta getting wistful about this one.  Undertale is such a good game and revisiting it through this playthrough has been nice.

I’m a little unsure what next week’s numbers are going to look like, based off how things went on Monday.  It might have just been a bit of a fluke, as Mondays tend to be the busiest day of the week already and people were panicking a little over the stock market, but if there’s an uptick, I might be finding myself with a more limited amount of reading time.  We shall see, I suppose.

As this is the second to last blog for the month, it’s time to consider this year’s theme of Personal Fulfillment, and I think I made some real strides on that this month in some important, if not relevant to language learning ways.  I’ve been struggling since mid-January with getting something important scheduled, and fell into a bit of a common trap that I find myself in quite a bit, where I delay dealing with something that’s making me anxious or uncomfortable, rather than just getting it over with.  I had two of those things at once, actually, and managed to bite the bullet and get them set up—both on the same day a week and a half ago.  One thing has already come and gone (I was delaying getting my usual mechanics to look at something on my car that they had already looked at before because I hate confrontation of any sort, and they of course were really nice about it and got the problem fixed, because my anxiety was entirely irrational and borderline insane), and the other is scheduled for a week from this blog coming out.  This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about in that theme blog that makes ‘personal fulfillment’ different from ‘happiness,’ because forcing myself to deal with stuff that I have anxiety about isn’t fun.  It’s just important to get done.

Less successfully, I have made negative strides in my fiction writing endeavors, which will be more apparent next week.  I really thought I’d gotten on top of it last month, but it’s fallen through again, and I’m floundering to figure out how to make it work.  I shifted my sleeping schedule a bit this month to try and work on that, as I was getting up pretty early, but was finding that I didn’t really get anything done in the mornings before work, and was then going to bed too soon after getting back that I wasn’t getting anything done then, either.  With the sleep schedule shifted forward, I’m finding I’m getting a similar amount of things done in the morning and enjoying a relaxing, unhurried morning routine, while having clearly more time for stuff at night.  Just not, y’know, writing stuff, at least thus far.  I can make myself work on this blog during those hours (it is 10:28 PM Monday evening as I draft this exact sentence), but fiction is proving more squirrelly at the moment.  I think I just need to be a bitch at myself over it and force it for a week or two, until it becomes a habit again.  I’ll see if I can’t do that going forward and try to end the month of February on an upswing.

Welp, that’ll do for this one.  TTFN.

One thought on “A Day In the Life of a Language Learner

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