Double your language learning with a study plan!

Do you have a plan when you sit down to study your language(s)? Do you know how long you are going to focus on one textbook, video, or CD before moving on the next topic? Do you know what comes next? If not, this post is for you. I have found that an effective study plan combined with some decent time management skills can accelerate you language learning drastically. I’m going to show you some techniques for creating an efficient study plan as well as a few good time management tips that will improve your language learning right away.

Why do I need a study plan?

A couple of years ago when I started learning German, I had no real idea of how to learn a language. I would pick up a course and work through few lessons and then move on to another course for a couple lessons. I’d create flashcards and go through them whenever I thought about it, which was sometimes several days apart. I would listen to random beginner podcasts sporadically and yet none of it seemed to stick. In short, I had no plan and was getting nowhere rather quickly.

After a few weeks of utter language learning failure, I sat down and decided to make a plan. I knew that I had 14 hours per week to devote to learning German. I knew that I wanted to prioritize speaking and listening, but not cut out reading and writing. I carefully put together a well thought out learning plan and made a commitment to follow it to the letter for 2 weeks. In that 2 weeks, I learned so much more than I had in the previous month that I was astounded when I looked back at what I had accomplished. I wasn’t spending more time on language learning, I was just spending that time more efficiently.

Why is a plan more efficient? Glad you asked:

  • A plan ensures that you are working on new material. Without a plan, I often found myself going over the same stuff over and over because I didn’t know what was supposed to come next. With a plan, you know what comes next, so you are learning new material instead of re-hashing old lessons. For those of you thinking that review is crucial to language learning, I agree. However, review time should be accounted for in your plan as review time. You should be reviewing previous material because you’ve planned the time for it, not because you don’t know what comes next.
  • Your brain needs structured repetition to retain vocabulary and grammar rules. You can’t just throw random information in random intervals at your memory and expect it to stick. Our minds don’t work that way. In fact, as many of you may already know, our brains convert information to long-term memory most optimally when that information is presented in increasing intervals of time.
  • A plan prevents skills from getting neglected. Language learning is basically a combination of 4 skills: Speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Without a plan, you could spend your entire study time on one or two skills and neglect the others. This is how people end up being able to understand anything they hear but can’t put together a proper sentence.
  • No wasted time. I have been known to stare at my bookshelf for 15 minutes trying to decide what do work on next. This can be a huge time waster. With a plan, there is no deciding what to do next.
  • A plan helps with motivation. For me, it is easier to stay motivated when I know what comes next. I can see what I need to do for a particular learning session and it has a beginning and an end. Additionally, a good plan will increase the effectiveness of your study sessions and nothing is more motivating than progress.

What do I need to get started?
Before you can write a great plan, you need some basic information:

  • How much time you can devote to language learning. Ideally, you will have a certain amount of time per day, but if there are certain days that you cannot set aside any time for language learning, then you can plan around those days accordingly.
  • Your language learning goals. Are you devoting equal time to all four language skills? Are you more interested in reading? Speaking? If you intend to prioritize some skills over others, then you will need to account for this in your study plan.
  • What resources do you have? Obviously you need to know what resources are available to you before you can create a study plan based on them. This can also help you to identify where your gaps are. Do you have lots of reading and writing resources but but very little audio for listening? Might want to track down some audio. Are your resources almost completely audio based? You need to get a hold of some books. Don’t forget internet resources (free or paid)!

Elements of an effective study plan

  • Start and stop times for each activity. This is vital to any study plan you write. You should make every effort to adhere to the times you choose because otherwise you will be sacrificing other skills if you run over.
  • A detailed description of what you will be doing during your allotted times. An example of what NOT to put on your plan: “Reading practice”. An example of what to put on your plan: “Assimil Spanish: Lesson 23″.
  • Make sure you identify which skill(s) you are working on with each activity and allot a sufficient amount of time for each based on your language priorities.

Some time management tips

  • Make sure that your language learning time is free of distractions. This should be dedicated time that you have set aside solely for the purpose of language learning.
    Organize your workspace. A cluttered and/or unorganized workspace can be very distracting. Take a few minutes before you start and clean up your study space. It will make a huge difference.
  • Schedule short breaks (5 minutes) for stretching and restroom time, especially if you are studying for an hour or more at a time.
  • Have everything you need on hand at your workspace. This includes pen, paper, notebooks, resources, etc. If you will need it for this study session, then it should be there when you start your session.

Putting the plan together

At this point, all that’s left to do is to put it all together. I recommend putting together a study plan one week at a time. This will allow you to evaluate your progress and adjust based on your progress. Is your listening falling behind? Next week, adjust to include more listening practice. Is a particular course or activity so boring that it is REALLY difficult for you to get through? Maybe cut that piece out and substitute with something else. Your plan should be flexible week to week, but not day to day.

Let’s work through a sample study plan:

Time available: 2 hours per day/ 7 days per week/ 7:00pm to 9:00pm
Goals: Learn Russian / Emphasis on all four skills
Resources: Pimsleur Russian, Assimil Russian with Ease, Teach Yourself Russian Script, Dover’s Essential Russian Grammar, ANKI SRS flashcard app for Android with beginner’s Russian deck.

Monday xx/xx/xxxx
7:00pm-7:30pm – Assimil Lesson 1 (if done early, review until time complete)
7:30pm-8:00pm – Teach Yourself Russian Script (timed 30 minutes)
8:00pm-8:05pm – Bio-break (stretch, restroom, snack, etc)
8:05pm-8:15pm – ANKI review
8:15pm-8:30pm – Chapter 1 of Essential Russian Grammar
8:30pm-9:00pm – Pimsleur Russian I Lesson 1

Tuesday xx/xx/xxxx
7:00pm-7:30pm – Assimil Lesson 2 (if done early, review until time complete)
7:30pm-8:00pm – Teach Yourself Russian Script (timed 30 minutes)
8:00pm-8:05pm – Bio-break (stretch, restroom, snack, etc)
8:05pm-8:15pm – ANKI review
8:15pm-8:30pm – Review Chapter 1 of Essential Russian Grammar
8:30pm-9:00pm – Pimsleur Russian I Lesson 2

Wednesday xx/xx/xxxx
7:00pm-7:30pm – Assimil Lesson 3 (if done early, review until time complete)
7:30pm-8:00pm – Teach Yourself Russian Script (timed 30 minutes)
8:00pm-8:05pm – Bio-break (stretch, restroom, snack, etc)
8:05pm-8:15pm – ANKI review
8:15pm-8:30pm – Chapter 2 of Essential Russian Grammar
8:30pm-9:00pm – Pimsleur Russian I Lesson 3

Thursday xx/xx/xxxx
7:00pm-7:30pm – Assimil Lesson 4 (if done early, review until time complete)
7:30pm-8:00pm – Teach Yourself Russian Script (timed 30 minutes)
8:00pm-8:05pm – Bio-break (stretch, restroom, snack, etc)
8:05pm-8:15pm – ANKI review
8:15pm-8:30pm – Review Chapter 2 of Essential Russian Grammar
8:30pm-9:00pm – Pimsleur Russian I Lesson 4

Friday xx/xx/xxxx
7:00pm-7:30pm – Assimil Lesson 5 (if done early, review until time complete)
7:30pm-8:00pm – Teach Yourself Russian Script (timed 30 minutes)
8:00pm-8:05pm – Bio-break (stretch, restroom, snack, etc)
8:05pm-8:15pm – ANKI review
8:15pm-8:30pm – Writing practice (scriptorium writing from Assimil starting with lesson 1)
8:30pm-9:00pm – Pimsleur Russian I Lesson 5

Saturday xx/xx/xxxx
7:00pm-7:30pm – Assimil Lesson 6 (if done early, review until time complete)
7:30pm-8:00pm – Teach Yourself Russian Script (timed 30 minutes)
8:00pm-8:05pm – Bio-break (stretch, restroom, snack, etc)
8:05pm-8:15pm – ANKI review
8:15pm-8:30pm – Writing practice (scriptorium writing from Assimil starting from where you left off yesterday)
8:30pm-9:00pm – Pimsleur Russian I Lesson 6

Sunday xx/xx/xxxx
7:00pm-7:30pm – Assimil Lesson 7 (if done early, review until time complete)
7:30pm-8:00pm – Teach Yourself Russian Script (timed 30 minutes)
8:00pm-8:05pm – Bio-break (stretch, restroom, snack, etc)
8:05pm-8:15pm – ANKI review
8:15pm-8:30pm – Review Chapters 1 and 2 of Essential Russian Grammar
8:30pm-9:00pm – Pimsleur Russian I Lesson 7

There. That was one week of (in my opinion) a very well-balanced and realistic study plan. That should give you an idea of what you can accomplish in your own study plan. Just remember that your plan should be flexible, but you should also be willing to commit the time and energy to it consistently. No matter how great your plan is, if you don’t follow it, it won’t do anything for you.


Do YOU have a study plan? Did I miss anything? Tell me in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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