The Best Time of Day to Learn a Language: What Science Has to Say About It (And How to Use It to Your Advantage)
You’re constantly improving the way you study languages, and you’re wondering if the time of day you study makes a difference in how effective you are as a learner.
So does it matter whether you learn languages in the morning, afternoon or evening?
In this post, I’ll try to answer that question, and give you some tips on how to make the most of the time of day you choose to study.
- What’s the Best Time of Day for You to Learn a Language?
- How to Learn Languages During Your Best Time of the Day
- And One More Thing...
What’s the Best Time of Day for You to Learn a Language?
The best time of day to learn a language depends on factors such as your personal schedule, your chronotype (i.e., the time(s) your body prefers to stay awake or asleep) and learning style.
That said, we can give you a rundown of what science has to say about studying languages during different times of the day.
Studying in the (mid-)morning follows your body’s natural chronotype.
There aren’t a ton of studies that have looked at the relationship between the time of day you study and your ability to pick up new languages specifically. However, there have been a few that looked at whether the time of day has any bearing on how well people have absorbed what they’ve studied in general (not just languages) during that period.
For example, one 2017 study suggested that university students performed best in classes that started at 11:00 a.m. This supported previous research that high school students also performed better during classes that took place in the mid-morning, but not in the early morning.
Likewise, a 2020 study further reinforced the idea that mid-morning schedules (i.e., 10:30 a.m.) were much more conducive to studying than, say, 8:30 a.m. study schedules.
If you really think about it, it makes sense. You’re not immediately alert the moment you wake up—you still have to do things like down a cup of Joe to jolt yourself awake, even if you’re a morning person. Your brain still needs a bit of time to go from “sleepy” to “oh yes, I’m so ready to dig into those flashcards,” and that can take a couple of hours or so.
Studying in the evening helps you perform best—provided you do it regularly before bedtime.
Now, I’m going to cite the only study I’ve been able to find that directly touched on the relationship between the time of day you study languages and your language proficiency.
In 2018, a study was conducted on Duolingo users’ activity during various times of the day. (If, for some reason, you haven’t already heard of Duolingo, we have a more in-depth review of the app here.)
According to the study, those who practiced regularly right before they hit the hay performed 52.9% better than other users. The authors credited this to the fact that you’re less likely to be interrupted before bedtime.
Studying in the afternoon can work, too—as long as you take a nap beforehand.
You’ll notice that I wrote the bit about studying in the afternoon last, and that’s because there’s hardly any research on how well students or language learners performed when they studied in the afternoon.
However, there is one 2021 study on the effects of napping on cognitive performance—i.e., your ability to learn, absorb and apply new knowledge. The study found that those who napped before 1:00 p.m. performed much better than those who napped at any other time of the day.
How to Learn Languages During Your Best Time of the Day
Now that you have some idea of why different times of the day work best for studying languages and/or cognitive performance in general, how do you ensure your particular study time works for you?
Experiment with different times to see what works best for you.
As you’ve seen, studies on the topic (or, at least, related topics) have vastly different answers to what’s the best time of day to learn language lessons.
The only way to know what time works best for you is to experiment with studying at different times of the day. Which feels best for learning a language? Which seems to yield the most results? If there isn’t a particular time of day that works best for you, how can you maximize your language studies?
Try breaking your studying into short bursts throughout the day.
Studying a language can feel repetitive at times, so you might tune out if you try to study for too long in one stretch. However, if you break your studying into shorter chunks, you might be able to focus better.
For example, if you’re going through flashcards, limiting yourself to 15 minutes per set before you take a break might be better than trying to slug through them for 10 hours straight.
You can segment your lessons within a given day, keeping in mind your unique study preferences and learning style. Experiment with how many words or concepts you can study within a given time. The study chunk you end up with should feel both productive and comfortable for you.
Alternatively, you can use language learning programs with built-in progress trackers to document your studies like FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Set a schedule.
Once you’ve come up with your own solid answer to the question of “what is the best time of day to learn language lessons,” you can now set a schedule. Studying at the same time each day will help ensure you consistently remember to do it.
For instance, if you get used to reading a chapter in your favorite textbook each day at 4 p.m., the habit will become ingrained enough to the point where you start doing it automatically.
If you keep forgetting to do it within the first week or even the first month, don’t fret. Exercise routines can take as long as six months to become ingrained, so there’s no reason to rush.
Fit the specific language learning task to your rhythm or schedule.
For example, if most of your time is spent commuting, you can pop your headphones on and listen to some language podcasts. If you want to get in some speaking practice, make sure you do it in a quiet place where you can be alone, or you might end up disturbing the other people who live with you.
Reward yourself for your hard work.
If you like treating yourself after a long study session, I have great news for you: rewarding yourself consistently has been shown to be effective in helping you develop habits.
So no matter how busy you are, you’re never too busy for a small cup of ice cream—or any of your favorite desserts, really.
While there are a lot of factors to consider when learning a language, choosing the right time of day doesn’t have to be a hard one.
Keeping all the benefits in mind, choose whatever time works best for you!
And One More Thing...
If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.
With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You get a truly personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)