Finding the time to practice is one of the hardest things about learning a language.
It should be one of the easiest, but with our increasingly busy lifestyles and the never-ending list of things to do, it’s often pushed to the sidelines in favor of something a little more, well, pressing.
The reality is that you need to practice (ideally every day) in order to retain the information you’ve learned.
Otherwise? Let’s just say it’ll take you a whole lot longer to master that language—an already seemingly endless task, am I right?
I can hear you now, all “Do you know how busy my schedule is?” and “Seriously? You do realize I have a life to live, right?” But fear not, fellow learners, daily language practice needn’t be a chore—and it certainly doesn’t have to take any time out of your day.
“What, there’s a way to make a day longer than 24 hours?” you ask.
Well, not exactly.
Instead, you can slip in practice around the big tasks that take up the bulk of your day—you know, like eating, working, watching TV and shopping for human essentials like food and clothes.
I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say that between these activities there’s a bit of a lull, a bit of downtime where you might find yourself twiddling your thumbs or scrolling through your Facebook feed.
The most obvious time? On your coffee break, of course.
If you’re anything like me, you drink a lot of coffee during the day. Now tell me this, how do you spend your time while you’re waiting for it to brew?
I have an idea.
Actually, I have eight ideas.
These activities don’t take longer than 10 minutes and they provide a great way to slip in some daily language practice even on the busiest of days. Plus, taking the time to practice for 10 minutes here and there will work wonders for your progress–trust me.
It gives you time to step away and retain the information without being overwhelmed. And you’ll never have to twiddle your thumbs again!
8 Ways to Learn a Language on Your Coffee Break
1. Play a game
Learning a language should be fun.
Therefore… Yeah, you see where this is going. There are so many language learning games out there these days, from burrito builders (for Spanish learners—one of my personal favorites) to good old fashioned pairs. Take five minutes or so to complete a level or run through one round of questions or whatever.
Remember to choose a game that you can actually practice and learn from. There’s no point in playing something that’s easy, just so you can win—trust me, I’ve made this mistake.
As well as playing games, you can also have a quick run through of a language learning app. Many of these are laid out into levels and sections and presented in bite-sized chunks, usually taking the same amount of time as it takes a kettle to boil. Convenient.
One great option is FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks, and turns them into fun language learning lessons. The FluentU App is perfect for coffee break practice thanks to its real-world context and personalization of content.
Top tip: You can even change your non-language learning games into language learning games simply by changing the language setting. That means all your favorite games on your phone or your computer now double up as a tool for learning–how great is that?
2. Read a newspaper
You can learn many things from reading a newspaper, from serious situations taking place around the world to less serious things like who was the best-dressed at the Oscars.
You can also learn and practice a language by reading a newspaper.
Obviously it’s near on impossible to buy a newspaper in your target language if you’re not in a native-speaking country, but that’s where the beauty of the internet comes in. Simply search for “Newspapers + your target language” in the mighty oracle that is Google and your world will immediately be blown wide open.
If you don’t want to spend time searching, here are some great guides we’ve put together with tons of resources for using the news to learn these target languages:
Reading the news in your target language means you can learn about serious situations around the world, who wore what best at the Oscars, and brush up on your language learning.
You can choose which section of the newspaper to get stuck into, so it’ll hopefully be something you’re interested in, plus it’s mildly nostalgic to read the news with a coffee, right?
Top tip: Newspapers tend to use really simple language, but remember to write down any words and phrases you’re not sure about so you can check them out later.
3. Listen to a podcast
Podcasts are a great way to get used to the sound of your target language, to pick up on intonation, and to begin to improve your listening comprehension.
They’re also a great way to fill the small pockets of time that occur in your daily schedule. Getting the bus somewhere? Need to walk somewhere? Waiting for your coffee to brew? Whack on a podcast.
They’re easy to dip in and out of and there’s such a vast selection out there, you’re bound to find one on a topic you’re interested in or a topic you need to practice.
Not sure which podcasts are worth your time? No worries! We’ve already gone through and found the best for you in these target languages:
- English learner | Native English
- French learner | Native French
- German learner
- Japanese learner
- Spanish learner
Top tip: Lots of language learning podcasts have a transcript and tasks to go alongside them. Notes in Spanish, for example, provides worksheets for every episode. This is the perfect way to delve a little deeper into the practice and create a multisensory learning experience.
4. Write a blurb about your day
Finding the time to write anything during the day, let alone in your target language, is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. But if you think about it as if you’re writing a to-do list (something I’m sure you write in abundance) then it’ll seem like a much easier task.
While you’re waiting in line in a shop, waiting for something to print, or—you’ve guessed it—listening to the kettle boil, grab a post-it note, or open up a “notes” app on your phone if you have one, and jot down a few words about your day.
Simple sentences are fine, just like if you were writing a to-do list or, if you have more time and a lot to write, feel free to crank out a full-page essay on what you’ve had for lunch or how late your bus was that morning.
This limbers up your writing skills in your target language and encourages you to think about simple things and actions in the foreign language. Plus, you can always look back over it the next day to practice further and remind yourself what you did.
Top tip: Consider writing your to-do lists in your target language, too, so you’re forced to look over it at various points throughout the day.
5. Run through some flashcards
Whenever you learn a new word, make sure you write it down on a flashcard along with a description that you’ll understand and remember.
Make it as quirky as you want.
Use colors and images if you need to.
While you’re waiting for your coffee to brew or your lunch to heat up in the microwave, run through a few of these flashcards and test your memory.
Top tip: Keep flashcards grouped in batches that focus on a particular topic. You’ll be able to create connections through similar words and phrases and are more likely to remember where and when you practiced what topic using the theory of set and setting.
6. Flick through a dictionary
Flicking through a dictionary is so underrated. Think of all those words!
The thing to remember here is to not fill your head with obscure words that you’re never going to use. Instead, flick through to words you learned in last night’s lesson or turn to phrases you’ve been wondering about for ages.
It’s easy to get sucked into dictionary browsing, so perhaps write down a list of words you’d like to practice and learn the meaning of beforehand so you have some focus.
Top tip: After you’ve nailed a word and its meaning, create a couple of sentences using it to retain the information–maybe even write it down on a flashcard.
7. Start a language practice group by the water cooler
Starting an impromptu class by the coffee-machine or water cooler isn’t easy if there’s no one in your office who is learning the same language as you.
But, if there are, make good use of them!
Plan to meet at a certain point throughout the day for 10 minutes and commit yourselves to only speaking in your target language during that time.
You can take this one step further, too, and test each other with flashcards, challenge each other to two-player language learning games, or discuss a podcast you’d all planned to listen to the night before.
Daily language practice is so much easier when you have other people to motivate you and you’ll be able to share ideas and bounce questions off of each other.
Top tip: Set a task for each meeting so that there’s some kind of focus and you’re not tempted to simply chat about the hottie who works in the office next door.
8. Watch commercials in your target language
Everyone hates commercials.
But despite their numerous bad qualities, they are a great way to pick up a language because they offer lots of repetition and keywords.
All you have to do is search for “commercials” or “ads” in your target language in YouTube and you’ll be inundated with pages and pages of them.
If you’d like to learn with commercials more efficiently, then you should check out FluentU. FluentU not only makes it easy to understand and enjoy any video, but it turns the video into a language learning lesson. There’s no better way to learn how a word is used than by seeing examples of it in multiple videos.
The best thing about ads is that they’re short and to the point, so you can watch a few in 10 minutes, or watch one over and over again until you’ve mastered its meaning.
Top Tip: If you’re trying to learn a certain set of vocabulary, choose commercials that match it. For example, if you’re looking to learn words relating to cars, select car commercials, or if you’re wanting to understand more words related to cleaning, choose cleaning ads—simple!
How about it? Think you have a spare 10 minutes free every day? Not anymore you don’t! I challenge you to choose at least three of these activities and incorporate them into your coffee break (or while you’re waiting for the bus, or while you’re waiting in line at a store) in the coming week.
I bet you’ll be surprised at how well short, sharp bursts of daily language practice work for you!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.