An often-used phrase that describes the time you have but don’t use:
Commuting to work, waiting in line, looking at stupid images on Facebook with even more stupid texts — that are always only partially true — or just watching recipe YouTube videos you never end up cooking anyway.
It’s all time you could use for language learning activities.
Many experts recommend you suck as much productive time out of the day as possible.
But is that always something you want to do?
And is it even beneficial?
The Problem with Using Every Bit of Time You Have… No, Several Problems, Actually
1. You brain needs downtime, or it will take it
There’s nothing wrong with using a little of your “dead” time to do some language learning here and there. But once you come to the point where you’re in Doing mode almost the entire day, problems will arise.
Your brain needs downtime. And if you don’t give it that, it will take it.
Usually by burning you out.
Well done, Joe! You are one productive beast!
2. The journey is important, too
In language learning it’s not all about achieving. You also have to find some kind of enjoyment in the process.
If you engage in language activities for hours and hours per day, chances are you’ll lose a bit of that appreciation. And when you do…it’ll probably get that much harder to stay the course.
And when I say hard I mean I wish I’d “accidentally” delete all my language apps kind of hard.
3. Most people won’t use much of their “dead” time anyway, at least not for long
If you do your language learning activities in one sitting, you only have to make the decision to do them once.
If, however, you do them scattered throughout the day, there will be many decisions to make.
In fact, you’ll probably have to constantly weigh your decisions: “Is this the right time to review some of my Flashcards? Maybe not. I’ll do it right after dinner.”
Decision-making drains your Willpower. (The fewer decisions you have to make throughout the day, the better.)
And with less Willpower, you’re less likely to take the steps necessary to take advantage of your “dead” time.
So even if you don’t burn out directly, there’s a good chance that this constant decision-making will drain your motivation.
And I haven’t even touched upon the fact that many people in many social situations would probably be embarrassed to do certain language learning activities.
Sure, you’d probably review your Flashcards (silently) in a bus packed with judging Homo sapiens. But would you practice your Chinese pronunciation out loud in a situation like that?
I know I wouldn’t…
4. Your brain keeps learning in down time
Probably the most important reason to go slow on using your “dead” time, is that the brain actually needs downtime to process all the new information you’ve learned.
A weight trainer will not strengthen his body optimally if he doesn’t rest…a lot. It’s the same with learning a language.
All this doesn’t mean that the less you do, the more you learn. If that were true, I’d be a freaking genius by now. But unfortunately, it just means you should take enough time off for the learned material to sink in.
Guilt No More
Downtime — in the right doses — is beneficial to you and your learning.
When you realize this, the guilt for not doing as much you could will melt away as snow before the sun.
And when this happens, your motivation to learn your target language will increase…probably by a lot.
You’ll feel much more like doing your language learning activities.