My tactic to learn languages every day

I only learn a little every day

Even someone who loves learning languages as I do will from time to time have a hard time dealing with procrastination. Let me tell you what my tactic is to learn a little about quite a few languages every day. Maybe this tactic could work out for you too !

My goal is to feel I have achieved something. I have learned one new word or I have listened to a one-minute recording of a text and I am satisfied with that much. As you can see, when I say I only learn a little, I really mean the “little” part.

Now of course, if one day I feel like learning more, then why not, right ? The point here is to get the mental pressure out of the way. Setting my goal so low, I have no difficulty opening my books. It makes it not that big a mental deal to seat down and “just do it”. It’s a little effort for a big feeling of daily satisfaction and a sure victory in the long run.

My daily routine

To give you a practical example, at the moment, I am learning five foreign languages and am revising the spelling of my French mother tongue. Here is what I studied today :


My level: quite good, speaking and reading
Goal-of-the-day reached: one paragraph read + one basic grammar lesson revised

Today, I read one paragraph of the book below. It’s a book about the history of political ideas. I am at the beginning of the book, currently reading about sophists … I can already see you curling your lip, but don’t ! If you decide to follow my lead and political subjects are not your cup of tea, you can obviously choose any other type of book !

Istoria ideilor politice by Olivier Nay, the book in Romanian I'm reading

“Istoria ideilor politice” by Olivier Nay, the book in Romanian I’m reading

As you can see, I put a little sticky yellow tab where I stopped reading so that tomorrow I will easily come back to where I am at.

Also, you can see that when I don’t know a word, I look it up in the dictionary and then underline the word in question in my book and write its translation in the margin with a pencil. This way, I won’t have to go back to my dictionary if that word comes back again. Because it usually does … If it’s not a word out of the usual vocabulary, it’s often one of those words that that particular author likes to use.
When you read a book in a foreign language, you will come upon that list of words that the author chooses from. In another book, you will encounter another set of words repeated again and again. I like to read books in foreign languages because it’s a good way to expand my vocabulary when I already speak the language well. Even in one’s own mother tongue, there always are words we don’t know, so …

On the grammar side, I revised the way to form plurals. It is basic, but in Romanian, that’s the thing that gets me bugged. I often stumble upon a word that I don’t know how to decline in the plural and further. Just an example with a feminine word :
– ‘a house’ is o casă
– ‘two houses’ is două case
– ‘of the house’ is casei
– ‘of the houses’ is caselor

And since there are different ways to decline feminine words and there also are masculine and neuter ones, you understand why I’m revising the basics …

My Teach Yourself book for Romanian grammar and exercises


My level: beginner
Goal-of-the-day reached: listened to one Assimil lesson

For Portuguese, yesterday, I read the text below with the help of the pronunciation and I read the translation on the opposite page.

Today, I listened to the script and was surprised to hear that there is indeed a difference in pronunciation between próxima and próximo. It was not a typo in the pronunciation section. So, próxima is pronounced [pròssima] and próximo [proximou] (you don’t see that last word on the picture, it’s on the next page of the book). An [ss] in one case, an [x] in the other. Well, that’s something I’ll remember if not only because there is no explanation !


My level: beginner
Goal-of-the-day reached: listened to a list of words (pronunciation)

Then came quite a good surprise. I thought Russian pronunciation was difficult, but apparently, the only real difficulty lies in the recognition of the letters. Once I will remember how to say them, I’ll be fine, not like with Portuguese …

My Assimil book for Russian

My Assimil book for Russian


My level: beginner
Goal-of-the-day reached: one lesson read

I read the two sentences on the left page and the transcription in Arabic on the right. It took me a few minutes. I didn’t read all the notes below, this will be for tomorrow.


My level: quite good, speaking and reading
Goals-of-the-day reached: read about demonstratives + learned two words

So … Spanish grammar. Esta is for an object that is next to us, esa for an object a little further away and aquella is for an object in the distance. Got it !, next …

Vocabulary now … well, of course, it’s not a pizza on the wall, it’s a pizzara, a blackboard, and deletrear is what people ask me (I live in Spain since three years) to do when they can’t understand my family name and then I’m not much better at spelling out the letters. (Go explain to Spanish people the difference between the letters ‘r’ and ‘g’ when they aren’t catching your accent !)


My level: mother-tongue !
Goal-of-the-day reached: two words…

…ending in ‘t’ that I won’t ever get wrong now that I have consciously revised their spelling.

Note that I underlined them. The other stuff, I knew it for sure, so I just left it like that. Those two words on the other hand, I told myself that I may not have known how to spell them. So I underlined them.

Advantages of learning a little every day

There are two non-negligible advantages that I can think of.

First, when I open my books the next day, I haven’t forgotten where I was at. Of course, there are my little sticky tabs to remind me, but more important than that, my memory of what I studied the day before is still vivid. The information is still fresh.

I even often spend a few seconds taking a quick look at what I studied/underlined the day before. I am like “Ah yeah, I remember, I learned that.” I make no effort to check if I’ve retained the information, I just remind it to myself just before learning one new small bit of information. No pressure, no checking, no grades. Just the pleasure of remembering and then I go to something else.

This is by the way a faint attempt of mine to use the well-known learning technique called spaced repetition ; that is, re-learning the material at different time intervals (like five minutes later, then one hour, then one day, then three days later, etc.) The great Pimsleur audio language learning method for example uses this technique (under the name of Graduated Interval Recall).

The second advantage is that, unbeknowst to me, under the hood, my brain keeps “working at it” in the meantime. When I do other things in the day and even more at night. Well, I think that’s how it works at least. So, don’t prove me wrong on this one, I like it !

Language learning adapted to you

This is my way of doing things. I like to learn many languages at the same time and this organization is thus perfect for me.

I challenge you to try it !

Learn a little of at least two languages every day. A few words, a grammar rule, a one-minute listening session, etc. Do this during one week, come back to this article and tell us/me in the comments what you think of it !

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