Stress-Free Language Learning

stress-free-englishFor those of you who do not follow RealLife Radio, you might be unaware that Justin, Chad and I moved to Santiago, Chile in November (learn more about this exciting news here).

A little over a year ago, I started learning Catalan while living in Barcelona. I really love this language, and in Barcelona I had the advantage of being able to hear and speak it almost every day.

But now, I’m living in Chile, where the only native language is Spanish. What’s more, I spend everyday working on RealLife English with Chad and Justin, plus we all live together. So, if I were not to do anything to maintain my level in Catalan, I could easily forget it.

That’s why I wanted to share with you the things that have been working for me learning Catalan even though I’m living in a place where it’s not spoken. I imagine most of you are in a very similar situation!

I also want to show you that although living abroad can be a great way to improve your skills in a language, it is not completely necessary.

Let’s jump into this!

Make learning a routine

I have found it essential to make Catalan a part of my day-to-day life. Making habits takes a large part of the stress and effort out of learning–it makes it something that you do not have to think about, you just do it.

The best part is, everything I am going to suggest is free AND effective, and you don’t really need any extra time to do it. Remember, if you are learning a more widely spoken language like English or Spanish, you have heaps more resources to help you than I have in Catalan.

So let me share with you what has been working for me in Catalan and how I allocate my learning throughout the day.

6:45 – 7:15 AM

catalan-journalI start out my morning by journaling. This is a great habit kept by many successful and inspiring people that I decided to make a part of my daily routine about six months ago. I could easily do this English, but I kill two birds with one stone (that is, I achieve two objectives at once) by doing this in Catalan. I improve my writing, alleviate stress and worries, show gratitude for the many fortunes in my life, and make goals for my day (learn how to journal here). If there is a certain word that I need, but I don’t know it or can’t think of it, then I try to say it in a different way and make a note to look it up later.

In my journal I first do a brain-dump, then 3-5 things that I’m grateful for (it could be something simple like the cool morning air or something more profound, like the good health of my family and me), and last 5 goals for the day.

7:45 – 8:15 AM

After journaling, I meditate, then grab a cup of coffee and sit down to do some applied learning before I get to work. Usually, I try to do this for just 15-30 minutes and I find it an immensely fulfilling way to start my day. I like to keep my learning method varied so I often change up what I do. I might do some lessons in a free online course, or I might look up the definition of new vocabulary that I noted the night before in my book and add them to Anki. Another activity I enjoy is looking up a song’s lyrics and striving to understand the complete meaning. I always listen to Catalan music while “studying,” as well as while getting ready, to really spend my morning immersed in Catalan.

8:30 AM – 8:30 PM

Then starts my workday. During the day I have less time to dedicate to my Catalan, but I fit it in wherever possible. While working I often listen to music in Catalan and occasionally the radio–however I find this more distracting.

In the afternoon when I go for a run, to the store, or while doing other errands, I listen to a podcast. I also enjoy talking on Whatsapp with friends, many who are Catalan, during my breaks.

When cooking dinner, I frequently listen to more Catalan music.

9:30-10:00 PM

I end the day by watching an episode of a TV show or reading (and noting down new vocabulary). This is great because I often go to sleep thinking (or even dreaming) in Catalan.

At least once per week

All of these efforts I make in my day-to-day are great, but language is for communication, so speaking is crucial. For this reason, I try to talk on Skype or in person at least once per week, either doing a language exchange or just talking to a friend. Even though I am living in Santiago, I have found ways to make a few friends who speak Catalan (learn how I meet people in point 5 of this article).

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How I could improve my language learning

english-communicationHopefully you didn’t get the wrong impression–I am in no way trying to show off with this article. Although it might seem like I’m doing a lot to improve my Catalan, I always feel like I could be doing more. My current efforts maintain my level, grow my vocabulary, and improve my listening, but to really progress as a speaker, I need to connect with people by speaking whenever possible, which honestly is not that difficult to do, however it is extremely easy to not prioritize it and make excuses.

How many of us avoid what would make the biggest difference in our fluency?

Remember, you don’t need to get stressed out; it’s never too late to improve, and every effort you make, no mater how small, does make a difference.

I really like the strategies used in this article, and I plan to integrate them into my learning.

Now It’s your turn

I would love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments below what is working for you learning English or another language. What changes would you like to make, or what new strategies would you like to try?

If you enjoyed this article, also check out:

24 Comments

  1. Andrés IG on February 4, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    I've got another one. Every time that my family or my friends speak to me (in our native language), I translate their words in English language, using my mind. In other words, I am a kind of mental translator. In that way, I am always thinking in english all day long.

    • Ethan on February 6, 2015 at 9:22 am

      Hey Andrés, I really like that strategy! I sometimes do that, too. Also, sometimes when I’m thinking I try to translate my own thoughts and if I think of something I don’t know how to say in another language, I look it up. Keep up the great work, Andrés!

  2. masoud on February 6, 2015 at 3:20 am

    hi
    you said about journaling, what if you write things wrong and you can’t notice it. I mean, its kind of a correction that you need to improve your language by writing

    • Ethan on February 6, 2015 at 9:20 am

      In my opinion, it’s much better to practice and make mistakes than to not practice at all. However, if you want to get corrections I also recommend using lang-8.com, where you can have your mistakes corrected by also helping people writing in your language.

  3. Jaider Serna on February 11, 2015 at 3:19 am

    You could have done a list with these habits, so they could be easier to remember.

  4. Charleston on February 11, 2015 at 12:40 am

    What did you mean with “I am in no way trying to show off with this article”?
    Thank’s for the great article.
    So…
    I try to read some book on playbooks, marking the word or sentence that I don’t understand and look up on the internet.
    I try to use the dictionary as well.
    I also try to repeat what people say on the podcasts that I listen to.

    • Ethan on February 11, 2015 at 10:08 am

      It means I’m not trying to brag about my skills. Sounds great, Charleston, keep it up!

  5. Ludmila Strelnikova on February 11, 2015 at 7:06 am

    Thank you Ethan for sharing your experience with us. I believe that amidst the daily hustle and bustle of life you can find some time if you really keen on it.

  6. Ethan Zinho on February 11, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Good idea. I recommend you make your own 😉

  7. Ethan Zinho on February 11, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Definitely!

  8. […] you don’t feel like sharing your writing with anyone yet, then a journal is a great way to make writing a daily […]

  9. […] may be obvious, but scientific studies have shown that focusing on deep breathing helps to lower anxiety by reducing stress-creating hormones. So even though this is obvious, don’t forget about it! […]

  10. […] I said above, you need to find the right combination of language learning techniques to create a perfect routine that allows you to practice and effectively learn English […]

  11. Roberson Oliveira on April 21, 2017 at 11:51 am

    “I also want to show you that although living abroad can be a great way to improve your skills in a language, it is not completely necessary.”
    I can’t live in abroad, I haven’t financial condition for that. But, I totally agree with you. My daily routine it is reading, listening an article, podcast. I’ve read a lot of articles from RealLife and listened too. I’m trying make some friends online to talk with me and I have figured it out that is so difficult. It seems like they doesn’t like to talk or help a forengn to learn their language or even does not have time to it. But I don’t care if they can to talk or even I got hired for a new job (I need). I’m trying to learn English because I love do it, watch TV show with subtitles in English and audio.

    • Jessica Vera on April 23, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      I know what you mean

      • Roberson Oliveira on April 23, 2017 at 3:07 pm

        yeah..I am almost giving up.

    • Ethan on April 23, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Hey Roberson. Great point. I have seen some non-natives, for example from Brazil, who speak English wonderfully even though they’ve never been outside the country. I recommend recording yourself talking about different topics, and then watching/listening to your recording and self-evaluating. As for speaking with others, don’t just depend on native speakers. There are a lot less of us and it is hard to find someone who will help you for free or reliable exchange partners. On the other hand, there are tons of non-native English speakers who speak wonderfully and will be much more likely to want to practice together. Learn More in this article I wrote http://reallifeglobal.com/the-truth-about-speaking-with-native-speakers/

      Good to hear our resources have been helping you!

      • Roberson Oliveira on April 24, 2017 at 10:26 am

        oh, thank you, Ethan, for the answer and the tips. I gonna reading this article.
        I’ve made it, recording myself, but not all the time. I’ve read some articles and watched some videos from the channel on youtube. Yeah, I’ve seen non-native speakers from brazil or other counties talking perfectly the language.

        there is around two or more video that, I am talking in english on my youtube channel, but it is a short video. I can record myself em put them there on the channel, does not matter if I gonna talk wrong or right. Who knows I can get a job because of that. LOL

        • Ethan on April 24, 2017 at 8:42 pm

          No worries mate! It seems like you have the right attitude and you’re very hard working. Keep it up, you’re bound to get to where you wanna be 😉

          • Roberson Oliveira on April 24, 2017 at 10:47 pm

            Aww yea Ethan 😉



  12. Jessica Vera on April 23, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Hi guys!

    As ever, I congratulate you for your post. They are as treasures to me. Knowledge should be shared with no measure as you’re doing it.

    Regarding routines, I practice almost the same techniques to improve my English skills. I’m a Spanish native speaker and I’m not living in an English speaker place. However, journaling my day and plans is an idea that I have never thought and much less done so I definitely add it to my techniques. Another thing that I don’t do and being honest, I don’t because I’m making excuses is practicing my speaking. I’m introvert-like so I wouldn’t know how to start a conversation with a new friends face to face. But again, I know these are just excuses. So if you my friends have advice for me so I can remove my inhibitions, I will be more thankful.

    Best regards,

    Jessica

    • Ethan on April 27, 2017 at 6:00 pm

      Hey Jessica! Great to see your comment here 🙂 Thanks for sharing your doubt. I would check out what I responded to Roberson, who had a similar confusion. I also think this article could be really helpful for you to grow your confidence and overcome excuses: http://reallifeglobal.com/how-to-speak-english-without-mistakes/

      Anything else we can do just let us know 😀

  13. Virginia on April 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Ben fet home! It’s amazing you are studying Catalan 🙂 big sorprise from you!!!

    • Ethan on April 27, 2017 at 3:46 pm

      Merci! Encara tinc molt per aprendre, però m’encanta aquesta llengua i hi arribaré 😉 Best of luck with your English 😀

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