Planning around a busy life

Do you think your life is too filled up to have time to learn a language? If so, maybe you’ll change your mind a little bit after you read what I’ve got to say.

I lead a ridiculously busy life. I do not have a spare hour in my day, there is always reading to do or a class to teach, or life, or whatever. That, however, does not mean I do not have time to study Chinese. It does mean that I have to be rather creative with how and when I study Chinese. I know I’m repeating what a lot of others have said before about taking a little bit of time here and there. You can even find sample of language routines like this one. That sort of helps, but my problem is that I don’t have a daily routine, but a weekly routine, my Monday is very different from my Friday. So, I want to share my weekly schedule for you to see how I get my Chinese studying done, how I deal with contingencies and have time for a life.

First of all, I’m a neat freak, so obviously it’s very important for me to have a planner. Here’s what my planner looks like so you get what I mean.

schedule oh god!
What a good use for my Hanban bookmark. Btw the layout is partly based on the Passion Planner.

All the red stuff is basically things I cannot opt out of, basically classes that I take or give, including the italki classes. I think it’s really important to not think that formal classes like the one I’m taking at the university replace the conversation classes that I have through italki. As you can see my schedule varies day-to-day. The stuff in blue is all the reading that I have to do, which ranges anywhere from 12-15 hours a week. I am pretty much busy from dusk til dawn. So, when do I get my studying in?

Well, there’s always the “moving from place to place” time. Most of that happens on my bike, though some walking, so basically all that time is podcast listening time. Believe it or not that’s a lot of time, anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours, daily! I use that time to listen to all my podcasts, which includes one in Chinese and two in French. Choosing a podcast in Chinese was really tricky, I tried the last level of Pimsleur, 慢速中文青春爱消遣狗熊有话说 … and they didn’t really catch my attention. I settled on 新闻酸菜馆 for two reasons: native speaker speed and current affairs as primary subject matter.

Manu’s Busy Life Lesson #1: Use your commuting/moving time wisely by choosing something to listen to that is interesting and level appropriate.

Beginners and Intermediate learners will probably have a hard time finding something to listen to that is both interesting and level appropriate, which is where podcasts like ChinesePod, Popup Chinese, and the like are a good choice. However, if you’re stuck on that intermediate plateau I really suggest giving native speaker stuff a try, you don’t have to understand 100% or even 40%, just make your ears work and make your brain tired. Another thing about podcasts that I really like is that I download them on my iPod and have them there, which is way different from sites that have audio on their website only, or even through their app. It’s nice to just have my podcasts in one place where I can also make a “playlist”. Also, don’t go too crazy, I really agree with the whole choose-one-and-stick-with-it (for a while at least). The podcast I chose usually has a new episode every week and that’s good because I’ll listen to the same one a couple of times during the week.

All the podcasts!
Manu’s Busy Life Lesson #2: Conversation is sacred

Like I said before, I include my italki lessons as part of the events I cannot opt out of. Even if you are not learning on your own, conversation classes are a must, you just don’t get that kind of speaking time in a class with other students. If you are a busy person like me, paying for one-on-one lessons is a much better use of your money than a language exchange. In any case, it’s important to set a specific time for your lessons and having to pay for them makes you think twice about not having them. I have been doing this for the last 6 months and my spoken Chinese has really taken off, and I think in great part because I’m very religious about my conversation lessons.

Manu’s Busy Life Lesson #3: Any time is Flashcard time

Remember how I said I’m busy from dusk ’til dawn? Well, that’s only party true. We always have these short spare moments. For me, they’re the 5 spare minutes I have when I arrive early to class (or the teacher arrives late), while waiting in line at the cafeteria (or the bank, yuck), while riding an elevator, and of course while in the bathroom. All these seemingly insignificant short moments add up. So, whenever I find myself in these moments I pull out Skritter and do a little bit of “flashcard” practice. At the end of the day I’ve easily done my 15-20 min of flashcard time.

Manu’s Busy Life Lesson #4: Set a time for reviewing

Reviewing is super important and yet it’s also a bit more difficult to pencil into your busy schedule. I don’t do it everyday, but I do try to do it a couple of times a week. I’ll sit down with my notes from the last italki lesson, or my class and just kind of look them over. This is usually easier to do before right before the next italki lesson, or before I go to bed, it really doesn’t take that long. I also set a time during the week (usually on the weekend) to add to my Skritter lists the phrases that I have decided are important.

Manu’s Busy Life Lesson #5: Be creative about immersion

This semester I really wanted to get into a more immersion-style of environment, so I started taking all my notes in Chinese. Whether for class or from the reading, I’m trying to write it all in Chinese. It’s a lot easier that I thought it would be, especially because notes don’t require as much grammar as they do vocabulary. If I don’t know the word for something I’ll quickly look it up on Pleco and write the definition on top of the word. This means that I’ve pretty much incorporated Chinese into almost every little bit of my busy schedule. I feel like you could do something like this even if you were at a beginner level. You could for example, write shopping lists in Chinese, leave little post-it memos reminding you to do things in Chinese, write the date in Chinese, etc. This is what I mean about being creative.


Of course, this is just how to make time in your busy schedule for learning a language. But equally important is how you structure that time: how are your conversations, podcasts and flashcards contributing to a plan? My plan is structured around being able to talk about current events, which is why the focus is on relevant vocabulary and then putting it to practice with my language tutor on italki.

I hope that has helped motivate you! Happy learning 🙂

4 thoughts on “Planning around a busy life

Add yours

  1. Great post, it well describes how you must struggle against time to find moments to study, it’s a sport in itself !
    And I agree : anytime is flashcard time, thanks to Pleco who doesn’t need an internet connection. Merci pour tes conseils ! Another Manu, from France


  2. Yes, it has. I don’t know about skritter or anki, since Pleco has it all in one app. Of course some modules are not free, but I assure you it’s a bargain for people like you & me who study every day. Sorry to make my own promotion but I talked about it on my blog :

    Allez, maintenant je vais aller nager à la piscine municipale, et après…je réviserai mes caractères, 后会有期 !


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