Live Anywhere

How to Learn a Language Without Spending Any Time

Clock with Swiss flag.

Learning a language is often associated with hours spent in classes, with teachers and private tutors, while buried in books, doing homework, or at the best of times, using language learning apps.

What if there was a way to forgo all of that, and become fluent in a language without spending any extra time?

Well, there is, and it’s both easier, and faster than you think. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to learning a language without needing to spend any extra time to do so.

Here’s how:

Learn while doing other things

No, we don’t mean getting a job where you’re exposed to the language, or forced to speak/learn it.

Once you’ve picked the best language to learn, and have decided to start learning it, the first part is to get training material that lets you learn while you’re doing almost literally anything else.

For that, I personally use, and recommend to every person who asks me how I’ve learned to speak multiple languages, the Pimsleur Method courses.

Yes, it’s still education. Surprise! You aren’t going to be able to learn with any proficiency without actually learning, but the beauty of the Pimsleur program is that you can study it without adding any time to your day.

The reason, is that it’s a listen and repeat program, based on sound educational principles that increase retention.

Whether it’s time you spend taking care of your face/body (either for beauty or hygiene – yes, even in the shower), preparing your food, cleaning, or doing any menial tasks – that’s all time that you can turn into learning and perfecting a language!

Now, whether or nor you prepare your own food or clean your own place (or body? – some things probably shouldn’t be outsourced), there is surely a period of time that already exists in your routine, which you can use to learn your new language.

I personally listen to them when commuting, or when I have to do anything that doesn’t require heavy mental lifting. Since the courses are 30 minutes per day, it takes minimal commitment. If you drive 30 minutes a day (whether it’s your round-trip time to a coworking space, or just from place to place while exploring), or stretch for 15 minutes and incorporate another travel habit for the other 15, just put on your headphones, turn on the audio, and that’s your language learning taken care of!

No more being buried in books, taking thrashings from teachers, or hiding from that harrowing homework. All you need is a pair of headphones, the Pimsleur Method course for your language of choice, and not even an extra minute per day!

Start before you go

Now that you have a base on which to learn your language of choice, it’s time to start – but when should you start?

One of the most important factors in learning a language is application. You have to be in a position to apply what you learn, or it’s going to be harder to remember it for when you actually have occasion to use it. That’s part of the reason why immersion is such an effective method:

Learn, apply, remember.

If you’re willing to put in extra effort, then the answer is you can start at any time, and the sooner the better. Language exchanges like Hellolingo (R.I.P. Livemocha) allow you to talk over the internet in real-time, with people who speak the language you want to learn, so you can practice with each other.

By having an immediate way to apply the language, you will retain more, and learn much more, by having a structured course onto which to layer the experience of applying the language.

But what if you don’t want to expend the extra time to apply the language before going to a country? How long before should you start learning it?

When I first went to Japan, I had been studying the language for 9 months. I was very interested in the language, but wasn’t able (read: didn’t want) to make time to actually apply what I was learning. On arrival, I found that a good portion of my 9 months of study wasn’t readily available for my use. I had memorized the words, phrases, and grammar, but since they weren’t tied with real-world use or experiences, much of it wasn’t top-of-mind enough for me to use.

I later found out that this is in fact a common experience as it related to Japanese in particular – people report studying Japanese in rigid academic curriculums for years prior to entering Japan, only to have to basically re-learn it when they get there.

Luckily, there were parts of the Pimsleur course that I retained, but it was mostly what I had been studying in the month or two immediately preceding my arrival.

If you’re going to be visiting a country and want to learn that language, but don’t want to expend the extra effort to actually speak that language to real humans on a regular basis before you go, start 1-2 months prior to when you plan to arrive.

During that time, the course will cover enough fundamentals, including grammar and vocabulary, that you will have a foundation on which to build contextual learning in the country, and it will be fresh enough in your mind that you will actually be able to use what you’ve learned when you arrive.

It’s also important to not wait until you’re actually in the country to start learning! Without a solid base, you can misunderstand various phrases, words, and structures of grammar, and develop plenty of bad habits that the locals won’t correct you on (either because they don’t care, they find it amusing, or they consider it rude to correct you – in all cases, because they probably don’t know you that well anyway).

I had to undo a lot of bad habits from learning Spanish on-the-fly – even words that I thought had literally the opposite meaning, let alone my grammar – because I started by learning as I went, purely relying on translator apps and meanings I incorrectly inferred through the very little I could understand while talking to plenty of locals.

Having started with a base a couple of months prior would have made all the difference, not only saving me from all that re-learning, but also turbo-charging the speed at which I could pick up the language from the locals, by being able to hit the ground running.

Learn while immersed – from real native speakers

One of the things that you’ll want to get prepared for when you arrive in the country, are the phrases “How do you say ______?”, and “What is this/it called?” (Or: “What is the name of this?”).

These will be two essential phrases for taking advantage of the opportunity to be immersed in a language. Although similar, they have different functions.

“How do you say ______?” is used when you have a concept or idea in mind (or in mime) and want to ask how it’s said.

On the other hand, “What is this/it called?”/”What is the name of this?” is used when you can point to what it is you want to learn how to say.

These are by-far the most important phrases you can learn in any language. They operate on the meta level, and thereby open countless doors for learning the language.

Another valuable way to learn while in the country without needing extra time, is to use the time that you spend anyway using translation apps to also learn how to say what it is you’re translating.

If you’re having to use a translation app to get a point across, then naturally, whatever it is, has some immediate (and perhaps even frequent) practical value.

Next time, rather than just showing the person the screen with the characters, or letting the translation app speak, try speaking the words yourself. Even alphabets you’re not familiar with will usually have a romanization (another reason that English is one of the most useful languages to learn while traveling), so try saying it yourself! Don’t worry about looking silly, you’re obviously a foreigner anyway, and there’s a lot more respect to be garnered by giving something a try, and more importantly than that, much more to learn that way as well.

Sometimes, however, the translation app won’t do a good job, and the point won’t get across. If you’ve just spoken the translation, it might have had to do with your pronunciation, in which case you can show them the message on the screen (or let the app speak, if the one you use supports that function in the language). In either case, you get the opportunity to combine this strategy with your meta questions!

If they understood it when you showed them the app, asking them how to say it will usually result in them repeating the word or phrase properly, and you can get valuable insight into pronunciation at the very least. If you’ve been building your base of grammar and vocabulary through a language-learning course, you’ll probably find some immediate application to improve your language skills.

If they didn’t understand, but through miming, pointing, and using purposefully broken English, you got them to understand, you can then ask how to say it. That way, you’ll learn where you got it wrong, and how to adjust both your pronunciation, and your translate-fu.

I have found that doing these things is rarely an imposition on people, and in fact they are usually happy to help you. As an added bonus, the fact that you took an interest in their language, and they were able to shape your knowledge of it, makes them feel especially good.

By turning the task of day-to-day translation into an opportunity to learn from and practice with native speakers, you get to acquire words and phrases that are immediately relevant and useful in your everyday life. All for free, and with no extra time invested!

Conclusion

Learning a new language requires patience, consistency, and application, but it doesn’t need to take any extra time.

By utilizing the parts of your day in which you have spare mental attention, using a language learning system that’s specifically designed to optimize learning in that environment, and then taking advantage of the time that you spend immersed in a culture, you can pick up an entire language with no extra time commitment!

By using these strategies, based on the Pimsleur Method of language learning, I’ve picked up every new language I’ve learned without any additional time investment.

Compared to using software, websites, and apps for language learning, I’ve found just the amount of time savings well worth the price – let alone the value of being able to speak a new language.

Without Pimsleur, I wouldn’t have made the time to learn the languages I know. Maybe you can relate: if you don’t speak (or read/write) as many languages as you’d like to, consider you may be avoiding them because you don’t want to make the time (or don’t have the time to make). With Pimsleur, you don’t need to make any extra time. You can learn an entire language (or 50!) without investing any time (other than the few minutes it takes to buy and put it on your phone/music player)!

Click here to check out the 50+ languages they teach (including learning English from 10+ languages) and use the coupon code SAVENOW to get 25% off your order, plus free shipping!