Language Learning Strategies for Busy Students

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Finding the time and energy to study is a challenge all language learners face at one time or another. But with ever-changing schedules filled with academic and personal commitments, self-studying a language can be considerably difficult for students.

Luckily, balancing language learning with schoolwork is far from impossible! 

How do I know? I successfully self-studied over 5 languages during my (very busy) university years, all while working part-time, making YouTube videos for Polyglot Progress, playing roller derby, and taking over 20 credits a semester. 

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t always spend as much time learning languages as I would have liked. 

But the tips in this blog post helped me stay balanced as I simultaneously accomplished many of my language learning, academic, and personal goals.

Plus, in the years since I’ve graduated, I have learned so much more about what works– and what doesn’t work– for my language studies when I’m busy, stressed, or tired. 

Though I can’t change how I approached language learning during my university years, I can pass all of my language learning hacks for busy students on to you!
Want to hear my tips instead of reading them? Check out this video!

Take a Step Back 

I know, I know. You clicked on this blog to hear language learning strategies for busy students, not to be told to set your studies aside. 

The thing is, sometimes taking a step back from language learning is actually the best thing you can do for your language goals. 

In fact, the biggest mistake I made as a full-time student was constantly trying to maintain a time- and energy-heavy, idealistic language learning routine during the semester. 

I know how difficult it can be to wait until a school break rolls around to bury yourself in your language project. But I’ve learned that setting priorities and managing your time accordingly can help prevent burnout, ultimately allowing you to give more of yourself to your self-studies between semesters. 

The good news is taking a step back doesn’t have to mean abandoning your target language. As long as your priority remains finding a sustainable routine rather than a “perfect” one, you can continue your language studies alongside school and other commitments. 

The added good news is that balancing language learning with schoolwork doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, it can even be a way to relax and regain some of your energy between classes. 

Learn a Language While You Relax 

One of the most popular language learning hacks for busy students, parents, and full-time employees is using comprehensible input to learn a language while you relax. 

But you know why it’s so frequently mentioned? It works. 

Consuming media in your target language is a great way to build your vocabulary and comprehension through input. It can also offer exposure to informal vocabulary and phrases you won’t find in a textbook. 

And since watching TV, reading, playing video games, and listening to podcasts are relaxing and entertaining ways to spend your free time, they’ll encourage you to spend time with your target language when you get the chance. 

The key to getting the most out of input is choosing the right material. Attempting to read a book you might enjoy in your native language can easily become frustrating and mentally draining if you’re still not comfortable reading in your target language.

The secret to making language learning a relaxing, enjoyable part of your day is finding a balance between challenging yourself and indulging in content that brings you comfort and joy. 

Listen to What YOU Feel Like Doing 

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn how important finding that balance was until after I graduated and spent many of my college years feeling an obligation to study a certain way.

I was constantly searching for the most efficient language learning strategies for busy students so I could reach my goals faster

I believed I had to maintain an equal balance among all the languages I was learning. 

I felt guilty when I prioritised skills other than speaking, since I felt pressure to share my speaking progress on YouTube. 

But these self-imposed restrictions and expectations didn’t result in the progress I’d been looking for, and in fact actively kept me from it.

Once I leaned into doing activities I was excited about in the languages I was learning and stopped over-analyzing my study sessions, I started spending way more time with my target languages, resulting in more progress.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s important to evaluate whether your language learning strategies are still working for you. However, during times of stress, over-analysis can be overwhelming and ultimately detract from the time you spend learning your target language. 

Don’t forget that assessing your approach should also mean assessing whether you’re enjoying using your current resources, or if they’re just making you dread spending time with your target language. When you love your language routine you’re far more likely to keep up with it, and far less likely to unintentionally add stress to the academic pressures you’re already facing.

By listening to yourself and staying flexible in your approach, you can create a language learning routine that aligns with your interests and keeps your motivation high.

So trust your instincts, prioritise your well-being, and have fun with your language learning journey!

Use Your Deadtime 

As a busy student, it can be easy to feel like you have no time to learn a language. Working language learning into your deadtime can help you progress, even when your schedule is packed. 

What is Deadtime? 

Though the definition varies, deadtime is, generally, the time in your day you’re not focussed on a task. A great example of deadtime is time spent waiting, whether that’s at your desk before class starts or in line at the dining hall. 

Fill Your Deadtime with Language Learning 

While it’s important to give yourself room to breathe, some of your deadtime can be turned into a productive and enjoyable time for language learning. Here are some strategies to help you make the most of those moments:

Utilise Your Commute 

Whether you take public transportation, drive to school, or even just walk to class, your commute offers a chance to spend some time with your target language. 

Podcasts, audio courses, and audiobooks all provide opportunities to improve your vocabulary and listening skills during travel time.

If your commuting method (safely!!!!) allows for it, you can also use this as a time to read, study from a textbook, or work through some flashcards in your target language. 

Your commute can even be a time to practise speaking. Talk to yourself in your target language about the things you notice on your drive, what your plans are for the weekend, or what you’ve been learning in your classes. It’s a great, low-stakes way to practise speaking.

The best part of adding language learning to your commute is that it doesn’t just make it easier to keep up with language learning, it also makes your travel time more interesting! 

Combine Language Learning and Chores 

Commuting isn’t the only part of your day that can be made more interesting by using it to learn a new language. 

Everyday tasks like folding laundry, cleaning, and preparing dinner are often monotonous and don’t require your full attention, making them ideal for multitasking with language learning. 

Listening to a podcast or audiobook in your target language while you accomplish these tasks can help you fit language learning into your day, while also making these boring tasks more enjoyable. 

Turn Waiting Time Into Learning Time 

How do you pass the time when you get to class early, have to wait in line, or have 5 more minutes before you need to get ready to go to class? 

If you’re like me, chances are you reach for your phone to scroll through TikTok. By building a new habit, these periods of time can be transformed into valuable language learning opportunities. 

Instead of using your phone to access social media, open a language learning app or work through some electronic flashcards. You could also start a journal in your target language to practise writing skills and reflect on your language learning journey.

Using your deadtime to do language learning activities allows you to make progress even during the busiest of schedules. Just remember, the goal is not to optimise every hour of your day, but rather to find enjoyable ways to incorporate language learning into your daily routine.

So go, grab those spare moments and turn them into valuable language learning experiences!

Work Language Learning Into Your schedule 

As a student, your coursework, GPA, and academic success are probably your top priorities. Luckily, you don’t have to go to school for your target language to make it an equally important  part of your academic life. 

Take Classes Related to Your Target Language

Adding classes related to your target language to your academic schedule can make keeping up with your studies easier, as it becomes a part of the work that previously stood in your way. 

This could, of course, mean signing up for a class teaching your target language. But, the same results can also be achieved through alternative, language-adjacent courses. 

At the start of my second year of university, I started self-studying Italian. And though my school didn’t offer classes in Italian beyond the basics, I was able to take a class on Italian cinema post-Neorealism. While the class was taught in English, I was still exposed to the Italian language while watching films for homework and had the chance to gain a better understanding of Italian history and cinema. 

Taking classes in or related to your target language is truly one of my biggest language learning hacks for busy students, because it really does feel like a hack! Not only does this approach ensure regular exposure to your target language, but it also allows you to earn academic credit for it. 

While this approach was certainly made easier for me because of the degrees and minors I was pursuing, you can still create a language learning “class” in your schedule no matter your major. 

Create Your Own Language Learning Schedule 

Even If your school doesn’t offer relevant classes or you have scheduling conflicts, you can still make language learning a part of your academic schedule. 

Create a “class” of your own by:

  • Signing up for routine language lessons on sites like iTalki or Lingoda
  • Attending (or starting!) a language coffee hour at your school
  • Meeting up with an accountability buddy to study at the same time each week


You may not receive official academic credit for these “classes”, but you’ll still actively incorporate language learning into your life.

This strategy has been instrumental in my success, particularly during the busiest periods of my college career. Even after graduating, scheduling weekly speaking practice has been a huge part of how I stay consistent with my language studies.

Don’t hesitate to integrate language learning into your school schedule—it’s a game-changer in your language learning journey.


Learning a new language doesn’t have to add stress to a busy academic schedule. In fact, it can enrich your studies and provide an opportunity to rest and relax as well. By working language learning into how you learn, relax, and even wait in line, you can make progress in your target language while reaching your academic goals. 

Want more language learning tips? Check out my YouTube channel. 

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