Meet your two co-workers: Sam gets into the office at 7am and leaves at 9pm and regularly works through their lunch break, Alex works their contracted hours (just). Who is the better employee? Even though we know nothing about the quality of their work, their attitude etc. Sam probably has banked far more good will, no matter how much of their work time is actually spent watching cat videos or booking holidays.
Presentism is the default in offices all over the worker, but it doesn't stop there. The value of somebody's study efforts is often viewed by how many hours a student is spending in front of their desk. But as with most things in life: If you improve the quality of your study efforts, you can cut down on the quantity of your study efforts. It is my life's mission to enable people to get results without spending their free time poring over tables and charts. Most of these study hacks (a terrible word , but the marketing elders assure me that's how the cool kids speak) are applicable to all learning scenarios.
It's a truth universally acknowledged that we find things easier if we enjoy them. Can you give a lecture on your favourite band's biography. Can you recite all the players and their lucky numbers of your [insert sport here] team? If your brain can retain this information, surely it can't be much harder to remember grammar rules and vocab, right.
Of course different people will enjoy different things, and just thinking positively smacks of desperate parents trying to get their toddlers to put the Lego away by pretending tidying up is fun game rather than a tedious task.
Lucky for the language learners among us (and if you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you are one) languages are one of the easiest objects of study to mold to your lifestyles and interests. And doing so is not cheating, but one of the best ways to make you really speak.
When it comes to language learning immersion is your most powerful tool. Take a lesson (pun fully intended) from the gentleman in this clip. His secret? He integrates learning English into his everyday life. Post-it's around the house and turning your pet into your study mate are all genius little ways to train your brain to think in your new language. This point, really is an extension of point one. The easiest form of immersion is a trip to a country where your language is being spoken. What better excuse is there to book a cheeky holiday - for education purposes.
Of course, even if the world is not going through a pandemic, but there are plenty of ways to create an immersive experience wherever you are.
At London Language Hub, we try to avoid rote learning. Nothing is more demotivating to an eager language student than a list of irregular verbs.
When you hear the German teacher's lament ("Learn the article with the noun!"), this is a great example of good learning habits saving you time stuck at your desk.
The studying part of learning is a necessary evil, and it will become even more so if you treat it as an afterthought. When it comes to retaining boring facts and, let's be honest, prepositions and their cases are hardly going to provide riveting dinner party conversations.
If you manage to carve out a few time slots (remember, little and often) in your routine, you can cut down on all-nighters before. Whether it's listening to podcasts when your exercising or commuting (German learners, check out the resources on DW),
Take it from the Queen of Winging It: when it comes to increasing the quality and decreasing the quantity of the time you spend studying, preparation is key.
Think about what you want to achieve, formulate clear goals and plan for dedicated study sessions to achieve them.
If you then have a comfortable and organised workspace with all the material and snacks you could want, you can hit the ground running.
Your brain will work tirelessly for the entire duration of your life, but in order to keep it in the best working order, you need regular breaks and downtime. The brain works very much like a muscle and in order to function as well as possible, it needs regular stimulation as well as regular down time. This has been backed up by plenty of studies.
As we said above, it's best to avoid cram sessions all together, but life has the annoying habit of not always going to plan. If you have to put in a study day or week, make sure you plan time away from your desk and when to return (nothing like deep cleaning the house when you are meant to revise calculus). This brainscape article has some great suggestions how to get the most out of your study breaks.
A good rule of thumb is a small break every hour, and an hour after 4 hours of study.
Mix It Up
This one ties in with taking breaks: staring for too long at the same information is boring and encourages your brain to switch off.
If you have to study for several subjects, fantastic: plan in a lot of shortish sessions on different subjects.
But even if we are just talking about one subject: Try to approach it from different angles using different techniques.
Here a few practical things you can do:
- Condense the information into a cheat sheet. Writing (but not using) a cheat sheet is actually a great way to engage with your study material and to further your understanding.
- Explain the material to somebody else: be it your significant other, cat*, dog or house plant. Verbalizing your thoughts and explaining it to somebody else in a way somebody unfamiliar with the subject matter.
- Take full advantage of flash cards, sticky notes and organise information in bite-sized visually striking chunks. Assign different colours to different categories and in time you will create an automatic association.
- Use the power of song: apart from rearranging information, music activates different sections of your brain which in turn helps you retain information. Here is a song to help you learn the German Dative prepositions.
Whatever you are studying for, it helps to remember that learning is a process. If you are just at the beginning of a particular course, make sure you schedule in frequent but short study sessions and hopefully there will be no need
*Be prepared for the cat to wander off mid-lecture, though.