Back to work: language learning after summer

This week I had a long and urgent copy editing project to work on. As a result, I had to give up my daily language learning hour and focus on work until late.
It felt like a proper “back to work” week.
Giving up on my precious me-time with textbooks, I got grumpy and frustrated.
After a slow summer, it reminded me how often we have to put language learning on hold.

In my life, language learning is more than studies. It’s my way to take time for myself, immerse in something I love and turn off my loud thoughts. It’s a safe comfy corner to hide in on a late afternoon, wrapping up the day thus far. For me, it’s the most mindful, purposeful moment of the day.

Skipping a day (or two, or three) while I’m in London laughing and sharing pieces of recent life with my favourite ladies is no big deal.
But if I spent 10 hours sitting at my desk, reading the same pages again and again until my brain feels foggy… then I start feeling like I want to throw my laptop off the window.

And this pretty much sums up how it feels in September. The holidays are over and so are the times when leaving language learning aside felt good – or when we had plenty of time for it.

So, how to get back to work, without giving up lots of language learning? And how to avoid anxiety in the process?

back to work

Don’t worry about being productive

Or better, do me a favour and scrap the word “productivity” all along. Most of the time, you achieve it by putting into place dreadful life hacks. They will make you finish work faster, sure, but also stress the life out of you.
Ideally, we need to find a nice balance between scrolling on social media for two hours and aiming at finishing all of the tasks for the week on Monday morning.

Take the time to make yourself a coffee, get up and stretch, or just to look out of the window and let your mind wander. Let yourself be lazy for a moment.
Rushing to finish work earlier will give you more time off, but will also turn your brain to pulp.
A bit of daydreaming, on the other hand, might spur your creativity. And we can definitely use some of that in language learning…

Be creative

Now that you’re back to work you’ll have less time for language learning, so let’s try to make it as enjoyable as possible.
I love to use different kinds of authentic materials and to create exercises and activities around them. It’s like building my own textbook.

And if you’re shaking your head and thinking that you don’t know where to start from, what about translating a catchy song? After, you can sing along and learn it by heart – together with vocabulary and grammar structures.
For movie buffs, read a short review of a film you recently watched. Then you can write your own review with the words you learned.
Whatever your hobbies might be, I’m sure you can think of a creative way to add language learning to the mix. If not, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help. 🙂

Even as a beginner you can jazz things up by looking up a few words and making the dialogues in your textbook more relevant for you. Or you can adapt the sentences you learn on your favourite app to talk about your life. What about writing a journal? Start with a few sentences about yourself, your daily routine, how you feel or the weather.

Keep in contact with the language

At busy times, it’s easy to neglect the language you’ve been learning without wanting to. One day you work late, one day you’re exhausted, one day you have dinner with a friend and one day you need to clean the kitchen. Before you realise, you’ve been away from your language for two weeks. Your enthusiasm is gone and going back to a study routine is harder than ever.

Of course, you should take a day off from time to time. We all have the right to do so (and we should remind it to ourselves more often).
On most days, though, try to keep the language around. Find some music or a radio station that you like and have it in the background while you work. Start watching a series – and don’t feel guilty to use subtitles if you need them. Write your shopping list or talk to yourself in your target language.
It doesn’t have to be anything big and you don’t need to worry about writing down vocabulary the whole time. Just find a way to let the language be part of your life so that you’ll remember why you love it and you’ll crave to go back to it as soon as you have time.

Prioritise and plan

If you’re anything like me, when you finally have one hour to dedicate to language learning, you spend half of it trying to decide which activity or material you want to work on. And if you’re learning more than one language… good luck with picking the one for the day.
That’s why it’s worth spending a little bit of time planning ahead.

First, everyone learning several languages should prioritise and decide how much time to dedicate to each. For example, I would be tempted to pour hours into Spanish, my newest one, but I live in Sweden and I must put Swedish first until I reach an advanced level.
You can be more flexible if you’re learning for pleasure, but it does help to have one focus language at a time.

Then you have to plan the resources and activities for the week or the month. It’s a good idea to pick them according to the skills you want to strengthen. Ideally, you don’t want to have more than 3-4 resources per week. Have a look at your schedule and decide what to do on which day. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it helps you to get started without too much thinking.


No doubt, there will be frantic days when you’ll dream only about getting in your pyjama and going to sleep. And others when you’ll crave for your precious study time and everything seems to work against you.
Don’t feel bad about taking time off. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t be as consistent as you were doing the holidays. Just do your best to carve some time for language learning and to enjoy that time.

back to work

What are your strategies to adapt language learning to your life after going back to work? What is the one thing you struggle with the most?


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I’m on a journey to help introverts and other quiet learners make language learning into a tool for self-care (and keep anxiety out of it).