Register  Login  Active Topics  Maps  

Learning in Spurts

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
20 messages over 3 pages: 1 2 3  Next >>
Senior Member
United States
Joined 6192 days ago

2365 posts - 3804 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Tagalog

 Message 1 of 20
20 March 2011 at 10:27pm | IP Logged 
Several years ago I heard something that really affected the way I study. I was on a certain Chinese forum and
complained that I didn’t have enough time to study Chinese because I was studying other languages and working
too. Some guy posted that he thought I needed to stop my other languages and get a life. So an argument
ensued, and that’s when I saw the somewhat off topic post that impressed me so much. The new poster said
when it comes to studying intensely, he can only handle it in spurts of up to 2 months. He’d tried studying for 2
or 3 hours a day for longer periods of time, but always got bored and burnt out. So now he only studies in
spurts. He studies 30+ hrs per week for a month or two, then does the bare minimum until he feels rested and
eager to study again.

This really struck an accord with me. I remember studying Japanese several hours a day for about a year, the last
couple months of which, it seemed my efficiency was way down. Things just weren’t sticking well. Lessons were
harder. But I kept on in the name of progress, throwing out my standard of 90% plus, and hoping my mind
would somehow assimilate the material in the future. I wound up having a bit of a meltdown, and quitting the
language. That lasted about a week. I started up again, promising myself to never again take on too much at a
time. That seemed to fix things for a while. But after a year of additional study, I was still experiencing long
stretches of very low productivity. This time I didn’t quit Japanese, I just put it on hold, and started Mandarin.

But the pattern didn’t stop. The first 9 months or so of Mandarin were exciting, and it ended in my trip to China
to see my friend get married. After that, although I was still interested in the language, I began to get stale. And
that’s about the time I saw the post on that Chinese forum.

Motivation is crucial in keeping efficiency up, but sustaining it can be difficult for me sometimes. This studying
in spurts sounded really good. Reduce the amount of time to the goal, and reward myself with rest from learning.
But could I incorporate it into my life? Would it really make me more efficient? Would I learn more per hour?
Would I learn more per year? Could I improve in all my languages? Fortunately, the answer turned out to be “yes”.

Visiting my friend in China marked the beginning of a new stage in my life. The time of long vacations. It was the
first time I started to wonder if it was worth working so many hours out of the year. It wasn’t going to make me
rich enough so I never had to work again, after all. So it took me two years of thinking, and I finally decided to
quit my job for the sole purpose of taking a 6 month vacation. I would travel to each of my target language
countries, take classes, meet language partners, chase girls, and just be immersed. The first vacation was so
successful that the time of long vacations became the time of semi-retirement.

Now for my study plan, my version of spurt learning. I work 6 months per year. During this time I only work hard
at my new language. For example, now I’m studying Russian. I’m only able to get 1-2 hours per day in, due to
the long hours that are required in my profession, and other draws on my time. But after 6 months, I will be
skilled enough to feel I’d benefit from a trip to Russia, and in my experience that trip will really give my Russian
a boost, and put me on a higher level. It’s a bit too long to be considered a spurt, but I find that the freshness of
a new language keeps my efficiency up.

As for my other languages, I just maintain them by using skype language tutors, reading books, watching
movies, listening to podcasts, etc. No texts books, vocabulary lists, grammars, classes or flashcards (except for
Chinese characters). At the end of my working period I find that I only need about a week break before I’m
relaxed enough to go for my first spurt. This time is usually spent moving my stuff across the country into
storage, preparing for my trip, or just slacking off.

I travel to my target language countries for the other 6 months out of the year. I typically study 3-5 hours per
day at each location. I’ve been known to go crazy and put in over 10 hrs/day for weeks on end at times. I’ve also
taken a 1 or 2 week vacation from my vacation where all I do is play in the target language. I even dismiss my
anki decks. But overall, 3-5 hours is what I average for the whole 6 month period. I’ve stayed in countries from 1
week to 4 months, but feel that 1-2 months is optimal for a really good spurt.

I like to wind down between destinations, and really relax. A week is usually plenty. I’ve found that transitions
between countries, and transitions between the work period and vacation period provide ample time for winding
down. There is no real reason for me to lessen my spurt to recover. That doesn’t stop me from misbehaving
sometimes to go out and play, but it’s nice to know that strong motivation is always there.

In summary, spurt learning is learning intensely, 2 or more hours per day, for short periods of time, 1-3 months.
The intense period is followed by a break that completely rests the learner. If I change languages, or move to a
different country, I find that the rest period required to be revitalized can be quite short. I use spurt learning
because I feel it is more efficient for me. Not only do I feel that I learn more per hour, but I also learn more per

I realize this isn’t for everyone. Certainly, there aren’t many able or willing to quit their jobs to do what I do. But I
hope this will give people one more thing to think about.

20 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
Joined 5653 days ago

4399 posts - 7687 votes 
Speaks: Lowland Scots, English*, French, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic
Studies: Catalan, Italian, German, Irish, Welsh

 Message 2 of 20
20 March 2011 at 11:06pm | IP Logged 
I had a similar experience with Gaelic.

I started learning Gaelic on a one week full-time course. I came away feeling really tired from the amount of information I'd picked up. I went to intensive courses twice a year for two years, and it felt like I was only half learning, but in a good way. In between these courses, I was writing on the internet and going to a weekly conversation circle.

The way I described it at the time was that it felt like I wasn't getting Gaelic in my head, but rather a "Gaelic-shaped hole". When I poured the language in later, it was like there was a mould there waiting for it. When I went to the conversation circle, I would look up things I was already supposed to know, or I would hear things that I should have already knew (but had forgotten) and things started to stick.

(But I was also studying consciously in between, and while studying in spurts definitely works, I can't say whether it was necessary or not. It may be that taking things slower will result in less burnout, like the tortoise and the hare.)
5 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
Joined 5335 days ago

1085 posts - 1879 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, French
Studies: Catalan, Dutch, Esperanto, Croatian, Serbian, Norwegian, Mandarin, Italian, Spanish, Yiddish

 Message 3 of 20
30 March 2011 at 3:46am | IP Logged 
leosmith, it's really interesting to hear about your method! I hope this isn't too personal, but would you mind telling us what your profession is?
2 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
Joined 6510 days ago

946 posts - 1110 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, German
Studies: Sign Language

 Message 4 of 20
30 March 2011 at 5:26am | IP Logged 
I was going to ask the same thing Jinx did, fellow RPCV. And since I'm having difficulties sending you the message, here's my reply: "Peru: Sept 08-Nov 10. Now I'm not sure what do now in life, except for that I'd like to continue living and working abroad, seeing cultures, helping people, and learning languages. Know the feeling? :-)"
2 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
Joined 5598 days ago

1021 posts - 1714 votes 
Studies: French

 Message 5 of 20
30 March 2011 at 5:52pm | IP Logged 
Jinx wrote:
leosmith, it's really interesting to hear about your method! I hope this isn't too personal, but would you mind telling us what your profession is?

I have a strong suspicion, based on his language choices, his mulitlingual status, his lengthy periods of immersion in foreign countries on an apparently rotational basis and his being licenced to kill when necessary for policy or security purposes (I recall reading this somewhere probably).

I strongly suspect that leosmith, if that is even his real name, is just using us all to establish some plausible ground cover for his traveling to and embedding himself silently but deeply into social and other networks in different countries, including Russia and China.   There is little doubt that Mr. Smith, or Mr. Doe, or whatever he may choose from time to time to call himself, is a secret agent.   But we should probably just keep it to ourselves for the time being, for his safety.

Edited by Spanky on 30 March 2011 at 5:57pm

9 persons have voted this message useful

United Kingdom
Joined 5815 days ago

22 posts - 29 votes
Speaks: English*, French, German

 Message 6 of 20
31 March 2011 at 11:11am | IP Logged 
I think learning in spurts is an interesting concept. I have
noticed this too. If you are overtired your learning and
enthusiasm as well as general well being are impaired and
there's an advantage to having rest periods. The other thing
is that when you come back to the language you are
surprised it's all still there which is a massive boost to
confidence. So I think I will try this.
1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
Joined 6192 days ago

2365 posts - 3804 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Tagalog

 Message 7 of 20
03 April 2011 at 3:24am | IP Logged 
Jinx wrote:
I hope this isn't too personal, but would you mind telling us what your profession is?

Hmm...I hate to end all the speculation. But I suppose I should confess. Aircraft structural design engineer. Er wait -
is that just my cover? Ever since I read the original three Jason Borne books, I've gotten confused.
3 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
Joined 6510 days ago

946 posts - 1110 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, German
Studies: Sign Language

 Message 8 of 20
03 April 2011 at 5:07am | IP Logged 
Now THAT'S a sexy job for a spy! :-P

I hope you found my response to your PM you sent me.

Regarding your thread, learning in spurts helps me too. I am currently focusing on French....AGAIN (for the umpteenth time). I was getting bored with it so I picked up my Norwegian course and worked through that again to refresh what I had learned almost three years ago. By the end of that course my Norwegian-craving had been sated and I had energy to plunge back into French.

Someday hopefully soon I'll be able to make Norwegian my main language, and then when I get tired, I'll focus on Finnish (or whatever) until my Norwegian energy comes back and then Finnish will move up the ladder, and so on.

1 person has voted this message useful

This discussion contains 20 messages over 3 pages: 2 3  Next >>

Post ReplyPost New Topic Printable version Printable version

You cannot post new topics in this forum - You cannot reply to topics in this forum - You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum - You cannot create polls in this forum - You cannot vote in polls in this forum

This page was generated in 17.7334 seconds.

DHTML Menu By Milonic JavaScript
Copyright 2023 FX Micheloud - All rights reserved
No part of this website may be copied by any means without my written authorization.