Recently I downloaded this app on my phone that tracks how long I’m able to focus for while doing various tasks. These tasks could be anything from work, studying, cooking, exercise etc. But, naturally, I use it for studying Japanese. The app sets a timer linked to a digital tree that’s meant to track how long you’re able to stay on task. But here is why I love the concept of this specific app so much; it mixes the ideas of punishment and reward. The instant you even touch your phone or try changing the app your tree dies and your timer restarts.
The psychological effect this app uses blends the concepts of focus and time into one. You have to stay focused the entire time, or your progress would have been meaningless in the first place. Well, let me not say meaningless, because all progress is good progress – but you would have wasted the opportunity to see what could have been…
Why am I telling you all this?
This article will be about using time while studying to your advantage. However, we won’t only be talking about time, but also the backbone to it as it relates to language learning, the Pomodoro technique.
The goal of this method is to use time as a catalyst to put yourself into high-performance language learning mode. Most people think that the purpose of a timer is to simply measure the length of events. However, in language learning timers can be used to increase focus, promote high-quality study sessions and increase motivation.
The Pomodoro Technique And Breaks (Sprint Mode)
After a sprinter runs a race giving it their 100% best effort, they rest and rightfully so! To avoid overheating or possible injuries the sprinter requires short periods of rest between each set of races. Think of the concept of focus in this manner. We can only focus for brief amounts of time because it requires a ridiculous amount of energy! But the upside to this is that if we’re 100% focused our productivity levels will shoot through the roof.
Fulfilling a 60-minute timer isn’t too difficult to pull off while staying focused, but the hard part is staying 100% focused. At some point during our studies, our focus can dwindle, affecting the quality of our language learning. The way to combat this is to integrate the Pomodoro technique into your time constrained sessions.
This technique basically allows us to take short breaks after intense bursts of focus! For instance, if I set a timer for 60 minutes, my first “sprint” would be 25 minutes. I’d then take a 5-minute break and “sprint” again for the remainder of the session. The purpose of this is to replenish mental clarity while re-affirming your study goals within the rest period.
Using The Technique For Language Learning
I don’t know whether you’ve already read our Don’t Break The Chain article, but we mention how the average goldfish (assuming all goldfish are average) has a longer attention span than a human aka us. Now if that’s not something to consider I don’t know what else I can tell you at this point.
Luckily for us, we’re good at distracting ourselves from the fact that we have horrible attention spans. One of the ways we do this is by constraining ourselves within a certain time limit to do certain tasks.
Let’s look at one instance of dieting known as intermittent fasting before we jump into language learning. Intermittent fasting is exactly as it sounds, you eat within a certain time window per day and fast for the rest of that day. In other words, it’s a time-constrained diet to distract ourselves from the idea that we need to keep eating throughout the day.
In language learning, we can use a similar concept in which we set up a regulated period for us to focus on a certain aspect of the language. By doing this we’re studying less to learn more! Unfortunately, I can think of three reasons why we can be repulsed by the idea of studying at times.
- We don’t have a plan going into it.
- We don’t know how long the study session will last.
- We just can’t be bothered to do so.
That last reason is a cruel reality for many language learners.
SO ARE TIMERS GOOD OR BAD?
Okay, I don’t think I’ve ever said this in one of our articles, but the answer is “IT DEPENDS”. Timers won’t work for everybody, because the nature of them falls outside the range many people’s study techniques. For example, someone who is studying their target language with the idea of massive input may prefer not to use a timer. This is because following such a method requires large amounts of time. Therefore using a time constricted method would only defeat the purpose. For others, however, timers are a perfect addition to their study routine because it provides the focus they require to hone in on specialized topics or other aspects of the language.
Disadvantages Of Studying Using Time-Restricted Study
Like any learning method out there, this one has its flaws. There are certain gaps in time restricted study that can creep up on us language learner’s if we’re not careful!
Time Cannot Accurately Measure Language Learning Progress
We all learn languages at different speeds and have different learning styles. Consistently using a timer and adding up acquired minutes or hours can prove to be less accurate when measuring progress in language learning. Language learning is about the overall progress made by the individual. Using something like time to gauge how effective you are at learning your target language may be more damaging than helpful if you become obsessed with the idea.
Learning 10 words each day in 30 mins. VS Learning how to use those words to speak to actual people.
Progress is noticeable when it comes to learning new words each day, but it’s very hard to gauge when taking into account the usage of those words in daily situations. This is one example of many as to why time cannot accurately measure one’s language learning progress.
Time Is A Distraction
Time is as much of a distraction as it is a focus booster. Imagine intensely focusing on your language studies with this big timer in your face TELLING you how much longer you have left in the session. Trying to stay focused is probably the hardest part of staying focused. As ironic as it seems, sometimes a timer is the exact opposite of what you need to stay focused. Remember sitting in the classroom during a lesson, and 80% of your classmates kept looking at the clock wondering when the lesson would end, instead of focusing on the lesson? Well, this is what I’m talking about – simply knowing that you’re being constrained by time can dramatically affect the quality of your studies.
You Set Limits For Yourself
This is probably the most obvious downside to using a timer when it comes to studying languages, or anything for that matter. With a timer, your goals are limited to a certain window, and while this may not be entirely bad it leaves us with the question, “I can do more, but do I want to?” It’s like an internal struggle happens after the timer runs out. One side is saying “You worked SO hard and stayed FOCUS! You deserve a break.”
The other side is saying “NOT YET! There is an entire list of useful vocabulary and grammar terms on the next page that you can fit into this study session.” And you’re just left in the middle of these two forces confused and helpless at the thought of whether you should rest or progress.
Advantages Of Studying Using Time-Restricted Study
Positive Input – Focus More Intently!
There are many schools of thought as it relates to quality vs quantity in language learning, but personally, I will always choose the quality route. However, either route you choose, time restricted study can still assist you a great deal. When it comes to input in language learning, time restricted studying can improve the amount of positive input you receive. Positive input is the MEANINGFUL information you gain while being exposed to the language. By restricting the time available you’re able to focus on your weak points. There is little to no room for excess, you only input the highest quality of information and you stay focused while doing so.
It’s Not The End Of The World
I mentioned earlier how a good handful of us language learners (I included) don’t want to study sometimes because we just don’t know when it will end. Sometimes when we start, we wonder if it will ever end. It’s like an ongoing cycle of inescapable misery. But using a timer can solve all our bad study habits. Setting a timer for an hour or two reminds us that we’ve done this before, and it will all be over in the blink of an eye.
Build A Habit
It takes sixty days to form a habit, and even LONGER if it’s a habit we’ve already abandoned. Timers can assist us in keeping our studies consistent while we build up to forming that habit. It sounds hard, but like the previous benefit mentioned, it’s not the end of the world you’ll make it.
Give Timed Language Learning Practice A Try
If you decide to do this technique, you cannot half-ass it. It’s all about giving it your maximum effort within the allotted amount of time. FOCUS should be the only thing on your mind when using a timer. As mentioned earlier, this method won’t work for everyone depending on their personal language study methods.
In the end, it’s just going to be something you have to try for yourself. In the end, language learning is all about the overall progress made as an individual. So forget about the time and just focus.
Language learning is a daunting task and often times when we become distracted we forget that fact. The Pomodoro technique could be just the thing you need to keep both your priorities and your end goal in check.
What are you waiting for?! It’s time to put your mind to the ultimate test!