Language Learning on the Go

By Alex Sorin of

Language learning is a life-long trade. Whether you are a beginner or a professional linguist, you must continue to progress, train, and maintain your language learning muscles just like any other craft or you run the risk of backsliding and having to climb the hill all over again.

A recurring theme that I've experienced firsthand and heard from other language students is that there just isn't enough time, materials, or cash to make consistent progress after a certain point. Once you finish college or graduate school, the time that you used to spend harnessing your language skills is consumed working 50-60 hours at your job, taking care of your family, or addressing your other "grown-up" responsibilities. On top of that, most language tutors will charge you $30-50 for a one on one lesson, money that most of us just don't have to spend every week.

The good news is that if you step back and take a deep breath, you'll notice that the time you need is everywhere around you. Through the power of mobile devices and some good ol' fashioned personal innovation, you can craft your own daily language lessons that over time will help you maintain and improve your skills. This blog post will focus on on-the-go learning methods for intermediate to advanced learners.

Listening Skills

One free and unbelievably effective trick is to find a foreign language YouTube news broadcast, turn the volume way up, and record the entire broadcast using your smartphone's voice memo application. Broadcasts can run anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour. I recommend putting your phone down, walking away, and taking care of your other responsibilities while it is recording. Once it's done, you'll have an authentic listening exercise that you can listen to during your commute, working out, or grocery shopping.

Another great mobile listening tool is a podcast. Finding consistently good foreign language podcasts is a little challenging, but they are out there. For Arabic students, I highly recommend Dr. Mohamed Qasem's science podcast Sciware. This is an excellent way to move out of your comfort zone and listen to some new Arabic vocabulary.

Vocabulary Drills and Mixed Media Tools

Mobile flashcard apps and mobile compatible language learning websites, such as Foreigncy, Quizlet, Anki and others are mixed media tools that you can utilize throughout your day to continue working on your vocabulary skills.

If you are a subway rider, then your commute is a great way to spend 30 minutes studying before and after work. If you don't have the luxury of public transportation, I recommend setting a personal time goal every day to study vocab. It doesn't have to be all in one chunk. When you need a breather from work, take out your phone, set your phone's timer for ten minutes, and get studying. Do that throughout the day and over the course of a few weeks you will see a significant improvement.


Reading foreign language news is probably the easiest exercise to maintain. Almost all of our phones now have 4G internet access, and there is no reason why you can't take a few minutes on your way to work, drinking your coffee in the morning, or taking a work break to read the headlines from your foreign language news website of choice and dive into an article. While a lot of people pick on BBC's foreign language news, I personally think these are the most mobile and user friendly.

While you're reading the news, I recommend quietly mouthing the words to yourself so that you can exercise some different muscles and also entering any new vocabulary words into your flashcard app of choice, which you can do with a simple click or push on your laptop, smartphone, or tablet, and be back at the article in seconds.


We can spend all day thinking of excuses as to why we can't keep up our language skills until the mountain we have put in front of ourselves seems insurmountable. However, there are just as many solutions as there are excuses, you just have to make the decision to take action and responsibility for your learning. A little here and a little there builds up over time and before you know it, you'll be on top of the language learning mountain again.


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