How to Create Your Routine
How do you create this magical routine that will solve all of your problems? The first thing to do is to think about what you need to work on. If you are a beginner, then you need to work on getting the sound system into your brain, which means lots of listening. You also need to get a solid grasp of how the language works, which means taking in a lot of input (i.e. reading/listening). If you are working your way through a course book or similar, set a target of how quickly you want to get through the course (my advice is to get through the book as quickly as you can manage without getting lost and confused).
If you are a bit more intermediate, then you may decide that you want to improve your grasp of the genitive, or that you want to get more fluent at talking about a particular topic. Whatever goals you set, you should also set a timescale for improvement. These two things – immediate goals and a timescale – will give you the framework for setting up your routine. Next, decide on how much time you are able to dedicate to your Gaelic each day. Be honest with yourself. You will almost definitely start this process with an overly optimistic view of how much time you can spend (unless you are the opposite and you think you only have three minutes every second Tuesday – in which case, I’m sorry to tell you, it will take you about a hundred and eight years to learn Gaelic). Be honest, but also be realistic. You really need to dedicate a minimum of thirty minutes per day. Any less than that and your progress will soon slow down so much that you will never feel like you are getting anywhere.
Create your routine
Once you have these things in hand – goals, a timescale, and a sense of how much time you can spend on your Gaelic each day – you can create your routine. I recommend setting aside a few minutes once every month or so (I usually do it on the last day of the month, or the last weekend of the month). Spend those few minutes planning your routine for the next month (sometimes, you will just decide to carry on with a duplicate of last month’s routine, which is fine, but consider carefully whether that really is appropriate this month or if you need to focus on some other specific skill or vocabulary area for the next few weeks).
In my routines, I generally like to allocate about 15-30 minutes per task. So, if you only have thirty minutes to dedicate on a particular day, that will translate to one or, at most, two tasks. Personally, I prefer to dedicate about an hour per language each day (and I am usually learning 2-3 languages at a time, on a prioritised rotation basis, but let’s talk about that later!). That lets me do between two and four tasks per language every day. I write out my daily routine at the end of the month and, to keep things simple, I always do the same tasks on the same day each week of that month. There are some tasks I do every day, but others come up on a rotational basis. If I need to be good at speaking for a particular reason (e.g. I am going to visit the place where the language is spoken), I try to make sure I have 3-5 conversations per week for that month. If I want to boost my vocabulary, I make sure I am reading authentic texts every day. If I am trying to ‘level up’ a language that is currently at intermediate levels, I make sure I do grammar drills two or three times a week (because a sound grammar knowledge massively boosts your confidence and is necessary when you want to become proficient).
So, how does it work in practice?
I'll give you examples of two languages that I am working on at the moment. I have a degree in one of them and am perfectly comfortable using it at every level. I translate novels and other texts from this language and can enjoy films, music, etc. in the language without having to concentrate. Nevertheless, it is important to me to keep working on it, continually improving. So, this month, each week looks like this:
Sunday: grammar book (gradually working through an intermediate/advanced grammar drills book, which should be below my current level, but still learning things sometimes! – 30 minutes); novel reading (this is for relaxation, so I just give it as much time as I have available); translating authentic texts into this language (which I occasionally pay native speaking teachers to check for me afterwards - 30 minutes)
Monday: italki (30 minute conversation with a native speaker); novel reading (if I have time, I listen to the audio book afterwards - any amount of time that is available)
Tuesday: dictation (20 minutes of transcribing an audio book on a contemporary issue – currently, climate change - I then check it against the ebook, which I also have); novel reading (but only if I have time - no stress)
Since this language is in ‘maintenance mode’, I only work on it three days a week: but I often listen to music or audio books in the language while training, doing dishes, etc., and I occasionally watch a film or television programme on a whim.
Routine for a lower level of competence
Here is an example of a language that I am at a more beginner level with (somewhere between A2 and B1). At this level, it is important to work on it every day.
Everyday routine: Pimsleur (which usually takes 30 minutes – it is at a lower level than where I currently am with the language, but it is a really nice listening resource that helps reinforce the sound patterns), but Glossika would also work here, from about A2 level (since there is no Gaelic Pimsleur for you yet); textbook (I like to go through a beginner textbook and then immediately get an alternative one and go through that: every beginner course has a slightly different focus and a different way to present the same material - 15-30 minutes, depending on the lesson and time available); graded reading (and listening, if that is available - however much time I have left, which could be anything from 15 to 45 minutes on a normal day); as much music as I can find that I enjoy
Variety or Similarity in Routines?
You can see that I have more variety day by day with the more advanced language and that my routine stays almost the same with the more beginner language. I suggest creating a pattern for yourself that is somewhat similar. With beginner and post-beginner languages, you really need to stick to one or maybe two resources and work your way through them quickly - later, you can go back and try other resources at the same level if you like. For instance, I sometimes work my way through the Teach Yourself book in the first month, then I go right back to the beginning and do the Colloquial book (or similar) for the second month (or vice versa). But the crucial thing is to set aside time for that same task every day.
To remind me to do these tasks every day, I use an app called Roubit. There are other routine-setting apps available on the various app stores. Alternatively, you could use the alarm function on a smartphone: set alarms for the times of day that you have earmarked for your pre-arranged tasks (if you have a phone that allows it, you could even set a different alarm tone for each task, which would help set the mood for you). When the alarm goes off, do the task. Never hesitate, never go off to make a cup of tea first, and never check email. When the alarm goes off, you need to immerse yourself in your task for the amount of time you have set aside. You will probably start to anticipate your alarms and make your tea or clear your emails beforehand. This is why your short planning session at the end of the month is so important: you will have to identify not only what you want to work on, but also when you are going to be free to work on it. And, if you miss a task because something urgent came up, you should try to fit it in later. There will still be days when you will just not fit everything in. Recognising that, you should have a mental note of priorities: if I miss Task A, that's ok this week, but I really have to get Task B done. At the end of the month, you might want to take stock of the tasks you missed that month and turn those into priorities for the following month.
You need to make yourself accountable to your routine/your app/your alarms. Treat them as important appointments. Every time your alarm goes off, you are making an appointment with your future fluency. Instead of having to remember to do some work on your Gaelic, instead of having to motivate yourself to work out what to do, simply be guided by your plan and get to it every time your alarm goes off. The days will go by, just the same as they always do. They’ll gradually turn into weeks, into months, and then years. Instead of feeling guilty about how long it has been since you last worked on your Gaelic, you will be excited to look at how much progress you have made over time. Progress is made in the thirty minutes per day, but only observed in the months. We will come back to this point in another post soon and discuss the second part of creating accountability: goal-setting.
Meanwhile, start to become accountable to your future success, agus gura thèid gu math leibh!