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How To Stick To A Language Learning Routine During Exam Season

Let’s play a quick game to begin with. Spot the odd one out.

  • Rings of coffee staining desks.

  • A non-existent sleep schedule.

  • An incredibly frightening green owl.

  • Lunch becoming synonymous with Pot Noodles and Meal Deals.

Now, which one of these is incongruous with what we usually imagine when we think of exam season? As much as we would like to claim that we maintain our 5-a-day during this time, the reality is that the lovely (and passive aggressive) Duolingo owl is of course the odd one out.

Inevitably, when deadlines are looming and we spend more time in the library than our own bed, the last thing we think of adding to our already gargantuan to-do list is a quick session of tackling grammar in our target language.

As I’m being plunged head first into my first exam season at university, I’ve found that I’ve inadvertently adopted some tips on keeping up my languages (and on keeping that pesky owl at bay):

  1. Plan your fun. This first tip is slightly oxymoronic yet there is truth in it. We remember to meticulously plan according to our deadlines, and perhaps slot in any events we have coming up, but we very rarely plan our moments after our revision session. The thought of having clear breaks and fun events for yourself waiting at home motivates you to finish your to-do list quicker. Less time spent at the library means more time spent learning the language you love.

  2. Be realistic. A glass-half-full approach might be fun to adopt whilst you’re planning out your workload, but when future you who is already drowning in deadlines comes to following your hopeful plan, 1 hour spent on learning different cases may seem like a distraction from exams rather than fun. Instead of spending what little remaining brain power we have during this time stressing over ticking off overly ambitious goals, take into account that as exam season carries on, our motivation wanes - you won’t be able to accomplish the same amount of language learning in Week 4 as you did in Week 1.

  3. Change up the activities. During exam season, we essentially become robots: wake up, library, revise, eat, sleep, repeat. Eventually, our minds no longer remain as receptive as they were at the start, and so, our efforts to learn our new language ultimately become fruitless. If you revised grammar one day, perhaps listen to a playlist or brush up on current affairs in your target language on the way to campus. To preserve the element of surprise, write out language learning tasks that you usually do on pieces of paper and place them all into a jar; pick out a new activity whenever you feel more Wall-E than human.

  4. Baby steps don’t matter as long as you keep moving. It can be very easy to lose heart with your target language during this period and view it as simply another task to tick off, especially if you haven’t thought about it in a few days. If a 5-minute session on Duolingo or listening to a short 10-minute podcast in your language is all your brain can take, then so be it. In the words of Dory from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.”

  5. See it as a break. This point is particularly hard for those of us who study languages as part of our course. Just as exercise and sleep are vital for recharging our brains, so are using different parts of our mind. If we are constantly exercising our French brain, studying German, for example, for fun allows our French brain to take its foot off the pedal for a while. An alternative could be conversing with friends who speak your target language, adding a social element to an otherwise solitary period of time - apps like Tandem and Hello Talk are amazing at helping you find language-learning partners.

About The Author: Sara is an Olea Ambassador (Team 1.0, March - Sept 2023) and is currently pursuing a BA in English Literature and French at the University of Manchester. She speaks English, Arabic and French!


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