Why You Should Never Ever Schedule “Study Time” For a Language

Said Aaron Casey:

Please help me, Khatzumoto. You are my only hope.

So, I am emailing you on this fine day…to ask you what your views on scheduling are. And what I mean by that is setting aside specific time for learning.

On just about every other Japanese learning website I have been to, and even just general learning websites, they all say I should create a schedule of specific times to learn things. Example:

  1. At 10am do anki reviews for an hour.
  2. Then at 11am study kanji for an hour.
  3. Afterwards, read generic Japanese textbook for 2 hours.
  4. Then, at 1pm, do other assorted crap, etc.

And for most people, that would be fine. But I am the type who has lived my entire life unscheduled. I really enjoy being spontaneous and coming up with things on the go. I do not like living my life by a schedule.

But, as I said, a lot of educators say: “you must schedule your time or you will fail and Tkyosam will sacrifice your children to the Church of Scientology.”

Okay, maybe they don’t say that last part but you get the gist. So, I want to know if you think there are actually any benefits to scheduling your learning time versus just going with the flow.
Also, just to give you an idea of what I have been doing: I work part-time; I am studying computer science, and I am studying Japanese. So far, I have just kind of given each of my studies their own time whenever I feel it is suitable, but I don’t know if I should be creating specific schedules for each or not.

Let’s unpack this.

I am the type who has lived my entire life unscheduled.

As am I. I’ve tried scheduling, but it works as well as when gay people try to go straight.

[Do] you think there are actually any benefits to scheduling your learning time versus just going with the flow[?]

It’s not a question of which way is objectively (or even subjectively) better. It’s a question of what you’re actually going to do and keep doing. You, like me, seem constitutionally unsuited to scheduling. So don’t bother. I didn’t. You haven’t liked scheduling in other contexts, it hasn’t helped you; you didn’t learn English on a schedule. Why is Japanese going to be magically different? Your personality is not going to change and you’re not going to become a better person.

So screw it. Your choices are certainly affected by the environment, but they can also transcend it. The trick to this transcendence is not more morality. Do not become a better person. The trick is to make choices that change the environment itself — no morality required. Plus longer-lasting.

I didn’t control time, I controlled space instead. The content of my space was all Japanese. Time is a slippery bastard; space is much more tractable and stable. Control your space — your environment — time will take care of itself. And this is why, for the longest time, I was so vehemently opposed to giving a time-based account of “a day in the life of Khatzumoto“, because I wasn’t running on time, I was running on space and mindset.

You don’t speak a language, you use it.
You don’t learn a language, you live it.

You are always using — and therefore learning — a language. The only question is which one.

Do you schedule breathing time?


Then why schedule language time?

The only “hook” or “anchor” I would use for language exposure is eating time and sleeping time. Make sure you’re in contact with your L2:

  1. Whenever you’re eating — throughout your meal times
  2. Whenever you’re sleeping — in and around (right before and right after) your sleep time, and
  3. Whenever you’re on the pot — because that’s where some of your best reading and thinking gets done…right now, I actually have two mobile devices — an old iPod Touch and an old iPhone (one always charging, one always loose) – that permanently live in my bathroom area, just for doing SRS reps.

But that’s not really “scheduling”; it’s “anchoring”. You don’t get good at language, you get used to it. It’s about habitual exposure — habits. You need Japanese habits, not scheduling habits. The best way to get Japanese habits is to anchor onto the habits you already have, not to try to form new habits.

Disclaimer: If you love scheduling and it actually works for you, then knock yourself out. My experience is that most people who use scheduling suck at it, suck at making themselves happy and — most ironically of all — suck at getting things done; they’re great at making plans and crap at following through. But my experience is limited, and there are exceptions to everything.

  10 comments for “Why You Should Never Ever Schedule “Study Time” For a Language

  1. Suisei
    May 16, 2014 at 04:07

    I actually have been trying to make a schedule throughout the day to do japanese. I wanted to put in 5 hours of japanese study time throughout the day but…that’s quite difficult for me to do since to do that I have to get up super early. Sadly I don’t really have the money to get things for my japanese environment since I don’t have a job at the moment and basically have to stay home. :/

    It’s kinda getting boring for me to just watch anime mostly and trying to keep coasting. I wish there was a cheap alternative to get japanese stuff x.x; I also can’t get rid of my english stuff do to reasons so yeah.. I’m trapped. :/

    • Jeremy
      May 17, 2014 at 08:41

      What do you mean when you say “Japanese stuff?” The internet is full of free (legal and less-than) stuff. Some of the best Japanese media I’ve found were stuff I found while wasting time on the internet. Even if you don’t want to pirate copyrighted media, the internet has news, blogs, websites, YouTube and NicoVideo original content creators, dictionaries, manga strips, memes, message boards, podcasts, classic books and probably tons of stuff I’m forgetting all in Japanese. I spend so much time reading stuff like Lifehacker.jp that I end up feeling kinda guilty about not reading all these Japanese books I bought.

      If you’re less anti-pirate (hey, you can always buy those books for real later!), there’s a ton of stuff. I read manga voraciously and I honestly couldn’t do that if I had to buy volumes of manga from Amazon.co.jp or YesAsia, pay crazy shipping costs, and wait for them to get here.

      I’ve been poor for a big chunk of my Japanese language journey, too. Trust me, you’ve got this. :)

      • Jorge
        May 17, 2014 at 22:44

        Where do you read Japanese manga? Any links you could share?

    • May 19, 2014 at 13:38

      If you stay at home all day and have access to the internet, then you have the perfect opportunity for 24-7 Japanese immersion. Watch Japanese tv shows on Dailymotion. Torrent dramas and movies and watch them. There are plenty of legal options like Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Netflix that have lots of Japanese media. Browse and read Japanese websites. Do Anki reviews. Use TuneIn radio to listen to Japanese radio stations. Get free Japanese podcasts from iTunes. There are a plethora of free apps and games in Japanese for iPhone and Android. You don’t have to spend a single sent other than for the internet connection, which I assume you aren’t even paying for since you have no job.

  2. The Real CZ
    May 16, 2014 at 08:30

    Honestly, the best scheduling for me has always been timeboxing. I can schedule the next 15-20 minutes and actually follow through on that. I can’t schedule the next day in advance and detail what I am going to do every hour. If you timebox enough and change your environment to accommodate, then it will become a habit. That habit will eventually be your “schedule”. I do it for school and for learning languages and it has helped me. I have an idea of what I want to do on a certain day and then timebox segments out of the day, every day to do what I need to do.

  3. kyub
    May 16, 2014 at 12:26

    I thought a lot of this was obvious but guess not lol. Language not not be this rigid and analytical. Like Khatz said, dont control the “time”, control the “space”. Just throw in Japanese whenever throughout the day in a way that works with your schedule. If you have the materials, you essentially control whenever you bring Japanese (or any L2) into your life. Thats why its recommended using and doing things you like. Its not difficult to randomly pop in some headphones and just listen :)

  4. ere
    May 17, 2014 at 06:34

    there is only one time that will come, and that is the time japanese will make you angry, bored, and you want to escape it but you can’t.
    because Confucius was not your father, only some emotional overreactions on Plato or some other hyperbolic tension.

    use MED>Minimum Effective Dose and after that go free style like an addict.

    ONLY stick japanese around daily s##t. it will never fail. for example when eating in the morning i learn only 5 kanji plus meaning. I also make quick flash cards on empty cards. I’m not allowed to do more. and that sucks because i can do more. but I’m forced to quit and forget about it all. the next morning i review and move on. very slow. but I’m lazy and i like things that are so easy that i feel it is a joke. and yet I’m quicker then anyone who really tried. I don’t have to worry. I finish the game someday but I never tried. not doing is the best.

    when s##tting at the toilet I read an practice chapter. from quick pocket text books. it’s like an old Donald Duck magazine that is always on the toilet I read it many times. because it is just there. I know the stories I know the kanji, but: s##tting + reading = heaven.

    hunger + food + new kanji = heaven.

    I dislike computer displays. i like touch and smell and people and s##t. computers are a waste of time.


    I don’t have any outgoing visual rape from my eyes, the symbols rape and hypnotise me. and it becomes way too quickly fluid.

    you should be a defence castle against japanese invading you instead of you conquering Japanese. I hate japanese!!!!

    you don’t want japanese, japanese wants you. don’t make schedules. keep it out. don’t try. just eat, s##t, sleep. there is NO in-between.

    there is no blade an no cuts to be made. that is all for fools.

    forget about it. it is not important. it is just a stupid language. it is out there.

    hide some s##t in the desert. then next day look if it is still there. it will come up every time. it wants to be found, like the one ring.

    it fits you, don’t be afraid.

  5. Willzah
    May 18, 2014 at 20:29

    Hi, Khatz..

    I really like the “I didn’t control time, I controlled space instead. ” part from this post. This one make a lot of sense in my case. I found scheduling myself with time tables usually ended up in failures (in my part). I give up on making schedule, instead i just make list of what should i do without time constraint.

  6. May 23, 2014 at 16:22

    You just seriously turned my world upside-down. I don’t have to have a schedule to learn a language! What! I am so excited to get started. Sounds silly but this is crazy. Like I just got the permission I didn’t realize I was looking for. Any recommendations for Chinese language resources/apps online? Or at least how to find it? There’s got to be better ways than to just Google it and hope nothing R-rated comes up with the kids looking over my shoulder…

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