Active Learning vs. Passive Learning – How To Create The Winning Combination (Optimize Your Language Learning – Part 3)
I zealously advocate active language learning.
This is definitely the most-effective and easily available remedy for frustratingly slow learning progress (read more about active learning here).
But advising you to only learn actively, or claiming that I do so, would be nothing more than denying our human nature.
Sometimes you are sick. Sometimes you feel down for no particular reason.
Sometimes, you would rather get wasted than learn.
That’s why you should accept that you won’t be able to learn actively all the time.
Not that you shouldn’t try, of course!
It’s simply not sustainable for longer periods of time.
The (Only) Problem With Active Learning
We like to believe that the time we spend doing something is the main indicator of our progress.
It’s not. It’s the intensity of your training.
The more hard work you are able to condense into one hour of learning, the better.
That’s what makes active learning so highly efficient.
But there is just one problem.
The deep, active learning is tiring as hell.
Not time-consuming, mind you. Just energy-devouring.
That’s why we love to avoid it.
We don’t want anyone meddling with our energy deposits.
“F*ck off brain, will ya?! I need my glucose to come up with sarcastic retorts to situations that will never happen”.
Once you realize it, it should be easier to incorporate active learning into your daily learning schedule.
Simply find the time of the day when you are still energetic enough to do the hard work.
Always tired after work?
Wake up earlier and do the work.
Too sleepy in the morning?
Come back from, take a nap and do the work.
You get it. Just do the damn work.
Ok, so that one is clear.
So how does the passive learning fit into the “big picture?”
The Role Of Passive Learning
I will stress it one more time – active learning should be the foundation of your learning.
But the thing is that this foundation is never perfect.
It is scarred by cracks and blemishes.
But you can still smuggle quite a bit of sand between the cracks.
This is the role of passive learning – it should fill all the voids throughout your day and complete your learning.
After all, each day consists of a considerable amount of “dead-time”.
Like standing in a line or going for a walk.
Why not listen to some podcasts or music in your target language?
Of course, I am not suggesting that you go mental.
Don’t try to fill every moment of your day with some learning (unless you really want to!).
Remember that we all need some downtime to remember information better.
Optimize Your Day For Passive Learning
There are four categories of things you can optimize for language learning
- Things you do
“Optimizing” people sounds more than bad. I know.
But you talk to people anyway.
Why not find some language partners to talk to throughout the day?
After all, they are only a click away from you in this wireless era.
Here are some places to get you started:
Any place where you spend quite some time can be optimized for language learning.
Simple stick-it notes can transform any dusty desk into a learning battle station.
But don’t make them boring!. You know what I mean.
Don’t just write “desk = der Tisch” and stick it in its respective place.
Make it memorable. Make it fun!
Write “Ich lecke meinen Tisch, wenn ich blaun bin” (I lick my desk when I am sloshed).
That’s something to remember!
Or even better – make yourself a poster while we’re at it.
Here is a quick example:
Even though you might not fully realize it, you use at least dozens of tools every day.
A fair share of them is electronic – search engines, mobile phones, browsers, Windows, Excel, etc. – you name it.
But why on Earth would you want to use them in your native tongue?!
Make a list of all the most important software / websites / etc. you use and change the language to your target language!
4) Things you do
Our days are marked by myriads of repetitive activities – commuting, cleaning a flat, going to a gym.
Once again, this is something you might use to your advantage.
You can prepare a playlist beforehand and listen to your favorite bands / podcasts / videos during that time.
I hope that these ideas will set you on the right path.
Now, let’s take a look at how the hypothetical “optimized” day might look like!
How The Perfect Learning Day Might Look Like
You wake up at 7 am sharp.
Your alarm clock starts blaring.
Beep, beEP, BEEP!!!
“It’s another shitty today”, you think to yourself as you step into the bathroom.
You look at your comatose self in the mirror, sigh heavily, brush your teeth and try to shape yourself into something which resembles the human form.
Then breakfast, dull as Kristen Stewart’s acting, and you kiss your wife. Your eyes utter mute “help me” as you pass her by and leave.
But it could look like this:
Morning On Language Learning Steroids
Your alarm clock gently jars you out of sleep.
You open your eyes and light an entire room with your beaming smile.
This time you haven’t been ear-raped by some mechanical rattle.
No. This time you wake up to the sounds of your favorite song in your target language.
You graciously jump out of bed and leap towards the bathroom.
You look at yourself and think, “Gee, I really do look amazing today!”, as the next song in your target language starts playing.
You dig into your breakfast.
It tastes like a nectar made by Zeus himself.
What to do:
Prepare in advance the playlist of songs in your target language.
Delete all the other songs in your mother tongue.
Leave yourself no other choice but to listen to the language you want to improve.
Of course, if a part of your morning routine is to listen to the news or the radio, you don’t have to change it.
Find radio stations in your target language on my other website and simply listen to them instead.
You slowly drag your feet toward the train station.
“It’s funny”, you notice.
The pavement tiles strangely resemble your life.
They are gray and shattered.
Once you take a sit, you try to pass the time by rating the miserableness of your co-passengers. But there are no winners in this game.
Pretty bad, right? But it could look like this:
Commute On Language Learning Steroids
You maniacally run towards your train station.
You can’t wait to hop on the train!
This is one of your favorite parts of the day.
You take a seat and fire off your favorite YT channel.
The fascinating interview about … completely pulls you in.
“Already my station?”, you think to yourself.
“I completely lost track of time!”.
What to do:
Always have some resources handy on your mobile/tablet/notebook.
Not too many of them – it leads to decision fatigue.
Ideally, it should be something that really interests you.
You should aim at energizing yourself before you start work.
If you wear yourself off mentally, you will send a signal to your brain to actually start avoiding this activity in the future.
Aim at interviews or some funny, easily digestible shows.
Unless you are really into politics or some “heavier” topics – then go ahead and listen to them as well.
Ordinary Day At The Office
You enter the office and gaze absently at your coworkers.
Then you head toward the kitchen to fix yourself a cup of instant enthusiasm.
Not that it helps. It’s just a thing you do to pull yourself faster through the day.
All the breaks and conversations turn into one big blur.
Even some breaks in-between don’t deliver any relief.
Nightmare, ain’t it? But what about this:
Day At The Office On Language Learning Steroids
You rush into a kitchen and pour yourself a delicious cup of caffeine goodness.
You sit comfortably in your cubicle.
Not an ordinary cubicle mind you but a language optimized cubicle.
All around you, there are stick-it notes with interesting quotes or jokes in your target language.
After you dig yourself up out of the weekend’s backlog, you start reading newspapers in your target language.
What to do:
It’s a very good habit to change the interface of every possible app or website you use to your target language. However don’t feel pressured to do so right away, If you are a beginner.
You might dip your toes first.
Write down where to change language settings and then switch interface to your target language.
Start translating any useful words you might need and switch the language back on.
After a couple of such sessions, you should be able to comfortably navigate through any website/app.
What’s more, you can always put some stick-it knows with useful phrases or quotes around you.
Why phrases or quotes?
Because learning is always more efficient when there is context.
Why only put a note on your plant called “plant”, when you can write “a green and beautiful plant!”.
Or “watering plants causes diarrhea”.
I know, I know – it sounds absolutely childish.
The thing is that the absurd information is absorbed more effectively.
So why don’t you help your brain a little bit?
That was one hell of the day!
You’re absolutely ecstatic! You finish your job, catch the train back and come back home.
You open the door to your flat and suddenly everything goes totally silent.
You know what you have to do now.
The damn work.