I teach a fair number of students English, and I can tell you with certainty that the ones that study on their own improve a heck of a lot faster than the ones that don’t. In three years of teaching at an English school, I’ve learned that the motivation to study has a more powerful effect on student outcome than innate ability, class hours, or money spent. So you’ve got to whip your butt into shape, push yourself every day, strap on your hachimaki and put your nose to the grindstone every day, right?
Nope, not really. In fact, I don’t recommend that approach at all. That’s the kind of thinking that gets you three months of hard work, a stack of untouched workbooks, and very little progress in the language. Language learning is more of a marathon than a sprint, and although you’ll need determination, there’s no way you can force yourself, day in and day out, to do something you hate.
Instead, build a habit. Find some form of study you can do every day, something that fits your study style, your schedule, and your capabilities, and do it every day. For me, it’s building vocabulary with Anki and a notebook for writing down kanji. For you, it could be a 10-minute podcast that you listen to on the way to work, or watching the evening news in your target language. Whatever it is, it’s got to be something that you can fit into your schedule every day.
The every day part is important. Do you have to whip yourself into brushing your teeth every day? Probably not. It’s a habit, and habits get harder to break the longer you keep them up. At first, it may be a bit of a struggle to keep up your new habit, but after a couple of weeks, it’ll just be a part of your normal, everyday life, as natural as brushing your teeth before bed or washing your face when you wake up. Anymore, I honestly don’t consider my daily study a kind of work at all. In fact, I feel uneasy all day if I can’t get my daily study finished before work, because almost three solid years of keeping the same habit has ingrained it into my life.
Starting today, make a new habit. When you get home from work, learn 5 new words in your target language. Download a podcast after dinner and put it on your MP3 player so you can listen to it on the train to work. After breakfast, write out a half page of kanji. Any habit you can stick to is better than one you can’t!
Good luck, have fun!