Working 9-6 every day in Beijing and the 40-minute commute to and from work, alongside half a dozen other weekly commitments doesn’t augur well for language study. After leaving Seoul six months ago, my Korean language skills have dropped off dramatically now I’m back in China.
However, inspired by a neat book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, documenting the early morning habits of many successful people, including Abraham Lincoln and Jane Austen, I decided to embark on my own early morning experiment.
For two weeks I set the alarm clock for 6am and willed myself to commit 60 minutes on learning Korean alongside 15 minutes of physical exercise and ample time to get to work early. From this experience I discovered the following perks of early morning study habits:
1) No distractions
Few or if any of my friends wake up before 7am and I was, therefore, able to focus on studying Korean unimpeded by WeChat messages, phone calls, or other forms of social distraction.
2) A clear mind
Although it does take 10 minutes after waking up before my brain clicks into action, I did find that I was much more alert and ready for study in the morning. Unlike studying at night time after a long day at work and distracted with the outcomes of the day, studying in the morning felt like starting on a clean slate and I was ready to absorb plenty of new vocabulary.
Routine and daily revision is absolutely pivotal to language learning and setting aside time in the morning before work proved much easier than setting a study schedule after work. Too often in the past, I promised myself to study after work only to be sidetracked with last-minute appointments, work functions or just general fatigue. Waking up earlier in the morning proved a much easier routine to maintain and even became programmed into my sleeping pattern after a couple of weeks.
4) Sense of accomplishment
The final benefit of the early morning study experiment was the awesome sense of accomplishment after hammering out an hour of language revision before my old wake-up time. This set me off to a good start to the day and I even found myself being more organised at work.
Besides the benefits, I do also want to highlight a couple of other important things to keep in mind about waking up early to study your chosen language. The first is that early morning study will in most cases be solitary learning – unless you jump on a Skype class or Hellotalk and hopefully with a teacher in a different time zone! Therefore it’s important that you complement your morning revision/vocab learning/reading with speaking exercises later on in the day or on the weekend to provide a rounded language learning routine.
The second point is that yes, the hardest thing is waking up! Did I cheat? Yes.. but I found a couple of ways to overcome last minute resistance and avoid falling back to sleep. One, in winter, make sure you turn the heater on when you wake up! Otherwise, you will never get out of bed! Or, if you really don’t want to get out of bed, stick with reviewing your notes in bed or use an app on your phone to learn vocab, etc. I found too that 10-15 minutes of exercise after waking up and listening to music helped me to get started on tackling language learning.
Overall, I was definitely sold on the benefits of learning a language early in the morning. It’s a fairly simple concept to wake up an hour earlier and a lot of people would dismiss the idea as a waste of time, but the results for me were clear. My previously haphazard study routine, procrastination complex and wishful intentions were overcome in the short space of a couple of weeks. I also felt that my recognition of vocab, grammar points and basic conversational fluency improved as a result of the extra effort.
Regular daily practice is key to developing most skills, and the great artists, politicians, musicians as well as many other successful people before us have shown that a proactive morning routine can not only overcome procrastination but can also pay dividends to those with the discipline.
Notes from TalkToMeInKorean audio lessons
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