How to Study English Effectively (Even When You’re Busy)


-Consistency is key

-In spite of all the innovations, you still have to DO something if you want to see results.

-The good news is you may not have to do as much as you think. Frequency is more important than length of time each session.

-Try making appointments with yourself for short study sessions.

-Balance your expectations with your reality after taking into account these factors.


In the past, I’ve compared learning English with physical exercise, specifically regarding goal setting, efficiency of results, and pausing. But that is not the whole story.

One of the key factors in both learning English – and physical exercise – is consistency. Obviously, if you do not regularly do either activity, it will be difficult to see results. But there are real (and not so real) world complications that affect consistency: everybody is busy and has many commitments, and there are issues with expectations. So what can you do about this reality?


There have been many innovations in the field of physical fitness and language learning that make these activities more interesting and fun. In physical fitness there’s aeroboxing, pilates, curves, new machines, tools and other different ways to train; and in language learning, technology and methodology have dramatically changed the look and feel of a traditional classroom. With the growing popularity of the communicative and functional methods, it is becoming less and less common to see a 100 percent grammar-based curriculum. In addition, technology has facilitated the use of authentic audio and video, and virtual learning environments give 24/7 access to all material.

However, all of this innovation has one key factor in common: if you want results, you (still) have to DO something. Let me say that again: You still have to do SOMETHING.

What about time?

Everybody has a bad week, even a bad month, for both physical fitness and language learning. That’s just the way things are nowadays.

If you usually train for an hour 3 times a week, but then you miss an entire week, what do you do? Most people would not (and probably should not) try to make it up with one 3-hour workout. But many experience guilt, and set unrealistic expectations for overcoming that guilt. Unfortunately, that causes many people to miss another entire week!

Same thing with language learning. If you miss a week, the most important thing is to get back with the regular routine. The fastest way? Go to our VLE and do 15 minutes of exercises. (One great possibility there is our video flash course: you can do a complete unit in 15-20 minutes!)

How much is enough?

To progress, just like with exercise, for most people, 3 times a week is ideal, and 2 times a week could be good enough, especially if you already have an upper-intermediate level.

But 2 or 3 times a week of what and for how long? Two or three classes per week is the best, but if you don’t have that possibility, then your regular class and short study sessions work well, too, especially for higher levels. When you study or review outside of your classes, 15-30 minutes is enough each time. Many people think they need to study longer to get results, and as a consequence, they often end up doing nothing.

One technique that many find that helps is to make an appointment with yourself. Set aside 20 minutes on your calendar for short study sessions once or twice a week, and keep your appointment.

If you have a higher level of English, say upper-intermediate or advanced, you can probably maintain your level with once a week. In this scenario, if you cannot take your regular class, though, it is more critical to find 20 minutes to do some activity in the virtual learning environment. Otherwise, just like 2 weeks without physical exercise, you will probably lose something.

Happy learning!

Scott Frost