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How to create an awesome English routine!

'Routine Machine' is a book by John Lamerton and it's all about the power and importance of routines in our lives. It's not written for language learners specifically, but many of the ideas he discusses are applicable to language learning. I can honestly say that 'Routine Machine' was one of the books I have read recently that has had a huge and positive impact on my life so I wanted to share some of John's ideas with you. Why do I need a routine? Routines can have a bit of a bad name. After all, aren't we supposed to do things when we're in the mood to do them rather than because our schedule tells us to do them now? And what about creative things? Surely it's better to do these when we feel inspired rather than because they're in our diary? Although these arguments are powerful, by creating a routine for our creativity we actually become more not less creative. If you don't believe me, let me share that for years (really, years!) I have been trying and failing to do a specific type of meditation once a week. I would lie in bed at night promising I would do the meditation the following day, only to get so busy that I would forget. Cue years of frustration and annoyance at myself. It wasn't until I created a routine for the meditation (every Monday afternoon) and blanked out the time on my Google calendar in purple that I began to do this routine on the regular basis I had been wanting.

I suspect that it's the same with many language learners.

Have you ever promised yourself that you would read a book / listen to a podcast / learn five phrasal verbs a day only to find that a month later you still haven't started? There's a very good chance that this is happening because you don't have a routine for it.

So, if your heart sinks at the thought of being crushed my a routine, I would encourage you to try it anyway. Your routine can be gentle and easy and you don't need to plan every minute of every day (unless you want to!), but I am 100% sure that with a little bit more routine, your language learning will improve.

Six tips for creating successful language learning routines

Here are six suggestions that you could use to create more routine for your language learning.

1. Start Small

In the book, John talks about a friend of his who was very unfit. This friend wanted to learn to do push-ups. He literally started doing one push-up a day. That's it. Then he went to two, then five, then ten….. Eventually, doing the push-ups became a habit and now he does them on a daily basis. So often we get all over-ambitious and excited about something (yay! I'm going to read a novel in English!) only to realise that we don't have the time to do it 'properly'. We then decide we are a failure and give up on our dream (I suck at reading, I don't have time. I'm just going to watch TV instead).

By starting small and creating easy-to-achieve steps, we can build our confidence and slowly increase the time we want to spend on the new routine (I can read for five minutes after my lunch every weekday).

2. Do the same thing at the same time every day

I know. It sounds boring. But it really helps if we know that at 7 o'clock on a Thursday evening we are going to learn some grammar. Every Thursday, without fail. Or that every Saturday morning, we are going to write an essay for our exam and then email it to our teacher. When we plan a routine for our studies and stick to it, we can ensure that we do everything that we need to do and we make far better progress as a result.

Remembering New Routines:

One of the big problems with starting a new routine is that we very often forget to do it. We have lots of good intentions but our lives are busy and our minds are full of other information. However, we all have routines that we perform every day and a good way to help remember new routines is to attach them to the old ones. 3. Attach New Routines to Old Ones I have recently started a reading project with my 13 year-old nephew. I gave him a book to read and told him that when he'd finished it, I would give him £20. I had thought that a financial incentive would be enough to motivate him, but he couldn't remember to read the book. We talked about his daily routine and found that when he gets home from school, he has a special place where he sits to relax for a bit before starting his homework. We decided that this would be a great time for him to read for a few minutes and he got better at remembering to read his book once it had a specific time and place in his life.

4. Use Visual Clues We also put the book on the cushions in his special place. This meant that as soon as he sat down, he would see his book and get an instant visual reminder. Visual clues are very important if we want to remember something new! So, if you want to learn five phrasal verbs a day, or practice minimal pairs for five minutes a day, see if you can find an existing routine (e.g. when you turn on your computer / before your coffee break) and create a visual reminder (such as a picture on your computer desktop). 5. Use your calendar or diary I had come across this tip many times before reading 'Routine Machine' but it was only after finishing the book that I really began utilising this strategy. I am now hooked on using my Google calendar and blocking out time for my routine activities such as meditating and working. Because these things are booked in advance, I am far more likely to do them than if they were just ideas in my head. To use this tip for language learning, I suggest that you consider your life and its schedules (work / childcare / family commitments / other hobbies etc) and look at what time is taken up with these. Once you are clear on this, it should be easier to see where you can attach some English studies. You might need to do some early in the morning or in the evening. Just remember that small, frequent steps are better than trying to do it all on a Sunday afternoon.

6. Make the Routine YOURS This is really important! The person who knows your life the best is you. This means that you are the best person to know what will work. It's so easy to allow other people to influence us and believe that their ideas are better or more valid than our own. For example, a friend of mine who is setting up a business was told that she "should" be spending at least two hours a day networking online. My friend felt very despondent as she doesn't have two hours a day free to do this! It's completely okay for my friend to do the amount of networking that's right for her and to ignore this "advice". If the best time for you to learn English is in the bath, do it! If the best time for you to memorise phrasal verbs is when you're at the gym, do it! The best routine is the one that works for you and fits into your unique life so be creative and don't allow other people to tell you that you "must" or "should" do things their way.

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