“Harnessing your hidden moments, those otherwise meaningless scraps of time you’d never normally think of putting to practical use, and using them for language study—even if it’s no more than fifteen, ten, or five seconds at a time—can turn you into a triumphant tortoise.”

―Barry M. Farber

How to Learn Any Language

Want to learn Japanese but don’t think you have enough time? Even the busiest person has chunks of time hidden in their day that can be applied toward Japanese study. Renowned polyglot Barry M. Farber calls these chunks “hidden moments”: tiny scraps of otherwise unproductive time you can apply to language learning. Though each individual hidden moment might seem minuscule and trivial on its own, over the course of a day, week, or month, these “scraps” can add up to a significant amount of language exposure that you might otherwise never get.

So where can you find your hidden moments? It will ultimately depend on your schedule and lifestyle, but here are some suggested places to look:

Whenever you find yourself waiting for something

Whether you are waiting in line at Trader Joe’s, waiting for the elevator to arrive, waiting on hold with your insurance company, waiting for a meeting to start, or waiting for your significant other to finish getting ready, use this precious time to:

During your commute

If you commute to work, this is probably the biggest (and most easily optimized) chunck of potential study time available.

If you drive, use the time to:

If you use public transportation, use the time to:

As you run errands

Out of TP? Need more dark chocolate?  Use your errand time (including driving to and from the store, walking the aisles, and waiting in line) to squeeze in some Japanese study:

  • When you have your eyes and hands free, use one of the flashcard apps recommended above.
  • If you are driving, pushing a cart, etc., put in your headphones and get some listening practice instead.

As you clean or do chores

Many people hate doing household chores, but I actually quite enjoy the time now since I know it will give me a good excuse to listen to  podcasts. If you have not yet gotten into podcasts, you are seriously missing out! A podcast is basically just a syndicated radio show, but with the added advantages of:

  • Letting you subscribe to a show so new episodes are automatically delivered to your device in your sleep.
  • Letting you read transcripts and show notes.
  • Letting you listen whenever and wherever you want.
  • Letting you choose specific niches that fit your exact interests (there are hundreds of thousands of podcasts available).

To subscribe to podcasts intended for Japanese learners:

  • Open iTunes (or download it for free).
  • Select “Podcasts” from the drop-down in the upper left.
  • Click the “Store” tab.
  • Type “Japanese” in the search field in the upper right.
  • Click on a podcast that looks interesting and click “Subscribe”.

To subscribe to podcasts intended for Japanese native speakers (what linguists call “authentic content”):

  • Scroll all the way to the bottom in iTunes and click the flag icon in the lower right .
  • Click on the Japanese flag (in the “Asia Pacific” section).
  • Browse through podcasts and either click “Get” to download a single episode or “Subscribe” to receive all new episodes.

During commercials

You already know that 15 minutes can save you 15% on your car insurance, so use the commercial breaks on TV, Hulu, YouTube, etc. to study Japanese instead!

One of the best ways to harness your “hidden moments” is using Japanese study apps on your smartphone.  For specific app recommendations for learning Japanese vocabulary, kanji, grammar, speaking, etc., check out my detailed language learning guide, Master Japanese: The Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide to Learning Nihongo the Fun WayThe guide tells you exactly what apps to use, how to use them, and why. In addition to the step-by-step guide (available in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats), you get 9 interviews with language experts, 5 exclusive discount codes for products I use myself, 10 worksheets and cheatsheets, free lifetime updates, and a free copy for a friend.