If you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to some extent like many people around the world, myself included, then learning a new language can become something of a challenge or rather more of a challenge than it already is!

Language learning generally requires extended periods of concentration to absorb all that new vocabulary and complicated grammar and ultimately to attain a respectable level of conversational fluency. But maintaining concentration for long enough to be useful is complicated somewhat when one has ADD and is unable to stay focused for long enough.

So what is the attention deficited potential polyglot supposed to do about this roadblock on the way to mastering a new language? How does one maintain focus and stick to the task until successful? Well there are a number of simple tactics which can be employed to get around the ADD related issues but you’ll have to focus on this article for a few more minutes to find out.. 😉 



So you’re trying to study but your mind keeps wandering off, you start to feel drowsy, you lose your focus and you just plain can’t concentrate on the task any longer.. what now? Well first of all you should do some chunking. In other words break the big tasks in to smaller chunks and break those chunks in to yet smaller chunks.. rinse & repeat until you have chunks that you can comfortably complete before your ADD drives you away.

For example, lets say one of your tasks is learning a bunch of vocabulary, which is hard enough for anyone to focus on for long never mind those with ADD, now maybe you planned to memorize 50 new words each day but frankly thats going to bore the hell out of you in no time so you have to chunk it down to something more digestible like 10 words at a time. But you still want to learn 50 words in the day so you can set your computer or smartphone to send you a reminder on a schedule every few hours, lets say every 3 hours, 5 times a day.. so basically you learn 10 words over breakfast, 10 words before going to bed and 30 words at 3 additional periods during the day. Going over just 10 words is a very simple and quick thing, a matter of minutes at the most. You don’t have to learn 50 words each day of course, do 10/day or 20 or whatever you want.

Naturally there’s no guarantee you will remember all those words but that applies to everyone, not just those with ADD, but modern technology helps us with that in the form of spaced repetition software such as AnkiSRS which you can fire up each day and it will quickly run you through all the words you’ve seen so far and test you on those you don’t remember well enough yet. You can customize the software to keep each session smaller with less words so you don’t get bogged down or bored. In general with such software once you have it setup the way you like you can steam through masses of vocabulary in no time and hardly even notice you were doing it.

Even things like Pimselur language courses can be chunked, even though they are already pretty much chunked out of the box making them great for the ADD learner to start with. Each lesson is only about 30 minutes long, but you could easily split it into 15 minute chunks and do one in the morning and one in the evening.


Vary the Methods

While chunking can help spread the time spent on each task you can still lose interest in that particular task no matter how many chunks you split it into so you should think about varying the methods you use to learn and switch between them whenever you feel the urge or when you start to lose interest or focus with one. So for example lets say you’re working through a pimsleur course but the endless “listen and repeat” is driving you to distraction, you could switch over to a Rosetta Stone course which is quite different to Pimsleur and also includes a variety of tools and methods to help you learn. Toggle between Pimsleur and Rosetta (or some other) at random or do one at a time per day or whatever works for you – just as long as you are doing *something* related to the language each day so the learning process doesn’t stall completely.


Passive Learning

Now all this active study is burdensome even if you chunk it or swap various methods and tools to try to keep it interesting but there are also other ways to maintain the learning and that is by employing passive learning techniques. Passive learning can be done in many ways and the idea is it should be fairly effortless, you don’t want to have to actively choose to do some particular method, it should just happen with no more than a click of a button and preferably not even that.

For example you can use a tool or service which will email you new words to learn every day – you don’t think about it, the email just arrives in your inbox each day and you can’t help but see it and even if you just skim over it you still see the word and it still goes to your subconscious mind for later recall.

Another passive method is to switch the interface language of some websites or apps that you use frequently, for example on your PC or phone or on YouTube or whatever else you use. When you are already familiar with the interface you hardly need to think what you are doing, it doesn’t matter if a button is now in French since you know what that particular button or function does and so you passively connect that action with the French word. You can even use this kind of tactic for online language immersion without ever leaving your chair.


Use the Tubes

Speaking of YouTube, it provides countless millions of videos including everything from short clips to full length movies and in every language you can imagine. These videos provide another method of passive or semi-passive learning. Simply do a search for videos in the language you are learning (you can use Google Translate to get some keywords to help with your search) and bookmark all those that look interesting.

Comedy clips are great for this – they are (hopefully) funny and being short you can move on quickly to something else. They are relatively easy to stay focused on and being video they often include visual contextual clues to what is being said which helps your brain make sense of what your ears are hearing without you having to dig into a boring dictionary all the time. You can even use various tools such as Google alerts to automatically send you links to new videos or other content matching your search query so you don’t even need to actively go looking for it every day – it just shows up in your mailbox whenever something appears online.

Modern technology provides us with many other great solutions to streamline our lives and help us get things done one way or another (or just waste more time online!) so have a look for web based, pc or smartphone apps such as “Get Things Done” or “Remember The Milk” which will help you organize everything and make sure you actually do make progress with your plans including studies. Also keep an eye out for tools that can send you alerts on any interesting things that crop up, saving you the time and effort involved in actively seeking such things for yourself – just set them up once and forget.


Language Exchange

Of course another great method for learning or becoming fluent in a language, possibly one of the best in fact and one which falls somewhere between active and passive, is the language exchange. Basically you find native speakers of a language you want to learn, who also are looking to learn your language and then you just hookup over skype and have a chat about anything that comes to mind. Needless to say you do generally need to know a few words already to speak with but you quickly pick up more during the conversation and it all starts to fall into place without you doing much more than just having a casual chat on the net.

Hopefully you were able to stay with this article to the end and if so, thanks for reading! Just remember to mix it up, to vary the methods and tools used, break things down into manageable chunks and use active and passive methods so you continue to make progress with your chosen language and don’t lose interest.