10 self-care tips for language learners going through a pandemic

March 19, 2020

Just in case you’re wondering, no. I had never thought I’d be writing a title like this when I launched my blog six months ago!

The new Coronavirus respiratory disease (COVID-19) has got us on our knees, smiling nervously and begging for it to please not come anywhere near our loved ones, doorknobs, groceries, mouths or noses. Thank you very much.

Visiting local supermarkets has become an adventure. We walk through the empty-shelved aisles avoiding other customers at all costs. The scene awakens our memories of apocalyptic video games. Masks, soap, hand sanitizer, pasta and toilet paper have become golden goods.

Key thoughts: “wash your hands”, “stay home”, “use your knuckles to press that button”, “did that person just cough?”, “don’t touch your face”, “clean your phone”, “avoid people at all costs”…and wash your hands again. Wash them correctly.

Staying home, saving lives

Social distancing is the answer to slowing things down and buying us some time until a cure or vaccine is developed. As we speak, I sit home isolating myself, the same way you probably are. Germany has now shut its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland. It also closed all clubs, museums, theaters, pubs, schools, day nurseries and gyms. Those who can work from home, do.

Practicing self-care as a language learner who is staying home

Although fear is natural in times like these, staying home can also be an opportunity to take care of ourselves, enjoy some space and time to breathe, manage our Corona-related anxiety, get some perspective and…yes, finally get some language learning done! Here are ten tips to preserve and nurture your best self through this pandemic.

1. Accept you don’t have to be a productive language learner all the time.

“Shakespeare wrote King Lear‘ during a quarantine, remember?”. “Newton laid the foundations for his laws of motion while in self-imposed quarantine!”. These posts started as motivational prompts on social media but quickly gave origin to memes by stressed parents, Netflix binge-watchers and overworked freelancers. Rightfully so!

Until this virus gives us a break, your focus will probably suck. So what if you feel like watching some series to get your mind off this topic? Or maybe this is the perfect time for you to catch up on some quality sleep? Read that fiction book you’ve wanted to read for ages?

Yes, learning languages can be a fantastic escape! But don’t see it as another chore must do because everyone else is doing it. Also, don’t compare yourself to language learners who are being their most productive selves and constantly posting about their achievements.

Everyone’s story is different, and the way you deal with this pandemic will differ from other people’s experiences.

2. If you feel you can be productive, avoid overwhelm by organizing your resources.

Make a list of all of those resources. Really. An actual list.

Remember those language manuals you bought months ago and still haven’t touched? Those blog posts, resources and online courses you bookmarked hoping to read them later? That book you started but couldn’t finish? Include them. If needed, take the books off the shelves and mark each book where you last left it, noticing which ones you were closer to completing.

Then, it’s time to create your language goals for the week. Check which goals you could finish relatively quickly and focus on those first. For example, reviewing the Arabic alphabet is quicker than learning about the French passé composé from scratch, so reviewing the Arabic alphabet would come first.

If you’re not preparing for an exam or working towards a very particular goal (such as reaching a C1 level next month), the “quick comes first” strategy should work just fine for the time being and give you satisfying results for the week…which we all need right now!

3. Social distancing is not the same as social indifference…

Connecting with other language learners is amazing! You get to meet committed, passionate people who are going through the same struggles you are. It helps us to feel less lonely. This is the perfect time to reach out and…

  • finally congratulate other language learners on their efforts, rather than just pressing “like” because you have no time for more;
  • help other language learners through their struggles, especially if you are experienced in studying a language they are just starting to dabble in;
  • plan a study session together (on Skype, for instance);
  • have a meeting to ask questions and compare notes;
  • write the blog post you’ve always wanted to write;
  • share your achievements with others and let them know how you got there;
  • share your tips and tricks to stay sane and active during this quarantine.

I consider this self-care because bonding, supporting others and giving free (always genuine) compliments has changed my life for the better in ways you wouldn’t believe. Realizing I played a part in making someone smile is enough to make my day!

4. …but beware of social media fatigue.

Yes, bonding with other language learners, tutors and teachers is a huge lifesaver. I also love social media, digital tools and all they have to offer! But remember: social media can still become a source of great anxiety, panic or just plain distraction during a pandemic.

If there is anything this chaos has taught me, it’s that I had been paying attention and worrying about a lot of dumb things. Social media was one of them. Suddenly, many things were put into perspective for me. I realized how many hours I had been spending looking at screens, worrying about other people’s panic, reading fake news about other fake news, and watching footage of people fighting over toilet paper. Seriously?

If, like me, you wish to make better use of your time and nurture your well-being (not your panicky self), notice your reactions and kindly tell yourself it’s time to stop. If, on the other hand, social media give you energy and motivation, feel free to continue doing what works for you!

5. Keep that body moving as much as your language-savvy brain!

Most language learners I know love coziness, a great book, a warm beverage, the comfort of our pet, the company of a close friend, journals and notes. Many of us are also somewhat introverted, which means we have no problem enjoying the comfort of our home. But don’t forget that your body is craving for some activity, too!

Yes, yes, I know, I’m not about to torture you again with the benefits of working out and eating healthy (although now might be a good idea to strengthen your immune system). Just make sure you’re getting up once in a while, stretching those arms and legs, doing some type of physical activity you enjoy and taking breaks. Bet on nourishing homemade meals to fuel your brain for more effective language learning!

6. Don’t underestimate the relaxing power of nature.

It’s a little ridiculous, but by the time the Coronavirus spread, I hadn’t set foot in a park in months. Detail: Berlin is an absolute park paradise and there’s a gorgeous one literally 15 minutes away from my place on foot.

Some days ago the weather was forgiving and I had finally let go of coffee shops, restaurants, malls and stores to avoid human contact. So I went to the park and walked around for 30 minutes. I can’t possibly put into words how much that one simple action relieved me. Returning home, I felt positive, light, calm, ready to get things done, and incredibly satisfied. And what did it take? Literally looking at trees and soaking up some sunshine.

If you’re still allowed to go outside without a permit and your local park is not absolutely crowded, visit it. Or try your local garden, forest, beach or lake. Just make sure it’s somewhere you can go without using public transport. If you can’t, try to at least open your windows and get some fresh air and sunlight once in a while. Sunlight is also an immune system booster.

7. Use your passion for languages to make your day (and someone else’s) brighter.

Take a minute to contact your loved ones and acquaintances. Some may have been more strongly affected by the virus, such as those who work in hospitals. Let those you love know you’re thinking about them, wishing for the best and taking some seconds off your day to comfort them.

This might seem more like taking care of other people, not self-care. But here’s the deal: helping others makes us feel happier in the long run. It’s almost like human beings crave for connection and community (hehe)!

Tired of always bringing up Corona? Use your language learning skills and knowledge to help give others a happy day! Why not share a beautiful proverb, quote or expression from the language you’re learning? You can also recommend a book you’ve read in another language, share fun facts about languages or cultural references. Also, can we not forget all of the legendary memes out there?

8. Remember that language learning is more than studying.

Staying home invites us to sit at the desk and binge-read book after book, completing manuals one after the other. But language learning can be more than that, even if you can’t leave the house. I consider diversifying activities to be self-care because it is healthy for our brains to test different skills, challenge our habits and expose ourselves to new things!

For example, you could follow YouTube workouts taught in another language. I did that with Spanish and you can’t imagine the amount of body-related vocabulary I got to learn! You can also brainstorm some new recipes you could cook with the ingredients you have at hand and find the directions in your target language.

9. Put some pants on!

Freelancers will be familiar with this tip ever since they started working from home, but those who are new to the scene might not be aware of the importance of…getting dressed.

Yes, hanging out in your pajamas is a blessing. However, most freelancers will tell you that it gets old really quickly. Taking a shower, getting dressed and even wearing some perfume or makeup can give your brain the signal that you’re ready to start your day of work and be productive. It also helps that whenever you look in the mirror (it is bound to happen more often at home) you’ll see your fresh, sexy language learner self who is ready to take the world by storm…not a sleepy bear who just wants to crawl back into its bed!

10. Stay safe financially, too.

I recommend some care when it comes to purchasing language apps, subscriptions, books and more. Right now, most of us language learners are so excited to finally have some time to dedicate to languages, that we are eager to get the resources we’ve always wanted. You’ll know your savings and bank accounts better than anyone else (I’m nobody to tell you what to do with your money!), but it might be wise to be mindful of how much we are purchasing and ordering. Why?

Because this pandemic is a time of great uncertainty. Money that is now coming in on a regular basis may not be granted in a couple of months (worst case scenario, knock on wood). Clients you currently have as a freelancer might ask for a break after a time of struggle. It happened to me and I was caught by surprise, which is why I want you to be careful!

There are many wonderful, free resources we can test and use to stay entertained during this phase, not to mention that several apps and online platforms are now offering their services free of cost for a period of time. Let’s take advantage of it!

  • Reply
    Kerry Campion de Santiago
    March 19, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Brilliant post Maria!

  • Reply
    Matthew Boyle
    March 25, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Another amazing post, Maria! I love the title and the suggestions. Your writing is so creative! For me, I think it is tough (but essential!) to stay physically active even while indoors. If I can do some form of exercise or yoga every day, that will bring me the energy to want to clean, organize, study, or make some fresh content. If I don’t move, if I give into being sluggish and watching too much TV/internet, it’s like a downward spiral of doing less and less and feeling worse and worse. Tuning into your blog helps, too! So fun! So informative! Great writing! Will be back…

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