High Intensity Language Training – Your First ‘High Intensity Day’


Quick recap: make mistakes, push on with new material, try to wean yourself off the pause button, and have some ‘No English’ time (10 minutes, 10 days, whatever you choose…;-)).

Once you’ve got the hang of those key ideas, you’ll be using the SSi materials better than the vast majority of learners.  You’ll be moving faster and learning better because you’re not worrying about mistakes (in fact, you’re embracing them, celebrating them!) and you’ll be avoiding the trap of repeating lessons.

However much time you put into your learning, you’re going to be making the most of it – so you don’t have to pay any attention at all to the rest of this post, if it doesn’t suit you!

Intense days – the logical conclusion to High Intensity

If you’re like most of our learners, you feel pretty tired at the end of a half-hour session (especially if you use the pause button a lot, and that half-hour session takes an hour or two!).

That tiredness is probably why most people think in terms of doing one lesson and then stopping – understandably enough.

But if you feel that one session is your maximum, you’re almost certainly wrong.

So, once you feel sure that you’re celebrating mistakes, avoiding repeats, and cutting down on the pause button, you’re ready to put it all together on an entirely different level – you’re ready to test a High Intensity Day.

Getting the most out of your High Intensity Day

The key here is very simple:

Don’t hold back.

You’re going to need to schedule a full day for this – that means someone else to look after the kids, a partner who knows that you’re not available for merry chats, perhaps some pre-prepared food, your phone switched off (er, unless you do the lessons on your phone!) and a nice big sign (optional) on the door saying ‘Go Away.  Learning in Progress.’

Once you’ve arranged that, you’ve then got to resist the immediate and obvious urge To Have A Lie-In.

No, sorry, no lie-in (or should that be lies-in?!) on High Intensity Day.

Get out of the traps like a greyhound.  Hit yourself with a coffee, have a proper breakfast, and get yourself in a quiet place with the lessons by 8.30.  Yes, 8.30.  You’ve got a long day ahead of you (but on the bright side, it’s going to change how you feel about learning languages – for ever).

Don’t let the lessons set the schedule

One day, in a beautiful, perfect future, all SSi lessons will be exactly 30 minutes long (unless you’re using the new magic online player where you just do as long as you feel like and then stop, but that’s a story for another day).

In the meantime, as Billy Bragg sings, ‘This is reality, so give me some room’ – yes, almost all our lessons go over, or wildly over, half an hour.  With some of the real monsters, that can leave you far, far too long without a break.

So take a five minute break every half-hour.


Just five minutes, okay?  Don’t take ‘a five minute break’, open a newspaper, start reading Facebook, call a friend and then notice it’s been twenty or thirty minutes, or an hour or more.  If you do that, you’d be better off not bothering with the whole idea.

Okay, okay, take 20 minutes for lunch, fair enough.  But make it snappy – there’s no need to let it run over into half an hour or more.  If you’re doing this, let’s get the maximum possible results for the day, so that you find out what you’re really capable of.

An overview of your schedule

8.00 – breakfast, coffee, last minute nerves.

8.30 – Let’s do this thing!

9.00 (and every 30 minutes from then on) – 5 minute break.

12.30 – 20 minute lunch break

4.15 – 15 minute tea break

6.45 – oh, I suppose you’d better have something for supper.  20 minutes, no more.

8.10 – you’d better stop now.  You’ll probably be feeling a little tired.

What you’ll discover – about yourself and about language

1) How dependent you are on the pause button.

If you still need to use it a lot, you should get through 5 lessons in the day.

If you’re managing to wean yourself off it, you could finish 10 or more lessons.

2) How language takes time to bed down.

When you finish, you’ll be exhausted, and you’ll have a worrying sensation that none of what you’ve done will stay with you.  Relax.  Do NOT worry.  This is a misleading sensation.

You can prove it to yourself by revisiting the last lesson you did a week later (and then once more the day after that).  By the second time you run through the last lesson you did, you’ll see it really has become part of your long-term memory.

3) How quickly you can learn.

If you get through 5 lessons in your day, and you can commit to one High Intensity Day each month, you’ll have finished Level 1 in just 5 months.  To give you a little context, we know that people who’ve done Level 1 can survive on a Bootcamp – in other words, on a retreat where they use no English at all for an entire week – a hugely impressive level of achievement.

I’m not aware of any other approach that would give you this kind of result in five months of doing one day per month.

But if you are managing to leave the pause button alone, and you can get through 10 lessons (or more) in a day – and you can commit one day a week for five consecutive weeks – you’ll be through Level 1 and 2 in just about a calendar month, which should be fast enough to give you jet-lag.  Oh, and a new language.


If you think this sounds scary, you’re right.

It’ll really test your limits, and you’ll find it exhausting.

But you might also find that it leaves you able to learn new languages faster than almost anyone else you know…:-)


6 responses to “High Intensity Language Training – Your First ‘High Intensity Day’

  1. How far do you think you could you push the intensive method? For example. If you had some people with no prior knowledge to the target language and they followed the above daily routine every day over a 3 week period to complete all three courses (perhaps with a target language speaker present to practice conversation with during “breaks”. Perhaps even “encouraged” to watch/listen to media in the target languge in the evening also?). What realistically would be their ability in the target language at the end of the three weeks?

    I suppose it would depend to a degree on the target language, e.g. there’s a lot of latinised language in English and just natural exposure to French and/or Spanish would make those languages more conducive to learning in a short time. Especially compared to something like Mandarin for example.

    • It’s a great question, and something I’m thinking about a lot at the moment. There are all sorts of potential variables, of course, but I suspect anyone who could manage 5 sessions a day for 21 consecutive days would be to all intents and purposes a functional speaker (especially if they spent some time on the listening exercises).

      I’m really looking forward to testing some of these possibilities as we get more material ready to publish – I think a confident learner could get through Level 1 in 3 days, and that would leave them with enough language for a Bootcamp…

      • It’s interesting you mention the 3 days and bootcamp. With my own learning of Spanish, I’ve been pondering at what point/ where the balance lies and changes regarding using/conversing with what you have and doing lessons to learn more.
        The way I’ve gone about Spanish is very different to when I learned Welsh in many ways but especially in at what ppoint I actually started to use what I’d learned in real life situatiuons .i.e. talking to other people in that language. With Welsh I basically did it from the off, seeking out any opportunity to use and improve what I’d learned.
        With Spanish, mainly due to time pressures and the fact that learning Spanish ahs been more of a hobby rather than a burning desire to be able to speak it, I’ve only recently i.e. in the last month srted to meet up with a couple of people to use my Spanish. so it was at first quite odd in that I had a relatively large “pool” of Spanish to draw from, but it’s taken a few sessions for it to flow, as you’d expect really.
        I suppose my point is, there is an obvious need to “learn” new constuctions/ vocab etc. at the very beginning since you don’t know any. Initially the most effective way to build this up quickly is to learn these in a lesson type scenario (the most effective lesson is another topic of course). However, I think as you progress it’s a case of diminishing returns regarding “lessons” and you start to get a lot more out of simply using what you have and learning through doing as it were. I think the idea of “lessons” can become a bit of a comfort blanket to some after a certain point. Of course, depending on the language it may not be so easy to find opportunities to practise with other speakers.

        On a seperate point entirely, I think this Intensive method offers massive potential in particular for minority languages such a s Welsh. A real bonefide method of turning non-speakers into functional speaks in a matter of a few weeks. There’s loads of knock -on potential for that not least in the areas of the work-place and with parents of young children (particuarly thoses mono-linguals who chose Welsh Medium education for their children).

  2. Really appreciate your kind words – it’s definitely the sort of stuff we really want to do…:-)

    I agree – I’ve just been having almost exactly the same conversation with someone here – lessons are a launch pad, to get you to the stage where you take part in conversations, at which stage the lessons become far less important (although still useful for a while, probably up to around Level 3). But once you can get into a conversation and follow a decent chunk of it, you’re in the game, and playing it as much as possible is the way forward…:-)

  3. I’m a graduate of the Defense Language Institute where I became fluent in Pashto in about 16 months. There, the classes (50 minutes of work, 10 minutes of break) lasts between 6 and 8 hours a day with addition speaking practice afterward speckled across the month. I thrived in the high intensity learning environment. Would you say that your courses can get me to a similar level in Korean in about the same amount of time? Also, are you familiar with the Interagency Language Roundtable? 16 months got me to a 2+ in Listening (fully funtional in target language) and 3 in Reading (baseline fluency). How many of your courses would you suggest to reach this level?

    • Hi Elias, and thanks for your comment – which was particularly interesting, because I’ve never heard of the Defense Language Institute or the Interagency Language Roundtable – and it’s always fun to hear about things for the first time…:-)

      Ah… American stuff… I’ve heard a bit about intensive armed forces stuff in America… is this like that?

      We don’t have a Korean course yet (although we’re hoping to take some serious steps forward this year with our course creation tool)… and I’m not sure what those 2+/3 rating levels are from… if you could point me at something that would help me compare them to the Common European Framework, I could do some figuring out…

      But my initial response is that I would really like to look at the 50 minutes of work you were doing… because I would expect 6 to 8 hours a day to lead to very serious fluency in far, far less than 16 months (although of course you’ve got all sorts of possible individual and methodological variations in there).

      With our courses – it’s hard to say how many lessons gets to what sort of level, because it depends so much on what use they make of their language – someone who does extra time on listening exercises, and puts themselves into communicative situations for a couple of hours every day, will progress far faster – if you’ve got optimal external stuff, then I think a very high level of competence is possible with just our Level 1 and Level 2 (a total of 50 half-hour sessions).

      We’re focusing mostly on what’s possible in very short timescales at the moment – we’ve had some fascinating results with 5 day intensives (which we’re seeing get people from zero to good initial conversational interaction) and we’re hoping to test a 10 day intensive in the autumn, for which I have great hopes. Once we’ve done that, we’ll start measuring those results more closely against external frameworks, and see where we get to…:-)

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