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Tips for learning a language when you have ADHD

Bree here. There are a lot of reasons I thought I’d never be able to learn a language.

  • I’m in my mid-30s
  • I don’t have a talent for languages
  • I’m busy with my family, my daughter’s school activities, and work
  • I have ADHD.

On paper, I should have been doomed from the start. Especially because of the ADHD, right?

If you also have ADHD (or any other attention problems), you know what I’m talking about.

How the heck am I supposed to learn a language if I can’t focus!!

Grammar? BORING.

Beginning materials? Hell. On. Earth.

Memorizing random kitchen vocab? I’d rather get a root canal.

 

It all sounds sooooooo tedious…

Dealing with ADHD for my entire life, and after many failed attempts at learning a language, I had pretty much given up completely on the idea that language learning was even possible for me.

Then I discovered immersion learning, and I thought — why not? I’ve always wanted to learn a language, and this method was different. For once, language learning seemed like it could be possible and fun.

So, I gave it one last shot. What was the worst that could happen? I’d just fail again and move on to a new hobby…but that didn’t happen.

Fast-forward 3 years later, I’ve put time into Spanish every 👏 single 👏 day 👏 without fail despite my ADHD.

Here’s what worked for me:

🏃‍♀️💨 I chased my interests, NOT perfection


The Idea of searching for “perfect” learner content bored me. So I didn’t bother with it. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I just focused on immersing in content that sparked joy (even as a complete beginner).

One of the ways I did this was by substituting content I was already consuming on a daily basis and swapping them for Spanish equivalents.

I love reading sci-fi and fantasy books. I love watching travel channels on YouTube. I love Anime and Comics. So, I decided to keep consuming all that content in Spanish.

Was it level-appropriate? Nope.

Was the content useful for everyday life? Debatable.

Was it interesting? Yes!

Did I still learn a lot? Oh, hell yeah!

🔥 I dropped it like it’s hot


No, I don’t mean the dance. There’s a stereotype that people with ADHD have a tendency to switch hobbies and interests as often as they change their underwear. I’d say that’s not true, but the roller skates, crochet hooks, and yoga mats collecting dust in my closet prove that’s a lie.

However, I use this to my advantage. Spanish is my vehicle for learning about anything I want to learn. Now, even if my interest changes to something completely new, Spanish remains constant.

Last week I was reading all about health and dieting, but then Luna told me about Stoicism, and now I’m all about that! And, of course, I’m researching it all in Spanish.

👬 Double trouble


Despite immersing in interesting content and following my weekly whims, at times, I still have issues paying attention.

I know, I know, no surprise there…

To get over this, I do something called “doubling.” Here’s how ADD.org defines it:

ADHD body doubling is a productivity strategy used by individuals with ADHD to finish possibly annoying jobs while having another person beside them. This person is the body double.

For example, during my daughter’s reading time, I’d read as well. In my husband’s office, I’d curl up and review Anki while he focused on his spreadsheets. Sometimes, I’d even join voice calls with friends as we’d silently do our own activities together.

I don’t know why it works, but it does.

💫 Friendship is magic


This isn’t exactly a tip, but if you have ADHD, chances are you love chatting about your interests. (I know I do. Just ask my family. 😬) Unfortunately, not many people in my life are as interested in languages as I am.

Relatable, right?

The FREE Refold community is the best place online to chat about immersion and language learning. So, if you’d like to make friends with people who are just as excited about language learning as you are, it’s the place to be.

Click here to join.

That’s it!


The main takeaways are to do what interests you, don’t force yourself to watch or read things that you hate (even for the sake of efficiency), and pair up with a friend or two to jumpstart your ability to focus.

Reply in the comments of this post and let me know how you stay focused even when it’s tough. I’d love to hear from you! Let’s swap some stories and motivate each other.

New to Language Learning?

Checkout Refold.la for a complete FREE guide on how to learn a language the fun, fast, and effective way.

2 thoughts on “Tips for learning a language when you have ADHD”

  1. Hi, Bree I love this post. I don’t have ADHD (not that I know of at least), but I had several head injuries in my life and that has affected me with focus problems and paying attention for long periods of time. I also get headaches very easily. Remembering words in Anki if I don’t know them already has been very difficult. So I’ve been going over the same words over and over again which is frustrating. Most beginner content bores me. Native Japanese content is more interesting to me even if I don’t know 90% of what’s being said. So when you wrote that you use content that you enjoy even if it’s not beginner content was encouraging.

    1. Hey there! So glad this resonated with you! I found beginner content tedious as well and just kinda of skipped over it. I did “intensively” read with LingQ, which made it easy to look up words and phrases, and then I put some of those words into Anki. That said, Anki and I have had a long on and off again relationship haha.

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