We all have days when we feel down. Or are very busy. It is okay. Life is life, and it gives us ups and downs. What is not okay is giving up language practice during those days.
The most important thing for learning languages is to keep practicing, and frequency here matters more than duration and intensity. Our brain decides what word or phrase to memorize and what to ignore by the number and the frequency of encounters. It is all about statistics, so dealing with the language a little bit every day is better than dedicating eight hours to language studies once a week.
Yet, low days are low, because during those days we lack energy and enthusiasm. And busy days are busy, because we feel overwhelmed with what we have to do and are scared to lose a single minute and miss our deadlines. We tend to keep making our chores automatically, but making extra efforts and spending some time on learning languages often seems too much when we are down. Does it mean that it is impossible to practice languages steadily? Not at all!
The good news is that there are many ways to keep studying languages without committing too much mental energy to it, and thus maintaining your skills in good shape through tough times. I'm going to share what worked well for me and my students, so please feel free to share your ideas in the comments!
1. Memrise. The online-based flash card service doesn't take much of your time. Words and phrases supported with some visual and verbal context are arranged into quick lessons, so whenever you have a spare 15 minutes, just open the website and practice a bit. You don't have to stay too focused on the vocabulary to get through the lesson, but those extra 15 minutes will help you to not forget what you've learnt so far.
2. Duolingo. I personally like Duolingo more for its diversity of tasks – translating, spelling, listening and speaking, all packed densely into one 10 minute lesson. Again, you don't have to stay too focused on a lesson to complete it, and you don't have to worry about how well you memorize this or that expression that day. You'll come back to the words you've just practiced later and will do a better job when the time is right. For now, it is fine just to keep your lessons in the gold status, or close to it. By doing so, you won't lose your vocabulary.
3. 15 or 30-minute sessions at iTalki / GoSpeaky. It may sound trivial, but it always helps to have somebody who may push you harder. You may find a language exchange partner on iTalki or GoSpeaky or any other LE service and set up quick sessions. Or you can find a tutor on iTalki and have the entire session for yourself. When you have a session with a partner or a tutor, it is much harder to find an excuse and cancel it. The probability that you'll keep practicing is much higher when you have someone else to work together with you. The sessions shouldn't be long, they should just be consistent.
4. Ambient sound. Okay, the deadlines are piling up, that damn flu has sucked all your energy out, and your family is not going to forgive you for another 15 minutes you'd like to spend on your language studies. There is still a way to carry on. Turn on some songs or movies in your target language while being busy with something else. It will help you to remember why you decided to learn that language in the first place, and also your ears will catch the sounds of the foreign speech and get used to it without you even noticing it.