Adapting High Intensity Interval Training To Language Learning

When learning a new language, it is not uncommon to come to a plateau in your progress. Athletes often practice High Intensity Interval Training to help them break through plateaus in their progress, but can this type of training be adapted to language learning? The answer is yes, and in this article we are going to take a look at ways to adapt the principles of HIIT to learning a new language and make new gains in your Language Fitness. We will also show how the Encore!!! language learning app can help you put these principles into practice.

What Causes Plateaus In Training

The first things we need to look at when examining how HIIT can be adapted to language learning are the causes of training plateaus in both language learning and physical training. Some people like to say that “the brain is a muscle”, and while it actually isn’t one, many of the same principles apply. Both can lose their abilities if they are not used. Athletes can lose months and years of training gains in just a short amount of time. The brain is similar, if you are not keeping your skills up and using your language skills then you will begin to slide backwards in progress. 

Before we know how we are going to solve the problem of training plateaus, we need to see why they happen. Let’s take a look at the two main causes of physical training plateaus, and how they relate to language learning.


Physical training: When it comes to athletic training, overtraining is when the load you place on your body exceeds the ability for the body to recover. This usually presents as a plateau in progress, which then leads to fatigue, sickness, mental breakdowns, and burnout. Severe overtraining can take a long time to recover from, and can turn from a plateau to a loss of progress. 

Language Learning: Much like the body, you can place a load on your brain that exceeds the ability for your body to recover. At a certain point, the mind gets oversaturated with new information and cannot retain any new information being poured into it. This can cause frustration, a feeling that progress is being lost, fatigue, and  discouragement from studying. Overtraining can cause a language learner to take a long break from learning and turn from a plateau to a loss of progress.

Boredom and Burnout

Physical Training: Fitness routines can become exactly that: routine. Doing the same workouts on the same days of the week can be mentally draining and start to make you feel bored. On top of that, some workouts like running on a treadmill can be boring, and progress sometimes means longer sessions which can make it harder to hold the athletes attention. Obviously, boredom can lead to a lapse in training or less motivation, either of which can create plateaus and loss of progress.

Language Learning: Much like fitness routines, language learning programs can also get to be routine. This is especially true when you are spending long periods of time studying and doing word or phrase repetition exercises. Normally, the more time you spend training, the more you learn and retain. But, like overtraining, boredom can cause discouragement and could lead to long breaks from training.  

Now that we know what causes plateaus in training, let’s take a look at High Intensity Interval Training and how it can help to break these plateaus while keeping training interesting and fun.

What is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)?

High Intensity Interval training is a method of training used by athletes for a variety of reasons. The two most popular reasons are to prevent “overtraining” and to overcome boredom with a program. The overall goal of High Intensity Interval Training is to overcome plateaus in progress. HIIT involves incorporating a variety of exercise types into the training, as well as using patterns of low and high intensity bursts of energy expenditure. 

High Intensity Interval Training

A great example using HIIT in cardiovascular training. Even the most dedicated athlete can find trouble focusing on long sessions of cardio. Running on a treadmill at a steady rate, for instance, can get incredibly tedious. High Intensity Interval Training chooses to toss aside that long steady state session for a series of intense all out bursts followed by rest periods. An athlete might choose to put a treadmill on a high angle and turn the speed up to an all out sprint for a minute to a minute and a half, and then rest for a minute or two to let the heart rate come down before going back at it again. They repeat this 10-20 times and overall get more progress due to the all out nature of the burst sections along with the up and down fluctuation of heart rate.

HIIT can also involve mixing different muscle groups. Instead of doing a set of bench presses followed by a rest before the next set, the athlete might set up three exercises such as Bench Press, Squat, and Rows with no rest between each movement. This allows the athlete to keep their heart rate up, while exhausting each muscle group. Shorter, more intense workouts that reduce time under load while still putting out the same muscular effort while building cardiovascular endurance at the same time.

Of course, there is truth to there being too much of a good thing. HIIT can cause overtraining in athletes who are doing it every day, so we have to take that into account as we develop physical training programs along with adapting HIIT to language learning.

Adapting HIIT To Language Learning

Now that we know what causes plateaus, and how HIIT helps athletes, we now need to adapt the principles of High Intensity Interval Training to language learning. The two principles we will focus on are combining varied exercises together in one lesson and variations in intensity.

Varied Exercises

Focusing on only one aspect of a language can get tedious. If one focuses for too long on only grammar, then you will start to lose interest in studying grammar. However, if you break up the content of your studies into segments you can break things up a bit and keep the content interesting. You can choose to spend a portion of your studying time on grammar, then another segment of time can be devoted to vocabulary, and another to greetings, slang phrases, songs, etc. This keeps you from getting bored with any one portion of your language learning studies.

Another way to keep your language studies varied is to spend portions of your time doing other kinds of language practice. This can mean that instead of doing your usual studies, you decide to watch a movie in the language you are learning and try to pick up on new words and phrases to add into your study material. You could also do in person language practice with a native speaker, learn a song in your target language, or any other form of language practice that differs from your usual course of study.

The point is to keep your studies fun and flexible, and instead of taking breaks from practicing, find more fun and exciting ways to supplement your language course.

Varied Intensity

Learning a language takes a lot of time. It can take from 1000-1500 hours to reach a professional working level of proficiency, which means that the more time you devote to learning, the more you will learn. Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns also comes into play and there are limits to what you can learn and retain. 

We have both a short and long term memory. When you are learning a language, your short term memory is where you retain the information immediately during and after your lesson. You want to transfer as much of your short term memory into your long term memory as possible. The problem is, your short term memory tends to leak information and doesn’t hold very much either. So, when you learn something new, you slowly start to learn portions of what you have learned. This is why we repeat previous lessons to ensure retention.

Knowing this, we know that we can’t just spend 8 hours a day every day studying a language non-stop and expect steady progress. You can probably expect to experience burnout at that pace though. Instead, we will develop a High Intensity Interval Training inspired style of varied intensity that will allow you to learn in a more efficient way.

Let’s say you spend 2 hours a day learning a new language. A great way to break this up is to pick a day and make it a high intensity day. On that day you will study for 4 hours. Utilizing the principles of varied exercises above, study grammar, vocabulary, and useful phrases for the full 4 hours. Over the next 2 days, you then will practice an hour a day as you revisit the vocabulary, grammar, and phrases from day 1. You will spend the same 6 hours studying, but it will be a more efficient use and help you retain more information while avoiding burnout.

You can even add another layer by then taking the 4th day to do an alternative form of study, like the ones mentioned in the previous segment. Then, you spend the next 2 days practicing the content you learned during day 4 for an hour a day. That gives you 6 days a week of a program, then take a day off and start the cycle over again!

Now we not only know how the two principles can be used in our language learning studies, but how to put them together into one program! That is just one way it can all be combined though, the best way to find out what works for you is by experimenting and trying different combinations. The Encore!!! app also offered the customization to let you build your HIIT language lessons and study them daily!

How Encore!!! Helps You Incorporate HIIT Into Language Learning

Encore!!! language learning app is a perfect match for incorporating HIIT principles into your studies. Encore!!! is designed with a level of flexibility and customization that allows you to craft playlists for each of your days of study. Using the proven “Listen – Speak – Repeat” method of language learning, Encore!!! will allow you to spend all the time you need doing your studies, in fact, you can practice while going about your daily routine. You can even practice in the gym, meaning you can mix your language HIIT with your physical HIIT.

Learn a new language with Encore app

Encore!!! lets you customize your language learning experience, including choosing how many times a word or phrase is repeated, and how long the pause is between repetitions. You also can speed up and slow down the speed the recordings play at, break down all of the vocabulary words that are in a particular sentence, or remove one of the languages.

You can take your first 4 hour day of training and develop a playlist that will cover an entire planned time. Then, you would make playlists for the next 2 days that are 1 hour long and revists the studies of the first day. On the 4th day, you can watch a movie, listen to a song, or practice with a native language. During that study, you can take and create content using vocabulary and phrases you learned. Then, you can spend the next two days practicing lessons from a playlist you created from that content.

Encore!!! gives you the language learning tools to build an efficient and exciting program that incorporates HIIT principles. 


Learning a language and physical fitness training have a lot in common, including the same possible pitfalls that prevent progress. When overcoming these obstacles, using principles that are used in fitness, like High Intensity Interval Training, can be effectively adapted to language learning efforts. Varying intensity and content of studies help language students stay interested, break plateaus, and avoid burnout.

Encore!!! gives you the tools to put these HIIT principles into practice and incorporate them into your lessons. The customization that Encore!!! allows provides users with an ability to craft custom playlists that incorporate these principles. Give Encore!!! a try so you can see for yourself how this language learning app differs from the rest, and build your own custom HIIT language course.

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*The Android version is in the beta test mode - it is free for all the languages. Being in beta mode the version is still being worked on and may not work with all Android devices.