Automate your language learning with IFTTT

Automate your language learning with IFTTT

If This Then That, or IFTTT, is a nifty online service that allows you to execute simple tasks based on the time of the day, current weather, your activity of Instagram, and so on.

There are countless apps and services that you can integrate through IFTTT. including email, text messages, RSS, and Evernote. For example, it can remind you to bring your umbrella when it’s about to rain, or download all Facebook photos you’re tagged in to Dropbox.

I found IFTTT to be an excellent way of automating some of the more repetitive, menial tasks around language learning. Below, I share some of my recipes (pre-made IFTTT tasks), but you can also follow the instructions to build your own.

Forward daily study reminders to your mobile phone

At LinguaLift, we send you a daily study reminder email including the number of vocabulary items you have scheduled to learn, and the next word and example sentence due for review.

Daily study reminder LinguaLift

Wouldn’t it be cool to also get a text message on your phone? IFTTT makes setting this up a breeze.

Simply select email as your if-then trigger and look for the subject line “* words to learn & review”, coming from mailto:[email protected]. You can then forward that subject line, or some different message as an SMS to your cell phone.

Archive premium podcasts in Dropbox or OneDrive

Many language learning podcasts only make the last two or three editions available for free listening, and require learners to pay for a premium subscription to access the rest.

You should of course consider paying that price if you enjoy the content, or your favourite podcast might just go out of business, but there are times when that’s not an option. Maybe you’re deep in student debt, maybe you already subscribe to too many podcasts, or maybe the particular content is just not consistently useful for your needs.

You could just tune in to free content every week, which can be a good motivator to study at regular intervals, but you might be too busy, or need to relisten to past lessons later on.

The solution is to push your chosen podcasts RSS feed into IFTTT, then ask it to save it as an mp3 file to Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive. That way you’ll have an archive of all the lessons stored safely in the cloud, available to listen whenever you’re ready!

Forward language learning newsletters to Pocket or Kindle

My mailbox is overflowing with new messages every morning, and I sometimes struggle to get through all of the important emails and read all of the insightful newsletters I subscribe to.

It can be tempting to just leave them in unread, or star them for later, but that ‘later’ usually never comes and you soon find yourself with a neverending list of articles cluttering your inbox and taking your attention every day.

To deal with this problem, I use a combination of to send me a digest of all the recurring notification emails I get throughout the day, and IFTTT to forward long-form newsletters (such us our free Online Language Learners Guild course) to Pocket. I can then easily access them on my mobile device when I’m stuck in traffic or take a long flight.

You can of course modify this recipe to forward the emails to Instapaper, OneNote, Evernote, or even your Kindle!

Save language learning blog posts in Evernote or OneNote

There are countless interesting blogs where teachers, learners and polyglots share their experiences, learning tips or words & expressions they meet in the wild. So many in fact, that it can get really difficult to stay on top of them all, whether you visit these blogs one by one, or subscribe to them with an RSS reader.

One way to cope with all this amazing content is to set up an IFTTT that saves blog posts from a specific RSS feed to OneNote or Evernote. You can then relax about missing the latest edition, and read through several posts at a time when you’re not as busy, or end up without internet connection.

This recipe is especially useful for RSS feeds with words of the day, quotes and proverbs, and you may even consider forwarding these to your phone for regular bite-size learning and inspiration.

Push tweets with a specific hashtag to a Google Spreadsheet

Twitter is a treasure trove for authentic, casual language, but understand even just 140 characters of colloquial foreign language can be a genuine challenge.

What I like to do is to find Twitter hashtags that native speakers use when discussing a topic that interests me, then set IFTTT to save these tweets to a Google Spreadsheet.

That way I can stop trying to juggle four language learning apps to understand the meaning of a difficult tweet on the go, and instead go through several at a time when I’m back home in front of my Rikaikun-equipped browser.

Acquire new habits by anchoring them to recurring events

According to Stanford University researcher BJ Fogg, the best way to form new positive habits is by anchoring them to something you do every day already, such as brushing your teeth or reading the morning paper.

Waaaiit a minute... Did I say morning paper? Aren’t most of us glued to our phones every morning? No need to despair, as IFTTT comes to the rescue!

Simply schedule a quick SMS reminder based on recurring events or activities you engage in on the internet. This can also be a great way to break out of a negative habit... Think “After I upload a photo to Facebook, I will Tweet about it in Swahili.” Just don’t try to automate the latter, all right?

The possibilities are endless

These are but a few ways to automate your learning, using the basic services at your disposal. If you dig deeper, and think about your specific needs, and the specific tools you use every day, I’m sure that you’ll come up with many other ways how IFTTT can make you a more effective learner.

If you run out of integrations available in IFTTT, and you’re ready to pay a small fee for more advanced options, you can also check out Zapier, a premium, business-oriented integration service.... but that’s for another blog post!