9 ways to overcome the language learning plateau

Why do we reach a plateau?

Problem areas

One reason people learning languages lose motivation and feel they aren’t progressing is because they come across parts of the language they find difficult to understand. For example, tricky parts of grammar such as the subjunctive in Spanish, how pronouns or commands work.

Lack of practise

It can be difficult to find an opportunity to speak with native speakers regularly. If you don’t put what you have learnt into practise then you will not feel like you are learning.

Getting bored

If you continue using the same methods, the same textbooks, podcasts over time this will get monotonous and you can easily lose interest.

Lack of confidence

Some people become overwhelmed about the things they still don’t know. This then makes people feel like they will never be able to become fluent in the language.

Lack of specific goals

People who don’t be definite about what they want to learn and by when feel like they are drifting along and you don’t realise how much progress you have made. Your studying isn’t focused and you lack direction.

How to overcome the language learning plateau

1) Talk with a native speaker

If you arrange a regular time each week to chat to a native speaker they can really help you to build your confidence to use the language. Once you realise a native speaker can understand you and you can hold a conversation with them you will feel much better about your progress.

Conversation Exchange

My Language Exchange

2) Change your method regularly

If you stick with the same resources, books, CDs, podcasts over several months you will find you get bored easily. It is a really good idea to mix up your learning. Try to use a mixture of listening, reading and writing exercises. The more different Spanish accents you hear and styles of writing the better as you will get a much better idea of how the language is used.

3) Use authentic resources

You will get the best practise of the real language used if you focus on material from the country where the language is spoken – so this could be by watching news online, listening to radio stations, reading novels or listening to songs sung by natives. Yabla is a great website featuring videos with transcripts and translations which you can also slow down.

4) Set specific goals

When you first start learning a language, try to write a plan of what you want to learn by when. Use precise time scales such as:- Learn the present tense irregular verbs in one month- Learn 20 new words each week- Be able to talk about your hobbies with your language exchange partner by the end of the month. You don’t have to stick to this original plan indefinitely. You can add to it and adapt your goals as you go along. If you set specific goals you will find your study time much more focused and successful.

5) Work towards an exam

By registering for an exam this will give your learning more direction and make you more focused as well as being a fantastic addition to your CV! For example if you are studying Spanish you could work towards the DELE exams or with any language, a GCSE or if you are more advanced, an A-level.

6) Connect with other learners

Often people feel better if they learn with other people. People learning languages usually struggle with the same sorts of things. For example, by joining a facebook group for people learning the same language as you, you can share resources, recommend useful articles, websites, books etc. and also support and encourage each other to keep learning. Meet up is a language community whereby you can find local groups of learners to meet up with regularly.

7) Focus on difficulties first

If you ignore problem areas they will always be at the back of your mind and hold you back, making you feel like you aren’t progressing. You could take a proficiency test to find out which areas you find difficult and need to work on. Transparent Language have some online proficiency tests you can do online. You may find listening difficult, the best way to overcome this is to do more listening activities. This could be by downloading podcasts, watching the news online, following Youtube channels or listening to radio programs.

8) Go back to basics

Sometimes when you get so far ahead and are studying the more difficult aspects of the language and having trouble with these, you feel like you are no longer making progress. It helps if you still go back to previously learnt areas to make sure you still remember these well. By doing this you will realise just how much useful language you do know and you will recognise just how far you have come.

9) Grow your vocabulary

One way you cannot fail to progress is if you keep learning new words. To be fluent in a language you need to know lots of words, not just the most common words but the more specific words. Learning more words will definitely help you advance from an intermediate level which people often get stuck at.

Memrise and Quizlet are both good apps for studying sets on specific topics or grammar areas. Try to focus on areas where your vocabulary is lacking.You can also create your own flashcards via sites like Anki and Brainscape.

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