In the first part of this post, we explained what language learning plateaus meant and why they’re a rather common occurrence among language learners. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at whether you can avoid learning plateaus all-together, or what to do to overcome them if you’re already stuck on one.
But first, a quick recap on what can cause a plateau effect in language learning – it has more to do with our perception of learning, and an economic concept of diminishing returns, than an actual plateau. Since it’s possible to rather quickly reach an OK level of language skills and stop seeing progress happening as quickly as before, this normal process can create the feeling of plateauing.
Although it’s normal for the learning process to slow down after a while, there are also ways to get through the plateau effect.
Can You Avoid Language Learning Plateaus?
Like we highlighted in the first part, plateaus are really a normal part of the learning curve. Progress tends to slow down as you become more comfortable in your target language. This is a part of improving any skill.
Just think about learning to drive – when you first sit behind the wheel, there are so many things you need to keep in mind at the same time, and every new maneuver seems like a groundbreaking improvement. After practicing for a month, though, the movements become natural. It’s the same with learning a language – if at first you have to feverishly focus to create sentences with the right forms, remember vocabulary, and blend it all together to form coherent speech, after a while that becomes second nature (or more like it, at least).
So, in conclusion – while a slowing of progress is something that happens in the process of acquiring any skill, improvement never stops. Even after you’ve been driving for years, there are still new things you pick up every time you get behind the wheel. And even native speakers can learn something new about their language.
Essentially, the answer to the question of whether you can avoid a learning plateau then comes down to your definition of “plateau” (and possibly your reaction to it). While it’s true you can’t avoid a slowing of progress at a certain point, you will never stop learning new things.
Can You Overcome a Learning Plateau?
One other important aspect to note about learning plateaus is that they can happen at any level. Essentially, it would rather depend on your motivation and the level on which you need to use the language. Most often, though, plateaus occur at the intermediate level when you’ve increased your knowledge base so far that every addition to it starts feeling less significant (among other reasons).
Many experts believe, however, that the most important factor that separates the average performer from the expert, is deliberate practice. The idea behind the term comes down to the belief that the way you practice your language skills is as important (if not more so) than the amount of time you spend practicing them. And – best of all – this has nothing to do with any characteristics you were born with. Experts become experts because they consistently and deliberately spend time improving their skills.
This, then, is also the best way to overcome your own learning plateau. Instead of losing hope and getting frustrated at the lack of visible progress in your intermediate level, just keep working on becoming better in your target language every day.
Practical Tips for Overcoming a Learning Plateau
The methods with which to overcome your perceived plateau differ a bit regarding the level of language knowledge you’ve already achieved. It’s important to assess where you are in your process, where you want to get, and set goals to getting there. But a few general tips for getting to the next level after your plateau can be applied to everyone:
– Revisit the basics – it’s always better to build on something when your base is solid, so take the time to review the basics of your target language to make sure you feel entirely comfortable with it.
– Get out of your comfort zone – this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to sign up to give a speech at a conference but, depending on your language learning goals, keep pushing yourself every day.
– Focus more on actual language use than textbooks – the language you learn in school and lessons is often overly formal and far removed from the way it’s used by native speakers every day. So, spend time studying the language in its natural habitat.
– Get new materials – a lot of the time, it might feel like you’re not making any progress because you keep seeing the same materials you already know. If you’ve only been using a textbook, start including other sources to your schedule. Look at Youtube videos, read a book, or take part in a language exchange.
– Do something every day – persistence is key when learning a language, even if you don’t feel like it’s doing much good, spend at least 10 minutes a day focussing on your target language.
– Remind yourself how far you’ve come – to ward off the feeling of frustration that comes with a learning plateau, take a step back and relish how far you’ve come already. Read a text that you couldn’t understand a month ago, or watch a show that you can now understand.
Conclusion – Language Learning Plateaus Are a Normal Part of Progress and You Can Overcome Them
Learning plateaus happen when the initial rush and excitement of learning something new starts vanishing and when your knowledge base has become so substantial that additions to it start seeming less significant.
So, while they can cause frustration in language learners, they’re really nothing to worry about. Instead of feeling defeated when you see your progress slowing, you can try looking at the plateau as a sign of progress in itself – it means you’ve come so far as to have the basics of the language covered.
In order to reach the next level in your language skills, use a combination of determined practice and various other methods to keep improving daily, and don’t forget to remind yourself how far you’ve come already.