Welcome to Fluent Show episode 76, where I tackle the question:
"How Can I Get Off The Intermediate Plateau?"
If you're stuck somewhere in the language weeds, this podcast episode will help you untangle them and get those wheels turning again.
Just like any big goal that leads us to a happier life, language learning for the long haul works best as a habit. It’s possible to reach miraculous short-term results, but if we’re looking for mastery and SUSTAINABLE mastery then there’s no point putting your 6 week boot camp crash challenge attack plan into place.
Note On Progress and Your Sense Of Progress
- You’re in this for the long haul. After reaching a level that shows you’ve been studying this language for a long time, your motivation is likely more than fast progress. It doesn’t help to count the time you have spent learning.
- It doesn’t help to assume that going to A2 from zero is the same as going to C2 from B1 — it really isn’t like that.
The problem with the plateau is how frustrating it feels. You don’t feel the rewards anymore. So let’s talk about rewards and how you can bring back the feeling that your work is paying off.
Strategy 1: Get Fresher Rewards
6 months ago, you got a real kick out of being able to watch the news in your target language without subtitles. 3 months ago, you were still watching the news but it started feeling like a chore. Today, you still understand everything but you’re frustrated in a new arena. Rewards are most rewarding when they come after some really hard work towards a desire, and right now your frustration is rooted in your shortfall.
Ask yourself honestly where you are most frustrated right now. What is missing? What do you feel scared to attempt? Whatever it is, it’s likely not something you can do on your current plateau.
(Example of reading a book in Welsh)
Strategy 2: Intrinsic Rewards
This is about your identity, who you are as a language learner, and what you love the most.
Strategy 3: Extrinsic Rewards
- Validation from friends
- Passing exams
- Career advancement
Strategy 4: Change the conversation
Reward yourself for effort, not result. No point in burning yourself out.
So now I’ve convinced you to keep going, there is one question remaining. How do you actually get better? How do you study the right topics?
Do Difficult Things
Yes, I mean working hard. Your learning curve is slowing because you are not doing the difficult things anymore, so this is a good problem to have.
Getting to the C levels without the four core skills, without grammar, is not possible.You will not automatically get to the highest language learning levels by just keeping going. Things do need to develop, and if there’s a corner of grammar or a core skill that you have been neglecting, now is when it catches up with you.
Put That Yardstick In Place
If you feel like you’re not making progress, it’s likely because you have lost something that helps you measure your progress. It's time to get the yardstick back. Yardstick options:
- Set consistent path goals and share them with people, then check in every week. Join a learning club or mastermind.
- Write down your goals and be accountable to yourself — keep them in front of you
- Sign up for a language exam and get yourself tested
- Use a guiding resource, something you can really measure
- Work with rewards and treats - there is nothing wrong with celebrating where you are right now. You’ve come a long way
Become REALLY Clear On Your Aims
People often remark on the high quality of my English, and this level of English is impossible to reach without an incredible amount of exposure. But this level is NOT C2 - it is in fact higher.
Find a person who will mentor you.
This doesn’t have to be a paid tutor, but could be a patient and dedicated friend or group of friends. They might not even know they're your mentor. This is why people often report success when they travel - they put themselves in a world where language mentors are easily accessible. But just because something is not quite as straightforward, doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
It’s easy to give up at this stage…but just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean we give up. Right? Right!
You never have to finish the language. You never will. It will just speak to your soul in new ways.