You decided which language you want to learn. You've got plenty of reasons. You're an absolute beginner but you're resolute and determined. You bought a beginner's course or a book and set an amount of time a day for your studies.
You learn fast and absorb quickly all the new vocabulary. You start building sentences and you're sailing.
A few weeks or months down the road, you feel that you're not making progress even though you are carrying on with your language routine. You're stalling. Experts call it "to reach a plateau".
Wait a minute! Have you really stopped progressing?
When we start learning a new skill, we are consciously trying to get better at it. So we practice deliberately. Slowly, we reach a phase called "autonomous stage" when the brain seems to go on autopilot and we loose control of what we're doing, and improvement seems to have slown down.
We often use the expression: " It's a learning curve". Well the learning curve does exist.
When we just start learning a language ( this applies to any skill ), we learn from scratch. Our starting point is ZERO, nothing. We learn a lot because every single thing we learn is NEW. For example a 30 minutes language activity will be spent learning NEW vocabulary, NEW verbs, NEW grammar structures etc...
The learning curve looks like this:
At some point, it has to slow down. Let's take the 30 minutes language lesson again. Imagine you've been studying now for 4 weeks. You will obviously re-encounter words, verbs, grammar structures etc.. and the amount of new concepts will certainly be less. As the weeks go by it will be less and less.
The graph looks more like this:
Your learning curve over time will look just like this one:
Having the feeling of stalling and not improving happens to everyone. Let's talk now about how to overcome it.
Here are a few things you can do.
1- See the big picture.
Judge your progress over 1-2 weeks. A day set back won't change the overall outcome.
2- Keep a diary
Write down all your weaknesses and areas you want to work on. Delete as you tackle them. This will give you a visual confirmation of your progress.
3- Set yourself mini-goals
If your weakness is some grammar rules for example, set yourself a day where you try to study and understand them while making some exercises until the concept becomes clear.
4- Keep going
The more you do, the more you carry on, it will be harder for you to abandon your journey.
5- Change your routine
If you are studying at home, why not try a classroom approach. If you study from a book, try an online course or vice versa. Sometimes you find that these little changes. Help you to re-engage in a better way.
The language plateau is not a rare occurrence. You'll be able to overcome it if you're mentally prepared for it. More than a hindrance use it as a mean to get to fluency.
Download PDF with 5 useful strategies to avoid the language plateau.