The intermediate language level usually fills learners with a sense of accomplishment. They have come a long way and they can use the language for communication. On the other hand, they must face challenges that give them the impression of being stuck for ever at this level, and the promised land of proficiency seems so far from reach.

Last week we talked about the gap between receptive and productive competence where learners understand much more than what they can speak. But there are more reasons why they reach a plateau.

Use of simple terms

Another challenge learners face at this level is that they might be fluent by using primarily basic generic vocabulary and low-level grammar to express their ideas, but they still lack the knowledge of more complex terms and more sophisticated language patterns. Thus, communication is difficult at times.

Limited vocabulary

Their vocabulary range is still basic, and they don’t have the knowledge of more specialised terms.

Intermediate learners struggle to understand authentic native speech.

Inability to produce natural native speech.

Their use of language sounds at times too formal, and they are unable to adapt what they learned in their course to real-life situations. They struggle, then, to understand authentic speech from native speakers.

They persist with the same grammatical errors.

They carry on making the same errors they use to make at lower levels, maybe because the rules were never understood at first. This constitute a huge obstacle to their fluency.

Lack of confidence

Many intermediate learners are aware of their constraint with the language and as such, their confidence touches rock bottom. They know they are far away from where they want to be, that they are more skills to be mastered. They might refuse to use the ones they already possess, and It can be detrimental to their progress.

This is the Dunning-Kruger effect: people feel more confident the less they know about a subject.

How, then, can intermediate learners move up to the next levels?

Be aware of your weaknesses

It is important to know which areas need improvement and try to overcome your weaknesses. From all the online courses available, choose the one that caters for your specific needs. Be sure that you pick up the right level.

On the other hand, a private tutor might be more convenient, because he/she prepares the sessions according to your needs and it is more flexible as changes can be made from one session to the next. You can request specific topics that interest you most or that you are struggling to understand.

Personalised lessons will help you solve grammar issues as well as increase your vocabulary. Depending on the language, it is easy find local or online tutors.

Practice listening to authentic native media.

Use native media

The use of native media is paramount if you want to understand native language speaking. Practising your listening skills is the only way to improve your chances of understanding the natives when you’re having real-life conversations with them. The more you do, the easier it will become.

Your understanding of the materials will not be a 100%. It will require some effort. You can always look for support from your private tutor.

Speak, speak, speak

The lack of speaking practice ruins your confidence. And it goes without saying that the more you speak, the more confident you become. Theses practices will also allow you to be aware of your vocabulary gap and force you to act in improving your specialised vocabulary.

With time, you will understand the native speakers much better and this will have a positive effect on your confidence.

Read materials that are produced for native speakers.


An intermediate language learner has enough vocabulary and is aware of most grammar forms to allow him/her to read and understand novels in the target language. Bear in mind that it won’t be plain sailing, but at the end of this exercise you will increase your vocabulary enormously.

Use a vocabulary notebook

Have always at the ready a vocabulary notebook where you can write down the new words, phrases and expressions that you encounter when listening to native materials or when reading. Always go back later and investigate these words and their meanings and try to incorporate them in your writings and/or conversations.

Think in your target language

Keep a journal. Write down your daily activities in it. When thinking, try and switch over your thinking process from your mother tongue to the foreign language. When you don’t know a specific word, write it down and learn it. This will allow you to communicate complex ideas in your target language.


Teach what you already know of the language to a friend, spouse or your children. The best way to learn is by teaching. You will improve grammatically, as you need to communicate clear concepts to your tutee, and your vocabulary pool will increase as well.

Apply these seven tips in your daily learning and without even noticing it you will soon be on your way to language proficiency.

What tip do you find most valuable? And what is the best advice you can give? Comment below.


If you want to build your 2020 language learning plan for success, I want to invite you to this FREE MASTERCLASS. Your language journey will dramatically improve.