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Do you ever feel that despite your best efforts, you’re struggling to make progress? Does it seem like your language learning journey has ground to a halt? A range of factors can impact on our ability to push forward with learning a language, such as our level of internal and external motivation, our degree of exposure to the target language or culture, our reasons for wanting or needing to improve in the target language and the time and resources that we have at our disposal. 

 

Not all learners may necessarily want to overcome such a plateau, particularly when working with multiple languages. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with stopping at a level that you’re already happy with or that you feel is enough for you. But what if we do want to move past this tricky sticking point? Here are five tips that can help you on your way:

 

1. Be creative

Try to make use of as many different resources as you can, so that you can maximize your level of language exposure. If you don’t have a chance to immerse yourself in the language through the company of other people, try using online resources such as Netflix to familiarize yourself with a wide variety of registers and dialects.

 

2. Be practical

If you can, look for an opportunity to use your language skills in a practical context, whether this is a social or work-related situation. Many language users describe a different type of plateau, where they reach a high level of written expression but still struggle to comfortably speak to people. Because of this, it’s helpful to aim at placing yourself in situations where you can use the language naturally.

 

3. Be kind to yourself

Trust that if you are working hard then you will inevitably move forward, even if you don’t feel like you’re aware of this. Try to find a way of objectively measuring your progress, since it’s very hard for us to evaluate our own command of a foreign language. Most importantly, celebrate the successes without being too overwhelmed by any disasters.

 

4. Be courageous

It takes a huge amount of bravery to learn and use a foreign language, but the fact that you have come so far already proves that you have what it takes to go even further. Try not to get disheartened if people are dismissive of your efforts or insist that you switch to English (or another alternative language) when speaking to them. At the end of the day, this says more about them than it does about you.

 

5. Be open-minded

Most of all, try to enjoy the process. Learning a foreign language is an amazing thing to do and the fact that you’ve come far enough that you feel you’ve peaked, if only temporarily before climbing even higher, shows that you’ve already accomplished a great deal. We always achieve more when we’re doing something that we love.

 

What are your thoughts about reaching, and overcoming, plateaus in language-learning? Do you have any other tips that are not included on this list? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments!

15件のコメント

  • 1
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    Kathleen

    German-language radio stations are not only available online, they can also be found as choices in the Android TuneIn Radio app, making it easy to listen on-the-go. Other languages are featured, too.

    Also, I think it's helpful to read online newspapers from your source-language country. I have a free registration to read the Süddeutsche Zeitung out of Munich, and try to remember to scan it often. This helps not just with language learning, but with cultural awareness, too.

    Whatever you choose as a help, it should be something you enjoy!

    All the best,

    Kathleen

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    gzivanchan

    I think exposure to the "real" language is the key. For example, English is a compulsory subject for students in China (as in many other non-English speaking countries). But the "textbook English" we have learned in school can be really frustrating when we get in touch with actual English speakers or materials. I think that might be the same story for other learners of a foreign language.

    Watching TV dramas, preferrably with bilingual subtitles, is one of the best ways to learn the language in the "real" environment. But we should be wise to choose the genre. Dramas of daily lives in contemporary settings are good choices. We don't want to watch dramas set in the ancient times with a lot of archaistic words, or sci-fi ones with frabricated and unrealistic terms, for example. And action-packed ones with few conversations are also not recommended for language learners, althought they are good time-killers.

    Apart from talking more often with native speakers, we can also practise speaking with TV drama scripts on our own. For example, we can download some bilingual scripts from the Internet, preferrably with each line in the target language (i.e., our mother tongue, or the translatione) over that in the original language (the foreign language we are learning). Glance at a line in the target language, verbally translate it back into the original language, and then read aloud the actual line in the original language. In my own case, I find it useful to learn some "authentic" English.

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    Miri

    Yeah, I agree with everything you listed there. 

    There are so many ways to study languages from home today, for people who can't travel to where they speak the language, So I agree, that as long as a person has the motivation, they can try many different ways and stick to what they find they like.

    For myself, I prefer to speak (not right away), read and listen to podcasts (But my preferences will change with the language and my level).

    I would just add something that I think is very important and that's consistency and continuity, meaning, doing something that has to do with the language every day! For myself I set it to at least 15 minutes. But because I enjoy what I'm doing, I don't need to make myself. :) 

  • 3
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    KevanSF

    One (free!) tool that’s helped me greatly over the years is YouTube.

    The trick is to find vloggers in your target language who talk about something you’re already interested in, be it movies, fashion, cooking, video games, sports, travel, etc. In other words, something you’d likely listen to anyway.

    It may take some time to find the vlogger you really like, but what you need to do is subscribe to a few channels (even if they’re not exactly what you’re looking for) and watch some videos of the general type to begin receiving recommendations for many other similar channels, sometimes popular ones, sometimes newer channels. That way, it’s easy to discover ones you really like. (If you hit “like” and “subscribe” it increases the chance that YouTube will offer more videos of that type on your home page. You can always unsubscribe to a channel later, once you’ve found some you like even more!)

    A few points to consider:

    A video where the speaker is facing you, close to the camera, helps a lot with your accent (not to mention being easier to understand). Something about watching the mouth, lips, and tongue move as they speak sort of subliminally sinks into your brain, helping your own mouth, lips, and tongue form the sounds the way the native speaker does. (This is how babies learn, after all, with their parents right in their faces talking to them.)

    YouTube allows you to adjust playback speed, so you can slow the video down when needed (we always tend to think people are speaking a foreign language way too fast). Or, when you’re feeling brave and bold, you can set it to play faster for a real challenge!

    Finally, if certain words or expressions baffle you, reading the comments often brings some clarity as people discuss things that were said in the video. (Plus, you get great practice at reading the ungrammatical sentences real people write!) Sometimes you can find the unknown terms from the video in writing and with more context. As a last resort, you could simply post a question yourself. Native speakers are often thrilled to help out people learning their language, so someone is bound to answer. (And if it’s a newer channel with few subscribers, the vlogger is quite likely to respond to your comments—a great way to practice your written communication skills!)

  • 0
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    Katrina Paterson

    Hi everyone, and thank you so much for all of your suggestions! 

    I agree with Kathleen and Miri that it's really important to focus on content that we already enjoy, or we're already interested in, and I also agree very much with gzivanchan and KevanSF that it's good to use authentic materials such as television shows, or vlogs with real people speaking. In many ways, we're lucky that technological advances and the internet in general have made it so much easier for us to access content in a wide variety of languages, no matter where we are in the world.

    As KevanSF points out, YouTube is a really good tool for this, and I think Netflix is, too, particularly given the range of subtitles that are available. Has anyone here become hooked on a show (or a vlogger, or a podcaster) in another language? If yes, would you like to share your recommendation with us?

    Miri, I'm intrigued by your podcast comment. Could you tell us more about good places for finding podcasts in foreign languages?

    It's great to read so many different suggestions. For those of you who have left a response already, please don't hesitate to chip in with more advice! For other readers, please don't hesitate to leave a comment if you have any advice for the rest of us!

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    Miri

    Sure Katrina, I would love to share - I'm now only studying Italian and listen to a few channels, most in youtube, and one podcast.

    Is this language is interesting to you? What languages are you studying? I might find something I listened to in the past in Spanish/French (with other languages I studied I didn't get to a level where I can listen to podcasts really because I need the conversation to be both interesting and like 80% understandable)

    Miriにより編集されました
  • 0
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    Katrina Paterson

    Hi Miri, I'd love to hear your recommendations for Spanish! I'm also interested in Portuguese (especially Brazilian Portuguese) and Turkish. If you or anybody else has any suggestions for these, then I'd be really happy to hear them!

    To everyone in general - please don't hesitate to share recommendations, as they're really helpful to the rest of us!

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    rocypa

    Good morning, everyone. People do tend to park at a learning level because of lack of time, because they are satisfied or for some of the reasons mentioned. But I think people who really want to improve from the level they are, they can simply practice text translations on their own every day. To do this, everyone should get organized and choose a time of day to practice. It's the same as brushing your teeth. You should translate every day and then you will be more motivated to keep doing more and more.
    Hugs!

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    Miri

    So here is a list of my favorite Youtube videos. (They are usually not really podcasts. I just noticed that most of my podcasts on the phone to listen to when I walk are news or travel in English actually).

    So for Portuguese, I liked these 2 channels (I didn't go far with Portuguese honestly, maybe in the future, so the second channel I understand only like 50%):

    Speaking Brazilian Language School

    Louco por Viagens

     

    And for Spanish I liked these:

     

    LightSpeed Spanish

    Español con Juan

    si estás triste viaja

    SpanishPodcast.net

    Travel Guides with Samuel and Audrey

     

  • 0
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    Katrina Paterson

    Hi Miri, thank you so much for your recommendations! I'm really looking forward to checking them out, and I think that they will be useful to other people reading too (as I keep saying, anyone who has any suggestions whatsoever, do please feel free to chip in!) It's also great that many of these recommendations involve travel, since as KevanSF said in relation to YouTube vloggers, it's always a lot easier to stay on track with topics that we're already interested in, and I think that many of us who are interested in languages are also interested in travel. I certainly am!

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    Katrina Paterson

    Rodrigo, I really like your point about improving in a language by practising text translations. Do you mean that you practise translating your target language (like the language that you want to learn) into your native language, or the other way round?

    I read a really interesting article (which partially inspired this post) by an English lady living in Japan who credits translating from Japanese to English as helping her to finally overcome her language-learning plateau in Japanese. She argues that doing something practical with a language helped her surpass the point that she'd got to by studying alone. You can find the link below (I think most people reading this discussion would find it interesting):

    https://www.stepupjapanese.com/blog/2020/04/plateaus-in-language-learning

    I also feel that translating my source languages (Spanish and Portuguese) into English helped me a lot in terms of vocabulary, cultural awareness and overall understanding. Has anyone else had a similar experience?

  • 1
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    Katrina Paterson

    By the way, if any of you follow our Facebook page, you might have seen that we've linked to an interesting article about people who have successfully used television shows to improve their foreign language skills. Feel free to head over to https://www.facebook.com/myGengo and take a look.

    For those of you that aren't on Facebook, you can take a look at the article here: 

    https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/19/health/learn-new-language-telenovela-trick/index.html

  • 0
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    Antje

    I concur with gzivancha -  it's very important to get as much exposure to the foreign language as spoken / written by native speakers, as soon as possible (i.e., as soon as your understanding of grammar and vocabulary allows you to follow these media examples). Language courses are all fine and dandy for learning the basic rules, but unfortunately, even professional language teachers often have bad pronunciation. (At least this is the only way I can explain the almost always HORRIBLY mangled German on American / Canadian TV series - nobody involved, not even whoever they had to do the translation, apparently noticed that what the actors are saying bears little to no resemblance to the real pronunciation. And this even though there are plenty of German expats available in the US. It seems the people responsible in such TV productions are always sure they got it right because they had German as a foreign language in school, and so don't see the need for a native speaker to check the result.)

     

    Around the time when I was finishing highs chool here in Germany, I started purposefully watching American movies with subtitles in special cinemas and reading some books in English beyond the required reading for school. At first I just did so because some specific movies had weird German dubbing that ruined the experience and because the books I liked to read were too niche interest to get a translation (or they only got a perfunctory translation with very shoddy editing). Plus, for a while there in the early 2000s, it was actually cheaper to import the original books than pay the Euro price for the translated edition.

    Within a couple of years of doing this just for my hobby interests, I found that my fluency in English had improved so much that I wasn't "translating in my head" anymore, didn't need the subtitles (except for heavy accents), and actually started thinking in English in some fandom-related contexts. 9 whole years of mandatory English lessons in school plus 4 weeks of embedded intensive language course in the UK (living with a host family) had never brought me that much improvement this quickly. I did get attend a refresher course in University to remind myself of the grammar rules, but mainly I did get to a point where sentence structure and grammar just "feel right," the way they do in my native language. Basically, if you hear / read natural phrasing often enough, your brain starts to develop automatic pattern recognition. Getting a lot of native speaker exposure also helps with things that you really have to memorize, like which English prepositions to use in which context. Though a downside of this learning method is that I now often struggle to explain WHY something is wrong, because I don't actually have the grammar rules memorized and don't really have the specific vocabulary to talk about language structure. (The language of teaching in my formal English courses was German, and I was studying a natural science, not linguistics.)

    I would warn people to concentrate on properly edited material, though. If you primarily read stuff on the internet, you will get used to the common mistakes that even native speakers make, especially bad spelling and grammar. (Around the same time as my self-imposed English reading assignment, I was in lenghty email contact with an American woman who happened to work as a copy editor in her day job. She told me that my written English at that point was already better than most American college students' writing skills. Which is rather... sad, considering I wasn't even actively trying to have correct grammar or look up words that I'm not sure about, the way I do now when doing translation work.)

    So stick to books or at least professionally published news articles. (With the latter, I would recommend longform social commentary articles written by people whose name suggests they're native English speakers - the kind that the writer clearly put a lot of thought into and where probably needed a college education in order to write about the subject. Daily news articles are often published rushed and may have grammar / spelling mistakes, even if it's not the very basic mistakes and typos that you get in random unedited blogs. More technical articles about, e.g., the economy or climate change can also greatly improve your vocabulary.)

     

    As for listening comprehension: TV series or podcasts are great, of course, though you should keep in mind that people speak differently than what is appropriate in writing, especially formal writing such as business emails or advertisement texts for travel agencies or the like. Still, being familiar with casual language is useful if you have to translate a lot of natural dialogue or fiction texts (e.g. for games).

    If podcasts are still too difficult to follow for you and you don't have legal access to untranslated US / UK TV series, Youtube vlogs may work for you. [If you really want to do "intensive training," I would recommend the roleplay series "Critical Role" - very entertaining, hundreds of freely available episodes, each 3-4 hours long, all carefully subtitled by dedicated fans (some of the early episodes are even translated in multiple languages other than English, which may give you a bit of starting help until you get used to the actors' accents), the actors are professional voice actors so have decent diction (except for the word "sigil" which the narrator mispronounces for the first few episodes - and they never let him live it down). In the first campaign they use mostly RP-ish British accents, which may be easier to understand for non-native speakers than the heavy non-English accents that some of them are affecting in the second campaign. Of course, the narrator has to do many different voices, which helps getting used to more difficult accents without making the story impossible to follow if you can't understand one or a few particular characters. Due to the fantasy story setting there are some made up or very unusual/archaic words, of course, but I find that this actually helps getting used to not being thrown out of your "listening flow" whenever you encounter words that you don't know in everyday conversation. Since most of the dialogue is improvised, the actors generally speak in normal everyday American English instead of the outdated phrasing that you might find used constantly in fantasy or historical novels / movies.]

  • 0
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    Antje

    Incidentally, tabletop roleplaying games would be a GREAT way to practise your spoken English skills and active vocabulary. I've even seen professional teachers using it to motivate their teenage students to stay and practise after class. It's basically a combination of improv theatre and the kind of "cops and robbers" game you played as a child - except with extensive rules and the luck of the dice governing the combat scenes to keep things fair.

     

    You can even do it online and for free using Roll20.net if you have a webcam and microphone. (Though I have no personal experience with this platform since I sadly don't have the time.) I mean, you still need a couple basic source books for the rules (or a DnD Beyond account - if that's the game system you want to play; there are many others) - but that's still way cheaper than a subscription to some MMORPG, and the information you need as a player (not as a Game Master) can also be found in online wikis, if you search around a bit.

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    Katrina Paterson

    Hi Antje - welcome to the discussion, and thank you for your many helpful points! That's a good tip about prioritising social commentary articles over daily news articles, because of the more methodical thought process that's usually involved in the former, and the lesser likelihood of encountering errors. I was also curious about your comment that being familiar with casual language is also useful. Indeed, I agree with you when you say this, since there can in fact be times when we find ourselves translating relatively informal speech, such as certain email communications, audio transcripts and so on. Paradoxically, I feel that translating casual language can sometimes be more demanding than translating more formal language. Do you ever feel like this too? (Or does anyone else?)

    I'm really fascinated to read so many different suggestions from all of you on how we can improve our command of a language. Please don't hesitate to keep the ideas coming! 

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