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How To Get Past Your Language Learning Plateau

Does it seem like you're making no progress in learning a language? You're definitely not alone.

When you first start learning a language, everything is fantastic. You’re picking up new vocab, learning the tenses and comprehending a bunch of new stuff. You can finally understand what la vida loca is, and how you can live it.

Then, all of a sudden, it stops being fun. You seemed to improve so quickly before, and now you’re just spending every day trying to learn the irregular forms of the pluperfect. Congratulations: you’ve hit the language-learning plateau, and I’m sure it doesn’t make you feel any better that a ton of other people have been in your shoes. This is the point where a lot of people give up. They throw away their bilingual dictionaries and decide they’ll take up the piano instead, but the joke’s on them, because the plateau exists with literally everything.

Today, I tell you: Don’t give up! Motivation is key here. If you decided to commit to learning a language, I’m sure you had a very good reason, and you shouldn’t let these obstacles stop you. Here are a few ways you can try to get past this plateau, so you can keep climbing your language mountain.

Don’t See It As A Plateau

An important thing to know about the plateau is that, usually, it only seems like you’ve stopped learning. When you’re first learning a language, every word learned is a massive leap forward. A few minutes ago you didn’t speak a lick of a language, and now you can say hello and introduce yourself! When you’re an intermediate learner, the acquisition of a new sentence stops feeling special. Not only that, but the sentences are getting more complex, and you keep making errors. But through all of this, you are still making progress. And just remember: this plateau will end.

Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

I don’t know why you started to learn a language. Maybe you wanted to impress someone hot who doesn’t speak English, or maybe you have a trip to Europe coming up. In any case, I’m certain that you did have a reason, and now’s the time to think about that. You can write it down when you first start learning, if you want to, so you can look back on it in tougher times. Research has shown that visualizing your goals is a great way to keep yourself motivated.

Make Language Learning A Part Of Your Regular Schedule

This is more of a general tip from the beginning, but making language learning a part of your daily routine can help you get past the plateau. If learning is just something you do whenever you have a spare moment, you might start finding less spare time when you hit an obstacle, and you’ll never even notice why you stopped. There is a reason why “grit” has become such an important concept in education. The ability to power through and keep learning is invaluable. Almost nobody was born better at learning languages than anyone else; the key is to just keep practicing.

Don’t Try To Do Everything In A Few Days

When you take on a new language, it can be tempting to want to learn it all as fast as you can. Unfortunately, this is impossible. Your brain is just not built to do that. This can in part be explained by the spacing effect, which shows why it’s better, say, to practice a language for half an hour a day for six months than it is to practice a language for six hours a day for half a month. If you want to truly master a language, you can’t really take shortcuts. It took you years to learn your first language. Why would it only take you a few months to learn your second?

Go Out To Eat To Celebrate Your Achievements

Alright, this one is a bit self-indulgent, but rewarding yourself when you hit milestones can be a great motivational tool. There’s also some useful gift-giving advice in this tip, because you should know that it’s better to give a gift that is experiential, like a meal or a vacation, than an item. Yes, the recipient here is yourself, but the point is the same. Whenever you’re stuck on a plateau, you can just think about how the next time you master a verb tense, you’ll have a delicious meal waiting for you.

Get past the plateau.

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