Ever feel like you’ve been studying and practicing… and studying and practicing… and you’ve simply stopped making progress in your language learning?
Hitting a plateau is a common occurrence in building any skill, and can often be felt acutely in language learning. Plateaus especially plague language learners who have reached an intermediate knowledge level. This makes a great deal of sense: in the initial stages, repetition is key to mastering the basics, but the capacity for some early study habits to continually stimulate the brain may fade over a longer period of time.
The good news is that overcoming a plateau is not only possible, but extremely important in propelling you to the next level of mastery.
When you feel the frustration of a language learning plateau coming on, don’t run away from it — run toward it. Here are a few ways to make it to the other side of that pesky learning plateau!
GO FOR A JOG
Of course, you know that regular exercise can help your health in many ways. But studies have shown that in the short-term, working out can boost memory and cognitive ability. Research suggests that a 20-minute, moderate intensity workout is the sweet spot when it comes to cognitive performance, and that running two sprints of three minutes, with a three-minute break in between, led to 20% faster vocabulary learning.
So when your progress is at a standstill, put down the flashcards, get off the couch, and go for a fast but powerful workout — then see how much you can learn afterward.
REEVALUATE YOUR ROUTINE
We can’t say it enough: sticking to a routine in your language learning is so important in making progress. However, by keeping a routine, you can also fall into what is known in the psychology world as the “autonomous stage,” which is essentially when your brain begins approaching learning on autopilot. This means that you absorb information less effectively and progress at a slower pace.
When you find yourself slipping into that autopilot mode, stop! Before continuing to waste time and energy on inefficient learning, pause and take stock of your routine. Reevaluate the way you practice the language, asking yourself how — or if — each strategy you use is helping you:
- Do I zone out during a particular activity?
- Am I less focused at this time of day?
- When I study this way, am I actually going through the motions passively?
Reflect on your study habits honestly and openly so that you can identify positive ways to change up your approach and remain engaged. If necessary, take a break from certain types of activities you no longer find challenging and introduce new modes of study to refresh your routine.
SET NEW GOALS
After self-auditing your language learning process and identifying different approaches that will recapture your interest and motivation, set new goals to keep yourself on track.
Learn 50 words a week. Read 10 pages without using a dictionary. Complete a worksheet in under 3 minutes. Whether it’s volume learned or speed achieved, set a different goal for yourself each week and stick to it in order to put your language learning plateau behind you in short order.
FOCUS ON IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK
Working one-on-one with a language instructor can help you beat a plateau almost immediately. You really can’t learn a foreign language all on your own, and instructors are trained to recognize the signs of a plateau in your learning and help you move past it. Getting feedback from an instructor every step of the way will be in asset in readjusting your study plan and setting challenging but realistic goals for your progress.
Recording yourself speaking and listening to the playback is a particularly helpful supplemental activity you can do in between sessions with your instructor. Doing so can help you improve your accent and become more attuned to any little errors you may be making in your speech and grammar usage. Even if it feels awkward or embarrassing at first, this easy exercise offers immediate gratification, and it may be just the wake up call you need to conquer a learning plateau and move forward toward language fluency.