Skill development - intermediate plateau

Feeling Stuck?

We, along with other readers, have all experienced times in our language learning where we feel stuck.  Maybe you’re feeling stuck right now.  This is a natural phenomenon, especially when bridging between B2 and C1 (according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)).  So how do we get unstuck?

What is B2 and C1?

These designations could also be looked at as moving from being fluent to being proficient.  There are so many folks out there today trying to define fluency.   Even between you and me we can probably differ a little in our interpretation.  People would probably agree it is the difference between being capable vs. being a master.

So, to get on the same page, let’s follow the following definition

  • Fluent speakers (B2) know 5,000 to 10,000 words, can read basic short text, understands most of what it hears, can navigate most conversations and able to get their point across when speaking, and in writing will stick to short, direct sentences.
  • Proficient speakers (C1 and beyond) have near mastery of the language and will have more than 10,000 words (C1 and beyond), read complex texts, has near automatic understanding of what is heard, can communicate with style and ease, including use of slang and different intonations, and very proficient in writing skills.

Is there a Common Place to Get Stuck?

Most language learners reach a point where moving forward in the learning process slows to almost a halt.  This is commonly referred to as the INTERMEDIATE PLATEAU.  Now, one of Luca Lampariello’s key insights, and an important key for every language student to understand, is that language fluency is not information to learn but a skill to develop.Skill development - intermediate plateau

As the diagram shows, the intermediate plateau is common to skill development.  In language terms, it’s when you’ve reached fluency, but can’t seem to get near being proficient.  Many people are content with this level of knowledge and don’t care about being stuck.  They are able to get by and are satisfied.  Others, strive for the top level and are ready to devote more time and energy to jump off this plateau.

The light bulb moment to get you from fluency to proficiency is the difference between having to think about translations to where they are automatic. What a beautiful thought.  I am imagining the day when it is automatic for me.

To illustrate, imagine you are climbing a mountain. The above situation is analogous to hiking half way up a mountain, only to stop, look at the peak way in the distance, and decide it looks pretty good where you are, and that peak is just too far away.  If you’re stuck, like me, we’ve got lots of mountain yet to climb, and I think the summit is worth reaching!  To become proficient, we don’t need to stop climbing, we need to change how we are climbing, and it’s going to take some strategy.

How Do I Get Unstuck?

Here are five secrets to help you succeed in moving forward toward proficiency.  Maybe not “secrets”, but let’s call them that because it will sound more stealth in our journey.

Secret #1: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you’re like me, you often get complacent.  After all, it’s getting easier to communicate all the time, so why do I have to keep practicing?  But be aware there is a danger here. If we stop pushing the boundaries and stop looking for the challenges, we are not going to get unstuck.  So look for activities that will stretch you and attempt things you are not yet capable of – it will slowly expand your mastery.  Don’t be satisfied with comfortable. I’ve heard it said if you never attempt what you think is impossible, how will you ever know if it’s possible?

Secret #2: Follow the FunHave fun!

If you’re finding the means by which you are learning is somehow feeling stale and boring, like maybe the flashcards you’ve see a gazillion times, maybe it’s time to liven it up, make it a game or find a way to make it more of a challenge, like timed cards.  Or better yet, put the cards away and follow the fun.  Play Scrabble with a bilingual friend is another idea.  The idea is mainly to shake it up, try something new.

Secret#3: Do Things Progressively

Don’t just plow through your learning activities.  If you want to succeed past this plateau and be unstuck, you need to get organized, keeping your progression in mind.  Look at your weaknesses and feed those, for example. Have a plan for how you will introduce new resources, starting with the most basic and moving to the advanced.

Secret#4: Understand Deliberate vs. Natural Practice

A deliberate practice is one you do on purpose, with intention, such as going to class.  You want to learn something because of an interest, so you act on that desire.  A natural practice is when you are in a low-stress situation, such as talking with friends, watching a move, reading in your target language, these times of practice can be more spontaneous. Natural practice is particularly useful for those who wish to move from B- to C-level skills, and understanding the value of both types of practice can help you get unstuck.

Secret#5: Be PatientBe patient

Because we’re all different in our learning styles, time and resource availability, reaching proficiency can more or less time.   I’ve heard it said that any dedicated learner could take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years to go from B2 to C1.  During the time, short or long, you need to be patient and know that it all takes time.  Those that achieve the transition quicker are often experienced, living in the country where the native language is spoken, and are able to be exposed to ten hours or more of language exposure.  On the other hand, it will take you longer to get unstuck if you are only learning 30 minutes a day and have chosen a language very different from your native tongue.

Be Positive About Your Situation

Don’t give up.  You may be stuck but there’s hope.  Whatever you do, don’t look at the top of the mountain and talk yourself into believing the distance is too far.  Look at the peak and know you are closer today than yesterday, and tomorrow will be better, too.   Listen to these secrets and take heed of the message.  I’ll see you at the summit!

This post is inspired and condensed from two videos and two posts by Luca Lampariello at The Polyglot Dream. If you found it helpful, you may want to check him out.

As always, your comments and questions are greatly appreciated!  And we do our best to reply.

2 thoughts on “Feeling Stuck?

  1. Hello,David!
    Thank you so much for this post, is very informative and useful for people that know more than one language and are trying to improve it.
    Fluency is an important part of speaking a language, and I will surely put your advice to use and let’s hope that I improve.

    Wish you the best

    1. Thank you, Santiago. I wish you all the best as you grow in fluency. Come back regularly for more suggestions, encouragement, and resources.

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