3 Signs That You Have Hit the Intermediate Language Learning Plateau

3 Signs That You Have Hit the Intermediate Language Learning Plateau

Discover Methods and Free Resources to Conquer Your Second Language

After countless hours of studying vocabulary, writing sentences, scrutinizing grammar points and beyond, I still personally battle with the following language learning issues:

  • Native speakers continue to struggle understanding me

  • I tend to use the same phrases and vocabulary repeatedly instead of new words

  • I feel defeated and frustrated sitting in front of the same materials with the same results

These are three signs of reaching the intermediate level plateau. Often times when people arrive at intermediate’s doorstep, for some reason we find it difficult to step through into the world of “advanced.” Why do we hit an intermediate plateau? How can we overcome this roadblock in our language learning endeavor?

The second language that I am learning is Korean. As an intermediate learner myself, I was intrigued when Billy uploaded his intermediate plateau post. Although Billy is teaching Korean, his tips and knowledge on the intermediate plateau can help any language learner.

What is the Language Learning Plateau?

Hitting a Plateau In Language Learning Graph
At first, a drastic increase in learning eventually tapers off as you advance into intermediate.

If you can picture your language learning experience as a graph, in the beginning stages you make drastic increases in vocab and grammar. Your “graph” shows a spike in growth as your knowledge increases. You may reach the point where you have a large amount of vocab and basic sentence structures but your overall learning starts to decelerate, eventually leading to a stagnant plateau on your “graph.”

A learning plateau is a term that is often used in educational psychology. This is a kind of phenomenon that refers to a situation when the learner in the course of learning, despite all the efforts of learning and practice, seems to make no significant progress. – Bright Hub Education

What Causes The Intermediate Plateau?

The Three Main Causes Of a Language Learning Plateau

A study published in the English Teaching Language Journal came to the conclusion that three main reasons are responsible for this plateau (shown in this table).

Basically, their study found that the materials/instruction we use, our metacognition and self-assessment of our learning, and the context or experiences we go through are factors that contribute to our unique plateau.

Signs That You Have Hit Your Intermediate Plateau

  • Stuck in a Cycle- You have put in the time to learn new vocabulary, future and past tense, and grammar points. Regardless, you are still stuck using the same phrases and words over and over. You find it hard to adapt new phrases or grammar points into conversation.
  • Still Misunderstood– Native speakers continue to have trouble understanding you. The overall flow of your sentence structures may seem awkward, choppy, or your pronunciation is confusing.
  • Roadblock Caused by Mental Difficulty– After all your effort, the language still just seems too difficult in general and you begin to feel discouraged or frustrated.

Methods to Overcome Your Intermediate Plateau

  • Set a new SPECIFIC goal-

    For example: Take it one small step at a time and choose new key phrases or words that you want to use for that week or with a pen pal. Make an effort to teach a friend or family member that word or phrase so you can hear and use the new vocabulary throughout your weekly routine.

  • Seek out active learning engagements-

    A dissertation written by John Murphy found that:

    “Learners willingness to engage with others and self direct their learning to involve critical reflection facilitates success. Those who set a goal to improve their English ability will also seek out others with whom they can practice and get feedback.”

  • Target specific weaknesses-

    Murphy’s findings when studying students who repeated a language course vs. students who did not found that:

    … there were an equal number of Repeaters and Non-repeaters who found that learning English is difficult. Repeaters spoke of general areas that they found difficult such as grammar, writing or speaking. Contrasting this to the Non-repeaters, participants from this group spoke specifically about pronunciation, verb tenses or the number of Spanish speakers in the community.

    Create an Action Plan

Creating A Language Learning Plan

A proponent of my action plan is to continue to seek out new language learning partners to hear a variety of expressions. Another part of this plan is to make targeted phrase goals to use in these interactions to break away from the regular batch of phrases I am comfortable with. Finally, I hope to consciously target my specific weaknesses which include verb endings and honorifics.

What do you intend to do to break your plateau?

Helpful Free Resources and Links To Make Learning Gains Again

  • VocabularyMemrise is a level based vocabulary app. They now support 18 languages. You can set daily vocabulary goals and see yourself in a comparison with other learners on a leader board.

  • Reading and comprehension Beelingual now supports 13 languages. This app is intended to increase your ability to read and comprehend in your second language with a split screen and audio features.

  • Native speaker interaction- HelloTalk is a FANTASTIC way to get interaction with native speakers. It has a helpful feature of giving you the ability to correct spelling and grammar instantly as well as voice messages.

Bonus- For those studying Korean, check out:

  • Talk To me In Korean This website has a multitude of free courses from grammar, vocab to listening and comprehension with native speakers.


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