Guest Post: Lucia Leite
Usually on the blog, guest posts are written by teens. But Lucia Leite is the exception to the rule. She is Portuguese and has a degree in English and German. At the moment she is taking a Master’s degree in English as a second language for young learners. She is also improving her Spanish and French. That’s a polyglot if I ever saw one. She has lots of good things to say about language learning, so without further ado….Lucia!
If you’re learning a second language there’ll come a point when you find yourself stuck in a rut. After struggling through beginner classes, memorising huge amounts of vocabulary, and coming to terms with strange new grammar rules, you’ll hit a plateau. Usually this happens around the intermediate level (or levels B1 and B2, if you use European standards), when you have enough knowledge for basic exchanges but still find it difficult to have deeper conversations or feel truly confident in your language abilities. Many language students tend to get dispirited and fed up at this point because progress becomes a lot harder to measure and it can often seem like you aren’t actually improving at all.
However, like any new skill, the key to getting over the intermediate language plateau is to not give up. Now that you’ve mastered the basics, you need to focus on improving your fluency and comprehension. If you’re like every other language student in the world this will only come with time, effort and, most likely, a large number of embarrassing mistakes. But don’t worry: this is something that every language learner goes through.
To get you through this difficult period it’s a good idea to take stock of what you’ve already learned and appreciate how far you’ve come, as well as remind yourself why you’re learning this language in the first place. Are you learning Russian because you love Tolstoy? Are you learning French so that you can speak to your husband’s family? Remember what inspired you to begin learning and create objectives around that inspiration. Having concrete goals and renewed motivation will help you stay focused and get you through the frustration you’re feeling.
The only way to truly improve your fluency is to start talking – whenever and wherever. One of the best ways to do this is to involve other people in your studies. Not only will this give you someone to talk to, it will also help you to stick with your studies – even when the going gets tough. You don’t need a private tutor to do this. Instead, find yourself a tandem partner, study buddy, or conversation group. A tandem partner is someone who wants to learn your language and already speaks the language you’re learning. To find one, put up flyers at your local college or community centre or use sites such as Itaki to connect with someone via Skype. If you’re already taking classes, join forces with a classmate who is at the same level as you. Not only can you help each other with problems, but you can practice speaking without feeling embarrassed like you might when talking to a native speaker. Finally, you can join (or start!) a conversation group, either with other learners or native speakers. If you don’t know where find a conversation group near you, check Facebook for local language meetups.
Another great way to improve your fluency is to treat yourself to an immersion experience. Immersion at the intermediate level is extremely helpful because it forces you to put your skills to use in real life situations. Moreover, at the intermediate level you know enough to take advantage of the experience – whereas for beginners immersion can sometimes be overwhelming and frightening. Pre-made immersion programs can often be found through language schools or,
if you’re feeling adventurous, you can plan your own by volunteering or working abroad through organizations such as HelpX.
If immersion isn’t possible, consider splurging on private lessons for a few months. These can be a great way to hone your skills as you will be able to focus solely on your own problems. Private lessons are especially useful if you have a set goal in mind because your teacher can tailor the lessons to your needs. Moreover, if you feel embarrassed speaking, practicing one-on-one with a tutor will help you gain confidence and feel more comfortable in your target language.
Finally, never underestimate the power of listening. These days it’s easier than ever to find movies, shows, and podcasts in whatever language you like. Just watching or listening to half an hour a day can do wonders for your comprehension and fluency. However, it’s important to focus on the content you’re watching; there’s no point it just having it on in the background. You need to give it your full attention in order to catch new vocabulary and expressions. If you want, you can go the extra mile and keep a notebook of new words and phrases that you think will be useful.
While pushing through the intermediate plateau can take a long time, in the end it is extremely rewarding. Although progress won’t be as obvious as it used to be, eventually you will realise that you’re speaking your target language without a second thought and that you don’t actually need those subtitles anymore. And then you’ll know that you’ve made it through.