Overcoming a language learning plateau

Hitting a language learning plateau can be stressful. When you first start learning a language, you can often feel your progress at the end of each study session. Knowing that you are picking up new information so quickly is an amazing, almost addicting feeling.

Sadly, this sense of rapid progress doesn’t last forever and no matter what level you are, you might reach a point where your proficiency remains the same. I’ve definitely been feeling a bit stressed from the feeling stuck recently, especially when trying to set myself some goals for the year.

hitting-a-plateau-learning-japanese
Image by Makalu from Pixabay

So how do you deal with hitting a plateau – when all your hard work doesn’t seem to be resulting in any progress at all?

Getting out of the language learning plateau 

Hitting a plateau is incredibly common, but sometimes our perceived lack of progress is exactly that – a perception. Excessively worrying about perceived lack of progress is a waste of time, so use the plateau as an opportunity to make positive changes. With that in mind, here are a few things that have helped me improve my language learning mindset:

Set a new goal or challenge for yourself

We can end up in a rut where we have achieved past goals and might have subconsciously gotten too comfortable at our current level. The solution is to keep working towards new goals that you need to strive for. Is there an aspect of the language you’ve been avoiding? Time to tackle it!

For example, with Japanese I was so anxious about learning keigo (formal/ honorific language). I knew I needed to tackle it but I was lacking confidence at first. Fortunately, a couple of lessons focused on keigo helped me feel a lot better about studying it on my own. Not only that, it led to a huge improvement in understanding Japanese at shops and restaurants as well as in more formal situations.

Similarly, you could set yourself a challenge such as:

  • learning a new hobby through your target language
  • read a certain number of books in a month/ year
  • write a short story or essay 
  • give a speech on a certain topic

I’ve written a bit about language learning challenges on the blog. I even made up my own 30-day Japanese writing challenge as a way to push myself!

Sometimes at an intermediate level the amount of vocabulary you know makes a huge difference, so you might need to change your focus a little bit. This leads me nicely on to my next suggestion:

Change up your learning routine

The language learning plateau can be a result of boredom, where we end up doing the bare minimum. Try prioritising different skills for a few weeks at a time to keep things fresh. 

You can also look at other ways to refresh your language routine, such as studying at a different time or place than usual. Similarly, the resources you are using could be limiting your potential. Carry out a mini audit of what you use currently. Is it time to replace a resource with something else?

It might seem counterintuitive, but you might just need to give yourself a break. Intense study for long periods of time can lead to burnout. Make sure you are taking regular breaks and that you also have a good balance of studying grammar/ vocab with more fun activities in your target language.

Reach out to others

Hitting a language learning plateau can be really difficult to deal with on your own. Talk through your language routine with someone else – they may be able to point out a gap in your learning that you hadn’t noticed before.

The other benefit of doing this is to help stay motivated. Sometimes just one conversation can remind you remember why you started learning a language in the first place. Social media is really useful for this when you don’t know any local language learners! If you haven’t been interacting with native speakers much, reach out to someone on Hello Talk or iTalki.

When we fall into a routine it can become harder to spot potential areas for improvement. The language learning plateau is a scary place to be, but it is important not to get discouraged and keep going. The changes you make when you feel you are plateauing are key to your future success. Keep going and you will eventually break through!

Have you experienced a plateau or dip recently? Comment down below with how you managed to overcome it 🙂

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