Tag Archives: intermediate

385. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 1)

This episode is about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. I’m talking about a very common phenomenon in English learning called the intermediate plateau. It usually happens at an intermediate level. I wonder if this applies to you? I would love to read your thoughts so please do write in the comment section.

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So now, let’s talk about the intermediate plateau and how to push your English to new levels even if you feel like your progress has stalled.

Transcription / improvisation

Breaking the Intermediate Plateau

What is the intermediate plateau?  Why does that happen and how can you get out of it? Generally, how do you keep making progress with your English?

People often get stuck at an intermediate level. They feel their English is not improving as fast as before. In fact it feels like you can’t progress further and your learning is blocked. It’s very frustrating.

This applies to moving from intermediate to a higher level, but much of it can be applied to making progress at a higher level too.

What is intermediate?

Moving from intermediate to advanced is a tricky phase and it often takes longer than moving from elementary to intermediate. It’s harder to make the distinction between intermediate and advanced than it is to make a distinction between intermediate and elementary.

CEFR B1 descriptions

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

CEFR C1 descriptions

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

How do you know if you’re at the intermediate plateau? How do you know if your learning is at a plateau in general (not just at intermediate level)?

We’re talking about 2 things – what your level is, and the progress you’re not making.

How do you know if you’re intermediate?

Take a test, use the criteria for the CEFR, consult your teacher. (See links to tests below)

ExamEnglish www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Dialang dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

How do you know if you’ve reached a plateau – probably at intermediate level?

You started with a low level of English and have made some effort to pull yourself up to a functional intermediate level. Perhaps you studied, maybe you have lived in an English speaking environment in which you were forced to learn the language.

You can basically express yourself and get by in most situations, but when you’re under stress or when it’s a new situation your English crumbles.

Or perhaps you have a jagged profile – you might be good at one area, but other areas are really weak. E.g. you might be good at reading and writing but your spoken English is a disaster. Or perhaps you’re great at oral communication but you can’t write full sentences, can’t spell etc.

You can talk, laugh and have fun in English when you’re with fellow non-native speakers, but as soon as you’re with a group of natives, you suddenly feel lost and don’t understand the humour.

If you really concentrate and focus you can watch a film or TV in English and understand most of it – especially with English subtitles, but if you go to the cinema full of native speakers and watch a comedy film or something you realise how little you understand because everyone else is laughing but you’re just sitting there. You assume that everyone’s a bit stupid or that they have no taste. In fact, you just don’t understand the jokes.

Why do people hit an intermediate plateau?

You can basically survive with an intermediate level of English. In fact, you can get by with about 3000 words whereas the average native speaker is able to use about 20,000. This is the difference between a basic operational intermediate level of English and a fully rounded vocabulary of a native speaker.

Suspected learning curve. You expect learning to be linear. When you start you learn rapidly, the curve is steep. When you have got through the early stages and you can basically express yourself and understand others. It’s harder to see progress. Your progress becomes more shallow and there’s less stress involved.

People expect the learning to continue in a straight line of progress, but they don’t realise that it goes up and down.

The actual learning curve is more like a bell, and it involves many ups and downs too.

The more of a language you learn, the less there is to learn. It’s a process of diminishing returns.

Comfort zone.

Goals and study habits are not well defined. Often the first goal is just to get out of that painful confusion you experience at the start. When you hit intermediate your goals need to be more achievable and specific. Then you need to match them with an organised study plan.

How to break through the intermediate plateau and continue making progress

There’s no magic formula or single way to do it. It comes down to attitude, time and practice.

The study methods you used to get to intermediate might need to change.

Merely ‘getting by’ in the language is not enough any more. You need to explore, push it further, test yourself and increase the challenge.

Follow just one subject in a lot of depth

You want to develop a more advanced level of vocabulary and grammar, especially the vocab but there is so much of it! How can you cover it all? Instead of just scraping the surface of a few topics, try going into loads of depth in just one or two topics.

Following a subject you’re fascinated in will take you down a rabbit hole of English and you will learn a great deal of more complex language on the way. It’s hard to learn all the English of everything, so focus on one specific thing and let that be your entry point to advanced English.

This means finding loads of information on this single topic you’re interested in – reading articles and books about it, finding podcasts and videos about it, video documentaries on youtube and so on. For example, right now I’m reading about The Beatles in French and it’s much better than just reading stuff I don’t care about and it keeps me interested.

Learn how to talk and write about your specialist subject too. Learning one thing in a lot of detail is more achievable than trying to learn the vocabulary of everything. You will learn tons of vocabulary about the subject but also you’ll learn the kind of English you need to construct and understand complex and in-depth ideas – so, not just technical terms but also complex sentences, grammatical forms and linking devices.

Challenge

One of the reasons you made so much progress before was that everything was a challenge. You met a lot of resistance. It was frustrating but you pushed through. Now there is less resistance but don’t stop pushing. Challenge yourself, push yourself out of your comfort zone, teach the language to someone else – or at least prepare yourself as if you’re going to teach, find your weaknesses and push them. Don’t give up. Jump in at the deep end and try to swim.

Habit

Honestly – how many of you are going to do all these things? Not many of you. You’ll probably listen and agree but not take action. Right there – that’s where the difference is between progress and not progress. Choose to do even a couple of these things and you’ll be on the right path. Just make a few little changes and do them regularly and it should become part of your habit. Build habits into your life.

Exposure

Exposure to some comprehensible input combined with some stuff on the verge of what you don’t understand. Some stuff that’s fairly easy to follow, and some stuff that’s hard to follow. So, that means listening to podcasts like this in which you understand quite a lot, but you’re also challenged sometimes, but it also means reading and listening to content designed for native speakers. Get an audiobook, get some real books, listen to BBC radio, subscribe to some podcasts for native speakers (listen for some recommendations soon).

236. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 1)

237. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 2)

Vocabulary & Mnemonics

Keep an organised notebook for vocabulary and use some mnemonic techniques. They’re proven to work again and again, but how many of us use them?

Listen to an old episode of my podcast called Memory, Mnemonics and Learning English.

Basically, the trick with remembering vocabulary is to a) link the new memory to an existing memory and b) make new memories visual, vivid and attached to a space that you know in the real world. This sounds a bit strange, but it’s proven to work. If you can attach a new word to an existing word somehow, perhaps with a very vivid picture in your mind perhaps connected to a space you know, like your house, then memories will stick like glue.

167. Memory, Mnemonics & Learning English

Part 2 coming soon…

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332. Olly Richards: English Polyglot – Top Advice and Strategies for Language Learning

This episode could make a huge difference to your English learning. So listen up and get ready for a motivational boost! Joining me on the podcast today is Olly Richards – a polyglot who speaks 8 languages. Olly has some very motivating and practical advice on how to learn languages as an adult. There’s so much to learn from Olly in this episode, so I really want you to pay attention and have a proper think about the ways in which you are learning English. (I really sound like a teacher, don’t I? – or your Dad or something – “Now pay attention! Sit up straight! Put that down! Stop fidgeting. Listen to the man! This is very important for your English in the future!)

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Being Committed to Language Learning

What I’ve personally taken away from this episode is the importance of making a commitment to yourself about your language learning. Commitment is really important for giving you the motivation to get things done, and to add language learning habits into your lifestyle. Commitment, motivation, habit, positivity – these are some of the vital elements for language learning. It’s also about being honest with yourself about what you’re doing to really push your learning forwards. It’s about taking responsibility for learning and finding your own little strategies for adding language learning into your daily routine. Olly is a living example of how it really is possible to learn languages as busy adults.

If you listen until the end of this episode you’ll hear me make a commitment to myself about my French, and it’s a good feeling because I really need to get a grip on that, because my French is not as good as I would like it to be – so you’ll hear Olly encourage me to make a commitment about my French, but also Olly and I invite you to make a commitment about your English too – even a small commitment, and write it in the comments section of this episode. I’ll talk more about that in a moment. But first, let me tell you a bit about Olly Richards.

Olly Richards – English Polyglot

Here are some things that people say about language learning.
People say English people are no good at learning languages, right?
Wrong.
They also say that to learn a language quickly you need to be a child.
Wrong too, apparently.
Another thing people say is that the best way to learn is by signing up to group classes in a language school.
Not necessarily.
Also, it’s often said that to learn a language properly you need to be living in the country where that language is spoken. But that might not be the case.
And, a lot of people say “I’m too busy to learn a language. I don’t have time, and I never meet any native speakers!”
Another thing people say is, “I’m just no good at languages. I think I’m language proof!”
Don’t say that to yourself! A lot of excuses and reasons why we find it difficult to learn English.

Keep listening. (because you’re probably listening to this, not just reading it – right?)

Olly is living proof that English people, just like any other nationality, are perfectly capable of learning a foreign language to a proficient level. In fact, Olly is a polyglot, which means he can speak lots of different languages. In fact, at the moment Olly can speak Spanish, French, Italian, Brazilian Portugese, Japanese, Cantonese and Arabic. Not bad for a guy from England – a country where most people just speak one language, and some people struggle even with just one language, especially after a few drinks.

So, what’s the story with Olly? Is he just a specially gifted person? Was he born with the ‘language gene’, or does he have the force or something? Does he have waaaaay more time in the day than anyone else? Did he go to some really brilliant language schools and follow the amazing methods of a language guru? Did he just learn these languages as a child by growing up in different countries?

The answer to all of these questions seems to be no. No, he isn’t, he wasn’t, he doesn’t, he didn’t. Olly says he doesn’t have a particular gift for language acquisition. He wasn’t born with a language gene. He doesn’t really like learning in a classroom environment so he didn’t just attend some great classes in other languages, and these days he has a busy schedule just like the rest of us, with his job and also the great work he does on his website IWillTeachYouALanguage.com. So it’s not like he’s got acres of spare time at his disposal. Also, Olly didn’t learn any of these languages as a child. They’ve all been learned during adulthood.

So, how has he done it? How has he learned lots of languages and how does he keep them all in his head? What are the techniques for effective language learning as an adult? And, what’s Olly like and what stories can he tell us?

That is essentially what you’re going to get in this episode. All those answers and more. You’ll also hear Olly give me a much needed motivational boost about my French. In fact, while talking to Olly I made a commitment to myself to improve my French in one simple way every day – and that’s simply to do a minimum of 10 minutes of study from my French text book every evening. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a starting point and I really believe that if I make that a really fixed daily habit it could make all the difference to my French.

And you can do it too (but with English, not French obviously, unless you’re also learning French, in which case yes you could do it too). In fact in this episode we invite you to make a simple commitment to yourself about learning English, today, and to write that in the comments section. Listen until the end of the conversation to find out all about that.

OK, so it’s time to start the conversation with Olly Richards – the professional English polyglot who has tons of advice on how to learn languages as an adult. Ready? Let’s go!

*Interview begins*

So, that was the interview – I think you’ll agree that there is a lot to learn and to think about.

Make a New Commitment to Your Language Learning – Join Me!

Just think of one specific thing you can do every day, as part of your daily routine. It could be related to pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, reading or any area you think is important for you. Write your commitment in the comment section of the episode. Then Olly will read your comments and give you some personal encouragement himself. Yes, he’ll write comments to you with some encouragement. For example, your commitment could be, as a starting point, “I will read a novel in English for 10 minutes every morning when I get up.” Just 10 minutes. Think of your commitment and write it in the comment section. Go ahead and give your English a boost! It could make all the difference.

Here are some links to Olly’s work online

Click here to visit Olly’s website, where you can read his blog posts, download his eBook, sign up to his mailing list and listen to his podcast – IWillTeachYouALanguage.com

Here’s a popular post which we mentioned in the episode – My Crazy 5AM Language Learning Routine

You can also find Olly on twitter here, where he tweets things related to language learning: twitter.com/Olly_IWTYAL

Other Links

Want to read a book in English? Don’t know which book to choose? Check out my reading list here.

Check out Flashcards Deluxe on the iTunes store here, or in the Google Play store here. There are lots of other free Flashcards apps available too.

Want to know more about using mnemonics and memory techniques for remembering vocabulary? Listen to my episode about that subject here teacherluke.co.uk/2014/02/05/167-memory-mnemonics-learning-english/

Click here to check out italki

Click here to check out italki

And finally, let me remind you about the sponsors for this show who decided that they wanted to give my listeners the chance to get 10$ worth of free lessons or speaking sessions. With iTalki you can find teachers or native speakers to give you speaking practice from the comfort of your own home. iTalki uses Skype as a platform and you can pick your teachers and schedule classes based around your specific lifestyle and routine. Speaking to native speakers is a vital way of genuinely accelerating your English. And remember that LEPsters – you get a discount if you sign up by going to teacherluke.co.uk/talk.

That’s it for this episode, I hope you enjoyed it. I did. I found Olly to be fascinating and very useful and I’m looking forward to following his advice for my French.

That’s all for now, speak to you soon. Bye!
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