Learning a language can be and should be a lengthy process, where keeping motivation up is sometimes more important than any other strategy. Once the honeymoon phase of language learning is completed, the intermediate stages can feel like you are standing in the same place for a while.
So what can be done to keep up motivation and not remain in the continuous spiral of the “plateau phase”?
Follow our top 5 tips to constantly maintain and track your language learning.
Learning a language is very like climbing a mountain.
Children seem to find it easier and that’s just a fact of life. Just as their muscles are younger and more accustomed to use physically, their brains are more attuned to learning and developing, so they absorb words and phrases at an astonishing rate when they are having fun or enjoying the challenge. Just as they would argue all the way up the mountain as to who was going to get to the top first, there is a natural competitiveness in their learning that motivates them to keep up and overtake.
As we climb, we are eager to look up, getting de-motivated when we don’t seem to be any closer to the peak, when instead we should take a breath and look down, to see how far we have already come and to appreciate the view.
Rest time: plateaus are important to allow rest time and to catch your breath before the next challenge. Languages have their tough parts of the climb; we all know that there are certain bits of grammar that we always find a little more difficult (modals come to mind…..). So, make the plateau a fun, rest time and use it to prepare for the next challenge.
Just don’t make it too long or the muscles will warm down again.
#1 100 photos
Venture out into a familiar setting and take 100 photos, either on a camera or using your phone, of anything interesting you see. The image can be something as simple as a fruit or more complex like a city street with buildings and other sights. Once you have taken the pictures, set a timer for 20 seconds and say out loud as many words as you can think of in your target language that describe what is going on in the photo. Make it up, get creative, even write it down, but it has to be in the language you’re learning!
As soon as the 20 seconds are up, move on to the next photo and do the same thing. Whether you’re just starting to learn a new language or have been at it for a while, using the timer forces you to think quickly and rely on words you may think you’ve forgotten. You’d be amazed at how much you pick up and then don’t use, and thus won’t think about.
#2 Taking notes
Similar to the 100 photos task, this activity requires you to watch a movie, listen to songs, or read a book in your native language, but to then write notes about it in your target language. It does not need to be extensive notes – even a few words here and there is sufficient to keep you thinking in your target language while doing mundane things in your native language.
The exercise allows you to think, write and communicate on-the-spot in your target language. For speed and convenience, you can even use a smart device such as a phone or tablet to jot down the notes.
#3 Make a “Swear” Jar
Rather than dumping in a set amount of money into a jar when either you, or anyone you are learning a new language with, swears, deposit the money every time anyone speaks in a language that isn’t the one you’re supposed to be learning. When the jar is full (as it will because we all slip), use the money collected to purchase some sort of language learning material. This method works better when you have multiple learners, as policing yourself alone can be considerably more difficult.
#4 Start a blog or Join or a Forum
A blog is nothing more than an online journal that can be used to track your progress in addition to accumulating a following of likeminded individuals in a targeted virtual community. Although you may alternatively do a pen-and-paper journal, or choose to keep your blog private, knowing that someone else is reading what you have to say is a pretty strong motivational factor when it comes to performing at your highest potential and allows for interaction with others who may be in the same plate as you.
You can write about anything from a summary of your progress, to strategies you use in your learning, or even just rant about the frustrating process that language learning can sometimes be.
There are also a number of free online forums for language learning, where you can practice, share ideas and phrases etc.
Time-boxing consists of lowering your learning projects into short, manageable and specific tasks that allow you to focus on tackling specific sub-goals of your larger aspirations. Following the SMART method, devise mini lessons for yourself into blocks of about 25 minutes dedicated to a single topic, like verbs or something, and then follow it up with a brief resting period in which you do something entirely unrelated that isn’t mentally taxing.
By repeating this cycle of intensive study periods followed by (very important) study breaks, you will find yourself learning faster in a manner that does not exhaust you.
Ultimately, the most important hack to escaping the dreaded “plateau phase” is to set smaller and more attainable goals that builds into a larger goal. Plus, enjoy the view!