A beautiful plateau

How To Overcome Your Language Learning Plateau?

Read this article in French here and listen to it in French below :

The honeymoon period is over. Your steep learning curve has sadly flattened and you don’t know what to do to reignite your passion for the French language. Worst. You’re even thinking of taking on Italian or German. How dare you?

Hitting the learning plateau sucks, I know. So what do you do when you’re no longer making any progress and your motivation goes away?

In this article, I suggest you 3 ways so you don’t give up on your language learning journey: 

1. Overcome your French learning plateau by resting and digesting knowledge

It’s ok to take a break. More than this: It’s needed. Past a certain level, we simply need time to learn more advanced concepts. When I arrived in Mexico, my Spanish was basic. I had quite a good understanding but my speaking was terrible as I never practiced. It took a couple of months before being able to have some conversations, with plenty of mistakes of course! It was the time I needed and I had no choice but to accept it with patience. After 5 months living there, I could say I improved but my level was not higher than B1.

I moved back to France, forgot all I knew in Spanish (or I should say, let it rest). A year later, I moved to London and believe it or not, this is where I got to improve my Spanish drastically! I worked part-time in a café as a waitress and many of my colleagues were from Spain or South America. As they were chatting away, I was able to practise listening for free! Lucky me. 

During this time, I listened to my workmates, sometimes passively (without paying much attention), sometimes actively, really focusing on the meaning and trying to answer back in Spanish, even though my answers were short and often incorrect. One year later, my brain had digested the language and I was finally able to answer without disrupting too much the flow of their conversation! This happened without any pressure. I was enjoying the process and that’s what mattered the most perhaps. When I knew I wanted to move to Spain, I signed up for a Spanish course and they put me in the B2+ group. I was stoked!

The point is: in my opinion, we have to accept that we need time to assimilate what we’ve learned. Speaking without fear of making mistakes takes time. Learning boring but useful grammar rules takes time. Being able to apply them takes even more time and practice. Tuning in with the sound of a language takes time. Let’s accept it.

2. Meanwhile, indulge in some passive learning

Imagine you’re making a sourdough starter. This natural living yeast certainly needs rest but it also needs a bit of attention. You still need to feed the beast so it keeps healthy and happy! The same goes for your language learning, so don’t give up completely on it and keep working on it by doing some passive learning.

Passive learning consists of being exposed to content in your target language without providing too much effort. For instance, you could listen to the radio and enjoy the ‘music of French’. Some languages feel like melodies, don’t they?

I remember doing that after a long day running all over the city in London. I spent so much time in the transport and walking that I started to listen to many podcasts. As I really enjoyed the sound of the Italian language, I would just choose anything easy and conversational on my podcast browser, put my earplugs in and enjoy the music of Italian while commuting and walking. My level was A2 at the time and often, I only got the gist of the recordings but it didn’t matter: I was relaxed and enjoying the moment. 

Other times, I would simply watch series in foreign language, without taking any notes nor looking up new words. I enjoy learning about cultural aspects or history. A great series to do this in French is A very secret service, available on Netflix.

3. Overcome your French learning plateau by changing your learning routine.

Once you feel well rested, it’s time to move up a gear. Imagine you’re a beginner runner who wants to train for a half-marathon. For sure, you have to train your resistance first. If you can’t run 5k, you definitely won’t be able to run 21K. But say you’re finally be able to go over the 15k. On race day, you finally cross the line, exhilarated, and just more of it. A longer distance or a faster speed.

How can you achieve this? You’ll have to run in intervals to gain more speed and keep improving. The same happens when you change your way of learning. Try to think outside of the box. Tweak your learning plan in a way that’s challenging and engaging. I’m sharing here a few options to boost your learning journey:

– If your aim is to get fluent and you’re only talking inside the classroom, maybe it’s time to get a private teacher to practice more conversation; 

  • – Or to try a language exchange, a French Meetup or find a language partner on Tandem ;
  • – If you’ve been focusing on reading news articles for some time, why not start to read an accessible and enjoyable French novel?
  • – If you’ve been listening to the audios of your French textbook, listen to an interesting podcast – check my recommendations here ;
  • Translate lyrics of songs to vary your study material ;
  • – If you’ve been focusing a lot on interactions, take on writing for a while, get a teacher’s feedback. Writing seems daunting (or just boring) to many students. However, it does really help regarding vocabulary and grammar acquisition. 
  • – Record yourself, practise imitation or even shadowing to improve your accent, and ask a native speaker or a teacher for feedback.
  • – Finally, if you’re tired of conventional ways of learning, I recommend you totally get out of your comfort zone and try to kill two birds with one stone. Take on an activity you love and do it in French: work out, meditate, cook, do Couch Surfing with French speakers, etc… There are no limits!

So be patient as your progress is slowing down. It’s absolutely normal.  Rest and digest. And change one little thing to start with. No rush.