Once upon a time, English was shiny and new to you. Perhaps you made quick progress and felt like you were always learning. Then it happened: your brain stopped learning anything new. At least it feels like that’s what happened. Most likely, you’re still learning but the rate of learning has slowed down. That’s to be expected. It happens to lots of people, not just language learners. Athletes, musicians, and even gamers are all susceptible to plateaus.
What on earth is a plateau?
A plateau is a really high structure that looks a little like a mountain or a steep hill. It can be quite an exciting challenge getting to the top. But once you get to the top, it’s flat. So even if you move around when you get to the top, you don’t feel like you’re going anywhere. And you certainly don’t feel like you’re climbing any more. So basically, a plateau means you’ve gotten somewhere, you’ve made a lot of progress, but now you’re barely moving.
So, why does this happen?
Well, when you’re first learning a new skill or language, you practice. You practice a lot. And even though I don’t agree 100% with the saying that practice makes perfect, practice can certainly make you so automated that you might feel like you’re doing something perfectly. Something that was once new and difficult has now become automatic. Someone asks you what time it is in English and you glance at your watch and respond without batting an eye. You know enough English to get by in many situations and, chances are, you don’t have to think about it all that much.
Isn’t automaticity a good thing?
A plateau can certainly sound like a good thing because it means you have made a lot of progress. You’ve made so much progress that some parts of the English language have actually become automatic to you. You don’t have to work so hard any more to speak English. But actually, that’s the problem. You don’t have to work so hard to make progress and you’re barely making any. So while automaticity is a good thing, autopilot is not.
When does this happen?
You can experience a language plateau at different stages in your learning experience. However, plateaus are especially common at the intermediate level or even higher. People at the intermediate level have had so much exposure to a language that they are able to say a whole lot in their new language. Unfortunately, that can often feel like it’s not enough. Your language skills may be keeping you from reaching your personal and professional goals.
Is a plateau permanent?
Reaching a plateau can be frustrating. If you’re stuck in your current level, then you may feel stuck in other areas of your life as well. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be permanent. Since you’re not a beginner any more, there’s no sense in approaching English like you did when you were first learning. If you are serious about getting unstuck, I’d love to help. You can sign up here for tips on overcoming a language plateau.