Language learning plateaus
People inevitably encounter certain plateaus during their learning, when their progress seems to slow to a snail’s pace. It happens to everyone.
This is a natural part of learning a language and has more to do with how language learning works than anything to do with you.
The best ﬁx is to simply power through it. Continue using input, trying to improve, and, most importantly, trust the process. You will progress, we promise.
Fossilisation is the process in which the learner acquires a speciﬁc form or way of speaking that is not native-like, and this error becomes stuck in the learner’s speech.
This is diﬀerent from ordinary mistakes that a learner makes, which can be corrected and will often ﬁx themselves.
Fossilised errors are often resistant to correction and the learner’s eﬀorts to change.
These arise when a learner repeatedly (and successfully, in terms of being understood) uses a certain form without being made aware that it is not native-like, to the point of hearing and using it so often it sounds natural and comes to mind easily.
There are two general techniques for avoiding fossilised errors:
1. Try to be constantly aware of how words and forms are used around you. Focus on shifting your speech to more closely resemble how natives speak.
2. Ensure you have a source of feedback or correction. This can be a friend, tutor, family member, or language exchange partner. Make sure they understand that you would like your errors to be corrected. Most people will avoid correcting others’ speech to facilitate smooth conversation.
Summary of previous posts
These past posts will have given you lots more activities to try and principles to integrate into your learning. The key ideas are:
• Speak a lot if you are learning to communicate
• Read a lot, read widely
• Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
• Make your learning into a consistent habit
• Hunt down your weaknesses and focus on them with drills
• Remember the principle Diﬃculty + successful recall — there needs to be some mental struggle for eﬀective learning to happen
Revision – Diﬃculty + successful recall
When you encounter a something recently learned, the general stages are as follows:
1. Confusion/uncertainty — The learner ﬁnds something unclear when they ﬁrst encounter it in their content.
2. Mental struggle — Mental eﬀort is expended trying to recall a word or concept to use it. This is where the most powerful learning happens.
3. Insight — The mental eﬀort pays oﬀ, and the learner successfully grasps meaning using their new knowledge.
4. Repetition — Each time the new word or concept is encountered it becomes easier.
Learning functions by the learner successfully recalling and applying words or concepts.
Words or grammar will only become solidiﬁed once you use your new knowledge to extract meaning from your content and use the language yourself.
Your brain will learn optimally when you encounter something diﬃcult, work hard, and eventually succeed. This means there needs to be some kind of mental struggle involved in your learning.
To ensure your mental struggle results in learning, aim for just the right amount of diﬃculty — not too diﬃcult that something presents an insurmountable barrier, but not so easy that you don’t learn anything new.
To do this, make sure you encounter new words or forms quickly enough after you ﬁrst learn them in isolation. If too much time passes, you’ll spend mental eﬀort trying to recall something that is gone.