How to Motivate Yourself 12 Days out of a Language Learning Plateau

What is a plateau, you ask? In Earth Science it’s a mountain that’s completely flat on top or “tableland” (land that looks like a table). Metaphorically, and because this is a language learning blog, it’s a point where you feel like you’re not improving in your target language. You’ve remained flat.

Plateaus usually happen at the point in the learning curve when you’re somewhere in between. In my personal language learning experience as well as my students’, a plateau tends to happen between intermediate and advanced levels. Much like a new relationship, it’s a place where you’ve ploughed through the initial stages quickly and romantically, and you’ve arrived at a place where you realise you have to commit or get out.

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Why 12 Days?

Twelve is not as daunting a number as, say, 21 days. It’s also a plan to break down your language learning goals into very, very small steps, three days at a time. So, 12 turned out to be a nice product of this plan.

I like planning. Even if I don’t always execute perfectly on a plan, I like that it’s there. It gives me certainty in a very uncertain world. In terms of language learning (and any habit, really), a plan gives you the compass to climb the rest of the (not-so-flat) mountain.

Days 1-3

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). We’re going to take a trip down memory lane and remember why we started this whole debacle in the first place.

                – Find your why

This is the reason that drew you to the language to begin with. If you’re on your way to advanced, maybe it’s been quite some time since you’ve thought of why you’re even in it anymore. Why did you start learning the language you’re learning? Why should you continue?

                – Take a diagnostics test

You can take our diagnostics test from the link below.

Day 1 out of your language learning plateau starts with knowing where you currently stand. (It’s also free. Hooray!)

It’s good to take stock of where you are. Perhaps the skills that were your strengths to begin with have been neglected. Or perhaps they are the skills that are inhibiting your improvement. Knowing where your strengths and weaknesses are will help you figure out where to focus.

                – Reevaluate your resources

What resources worked well for you? What didn’t work? Did doing daily grammar exercises help? What about your language partner? Were they a quality partner, or could you, perhaps, find someone more suitable to your needs? Take stock of everything you’ve used and give it a rate from 1 to 10.

Also consider which resources your level is now beyond. Perhaps you’ve started with a beginner or low intermediate grammar book and you need an upgraded one, for example. Choose your resources around your current level.

                – Create and start a new study plan

Now take those resources that were an 8 and above, and create a new study plan. Design your study plan to emphasise practising those skills you scored low on on your diagnostics test. Scored low on writing? Focus on that. Each day work from one of your new resources. Start with just 10 minutes.

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Days 4-6

                – Evaluate the new study plan. Adjust accordingly.

What’s working and what’s not working this time? Are you bored with anything? If you’re bored with something, choose a new resource. Are you falling into any old habits or pitfalls that got you into the slump in the first place? Like translating from your first language into your target language or focusing too much on a skill you’ve already more or less mastered. Stay cognizant of these habits and adjust your plan to undo them.

                – Try something new

Like I said, if you’re bored, try something new. If you don’t like one book or one YouTube channel, change it. Remember to have fun! Language can be very mechanical, but it can also be playful. Find something you enjoy. If not, you’ll find yourself laying on top of another plateau.

                – Start again

Stick with your adjusted plan for the next three days.

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Days 7-9

You’re a week in! Congratulations. I mean, really.

                – Reflect.

How do you feel at this point? Is your new plan working? Do you feel like you’re progressing? Are you having fun? If not, let’s go to step two, which is not new.

                – Evaluate and adjust your study plan accordingly.

Find new resources if you have to or perhaps play with the amount of time you’re spending each day. Try something you haven’t tried yet. Get creative!

                – Start again

Days 9-12

                – Evaluate and adjust, but this time with a more permanent idea of what your goals are and how you think you can get there.

At this point, you know whether or not you’re in it for the long haul. If so, your plan will need to reflect that. Perhaps throughout this process you’ve learned that you’re simply on maintenance mode, where you just need to refresh your skills to keep your current level and maybe improve over a longer period of time. Perhaps you’ve discovered that you what to go full throttle again and need a more aggressive plan.

                – Start again

Even if it’s just for three days. Poco a poco, little by little. You’ll get there, if you really want it.

You’ve made it! Super congratulations. You’ve done what a lot of people give up doing. Just remember that this is about motivation and not beating yourself up because you fell off the wagon. It’s about trusting yourself despite your doubts, despite the uncertainty. It’s about finding the fun in language learning again and reminding yourself every day (or every three days) why you’re doing what you’re doing. Stay aware, reflect, enjoy.