15th December , 2013

Breaking through the intermediate plateau of language learning

This is the bane of all language learners, that I am now experiencing in Chinese. Being stuck in the phase of being an intermediate learner. The reason why this is worse than the beginner stage (as I don't have the experience to comment on an advanced level) is that when you're a beginner everything is new. It's fresh. And everything new you learn you can use right away. In the darkness of intermediacy you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I am at that stage of intermediacy. Mandarin. One of the hardest languages in the world, period. No question. And I'm stuck at a stage where I'm definitely not a native speaker, but I'm definitely not a beginner anymore. At this stage of learning it's quite difficult to find suitable material for you to digest. You can continue with textbook reading, but they feel a little fake and unrealistic. You can try reading native books, but they're a little too hard and it's easy to get disheartened. You can also try books for teenagers or even kids, but the difficulty can vary a lot and it might be harder of find something you're interested in.

Here's my plan to drop my silver coloured intermediate badge in exchange for the much more shiny gold advanced badge:

Listen. A lot.

The reason why listening is better than reading is because of the fact you can do listening absolutely anywhere. It also allows you to listen passively. When you're reading, unless you're paying attention to what you're reading it's not really reading. But for listening you can always have something in the background and passively listen and pick up words. This is why so many language learners like radio as it is designed for listeners to drop in and out. If you were to watch a film, you can't start from the middle and understand what's going on. This is the beauty of radio. Any time I have any kind of down time. Whilst I'm eating alone, travelling, walking or even as I write this blog post I will try and listen to some kind of radio or podcast.

Read. Everywhere.

I've got a couple books copied into my Pleco Chinese dictionary on my phone. Any word that I don't know I can just click on the word and it'll give me the definition. Since it's on my phone I literally read it anywhere and I excuse to not read when I want to read as take my phone everywhere. This is something I'm trying to pick up after listening to a couple of lectures by Krashen.

Deliberate Vocabulary learning

Never stop learning vocabulary. This is going to be the ammunition you'll need to push through this stage. As an intermediate learner you can already have a pretty comfortable conversation with natives and can pick up new words by osmosis and context. However if you really want to push through this intermediate stage of the language. Deliberate learning will accelerate this, a lot.

The more you learn, the more you need to speak

Since I'll be improving my passive vocabulary a lot with the first three points, I will need to push my active vocabulary at the same time. This won't be the main priority for me, but I'm sure some of the passive vocabulary I learn will slip into my daily conversations in Taiwan.

Keep moving forward

It's hard being an intermediate learner walking through thew. Sometimes the steps you take don't always feel like you're getting closer to the exit. It's frustrating. But sometimes you just need to stand still, take a deep breath, listen for the sound of running water and keep moving forward.