Research-backed insights for language learning

Language Learning Plateaus – How to Beat Them


If you’ve previously spent time learning languages, you know what a language learning plateau feels like.

If you are just starting to learn another language, you’ll know soon enough.

Basically a language learning plateau is when you stop learning the language as quickly as you were before.

You made a bunch of progress early on but now you feel that your language learning is really tapering off.

I definitely experienced a few during my studies of Spanish and Portuguese. 

In my experience, these plateaus usually happen once you reach the intermediate level but they can happen for a number of reasons such as having unclear goals, lack of confidence or a stale approach to learning.

Here are 3 strategies that I have used to break through these plateaus:

1. Set clear goals and establish accountability

When you reach a language learning plateau, it’s easy to lose focus and to allow thoughts of discouragement creep in. This is totally normal and it happened to me with both Spanish and Portuguese. Sometimes I would leave a Spanish conversation and think to myself, “Man, I made no sense back there”. 

You should expect to feel something similar at some point in your language journey.

To get through these periods of discouragement it’s critical to have goals to serve as a compass to show you where you are going. They give you something to focus on and keep chipping away. 

With Parley Blue, a goal could be completing 5 lessons a week for the next 3 months. Or to attend the weekly Spanish office hours for the next 10 weeks. 

No matter how you’re feeling, show up! Remind yourself how far you’ve come and commit to the long term journey.

2. Identify your motivators

You’re learning a language for a reason, right? What is that reason?

For me, I started learning Portuguese in college because I had a crush on this Brazilian girl. That was the spark that got me going and it was the motivator that carried me in my first few months of my studies until I reached an intermediate level.

The following year, in an attempt to take my Portuguese to the next level, I planned a solo backpacking trip to Brazil on winter break of my junior year at UW-Madison. Booking this trip along motivated me to turn my studies up a notch so I could make the most of the trip.

After this trip, I was so in love with the Portuguese language and the Brazilian culture that I decided I wanted to work there after graduation. To do that, I needed to improve my Portuguese even more. At this point i was watching Brazilian movies, reading books in Portuguese and talking with Brazilians on a daily basis. I went on to work at an accounting firm for 2.5 years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

I tell that story to illustrate the importance of identifying your motivators and to remind yourself of them when you’re struggling.

3. Interact with native speakers

When in doubt, talk with native speakers. There is no better way to get meaningful practice and there is no better way to break through a plateau.

The feeling that you get after a conversation in a foreign language is insanely rewarding and keeps me coming back for more every day.

If you’re familiar with the Parley Blue methodology, you know that this is core to our principles. To learn a language you need to actually speak with native speakers. 

To summarize –  if you ever experience a language learning plateau, just know that it is normal and even expected but with the right the mindset you’ll move through it with ease.

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