Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

What Should You Do When Your English Stops Getting Better?

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 @ 07:55 AM

English stops getting betterAre you motivated by progress? I certainly am!

When you learn a language it is wonderful to watch yourself get better and better every week, every month, and every year.

But sometimes we work hard, improve a lot for a few months or a year and then all of a sudden we stop seeing progress.

Last Tuesday I went to a Spanish language meetup here in Boston to practice my Spanish with native speakers.  I chatted with some people I hadn't seen in a while. We made small talk. I asked them about their jobs, recent vacations, and life in Boston. I left that meetup feeling pretty good about my Spanish. Heck, I understood every word and the native speakers understood everything I said. Overall, it was pretty easy.

Well, of course it was easy. I never went beyond small talk with anyone. I didn't challenge myself with new vocabulary words. I didn't try to use any new phrases. I even avoided certain verbs because I wasn't sure how to conjugate them. Shame on me.

Are you in this situation with your English? If so, then you have hit an English learning plateau. Read this article to find out how to get out of it and how to keep moving forward with your English skills.


What is an English learning plateau?

 English learning plateauIf you are an intermediate or high-intermediate English learner, you might hit a language learning plateau when you have been working hard at your English for a while. You may be learning English through immersion by living in the United States.

You might feel like you can easily engage in small talk or superficial conversation with pretty much anyone and that feels great.

You have improved a lot since you began focusing on your English but now you have hit a limit. When you watch a movie or attend an art class, you quickly realize that your vocabulary is actually quite limited.

This is an important moment in your language learning journey. It is time to challenge yourself. How can you do that? Keep reading!


Please take a moment to share this advice with your friends and colleagues!


3 Ways to Start Making Progress Again




1) Get away from your native language

native language book of flagsBy now you know that avoiding your native language is super important.

If you have managed to see some real improvement up to this point and you have hit a limit, it's time to immerse yourself even more deeply into the language. 

Move into a new house to learn English through immersion at home, get an internship or volunteer in English.

Instead of attending meetups with people from your native country, go to meetups with people from new cultures or ESL meetups to practice with native English speakers.

Change your routine. Do something new.

Push yourself and push your limits.




2) Choose a more challenging learning method

learn English by giving presentations, man giving a presentationIf you have been doing a language exchange, that is great. Language exchanges are a great way to gain conversational skills. The only problem is, you often end up making small talk in English or talking about what you did last weekend for an hour and not pushing yourself the way you need to.

For that reason, a language exchange should not be at the core of your langage learning strategy. It is just a way to practice.

If you want to continue with your language exchange partner, that's fine but you must demand more of yourself and demand more of your partner.

Focus each session on specific language situations that are a bit out of your comfort zone. Read a newspaper article that is about science or business before the meeting and discuss it with your partner. Ask him or her to bring new words into the conversation. Don't just listen to them and forget them. Use them and own them.

If you want an even bigger challenge, try trading your weekly language exchange for a public speaking class. You can also take a photography, art or wine tasting class in English. This will help you move beyond small talk and acquire new expressions and vocabulary words.



3) Work with a teacher who pushes you

work with private English teacher to push your limitsIf you have reached an intermediate or high intermediate level without working with a teacher, that is great. You are extremely motivated and driven. But is this strategy going to take you to the next level?

This might be a good time to work with someone who can push you in a way that you cannot push yourself. Your private English teacher can assign homework that is targeted to your level and he can hold you accountable for getting it done. He can pull out the new words that challenge you and create activities that force you to use those words. He can also correct your errors immediately in a conversation-based lesson.

This is something that you will probably not get when you learn English on your own in everyday life.

Working with a teacher isn't right for everyone, but when your English stops getting better, it might be time for more structure, accountability and a good push from a professional.


So if you have hit an English learning plateau, please don't continue making easy small talk. Click here to tweet if you agree!


Start challenging yourself. What worked before might not work now. It's time to roll up your sleeves, identify what you need to move to the next level and get going!  Good luck!


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Photo credits: Victor1558,    Horia Varlanpurpleapple428

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English

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