How to Overcome the Language Learning Plateau
The science behind the language plateau and my experience as a polyglot with it
I was recently interviewed by 🔘 Paulius Juodis for The Ink Well podcast and, during our conversation, we addressed the plateau effect. This is a very common phenomenon when learning a language. You study steadily every day for months, see the results of your efforts, and, at some point, feel like you are no longer improving.
Why does this happen? What is the language learning plateau, and are you supposed you deal with that? Science has the answers!
As a language learner, I have experienced the language plateau more than once. Here is what I learned about it!
What Is the Plateau Effect?
In the early days of learning a new language, you feel like a genius. In just a few weeks, you can go from zero to knowing hundreds of words and basic grammar rules without much effort. The sense of satisfaction due to the speed at which you learn new concepts is simply amazing.
If you are new to this game, you might even think you will become fluent in a few weeks. Well, we all wish it was so easy…
Unfortunately, satisfaction quickly turns to frustration as the “I am a genius” vibe does not last long (this is also why many novice language learners quit so quickly).
“On the learning curve, learners make big improvements very quickly; and then the acceleration of their progress dramatically slows down”
The reason? The plateau effect!
But what is that phenomenon? Science is here to help:
“Plateau implies […] a period of little or no further progress (as seen by a flat part on a learning curve) in study after making rapid progress initially”
When Is the Language Plateau More Frequent?
According to science:
“Plateau refers to the problems that [language] learners face as they pass through the intermediate to the advanced levels of language proficiency”
“[Language] learners mostly hit the language learning plateau while
passing from intermediate to advanced level”
In my experience, I faced a language plateau after reaching a low C1 level in English and a solid B2 level in Spanish. In both cases, achieving a solid C1 took me several months of consistent study and hope. During this time, I thought countless times that I had reached my potential and could not improve any further, which demotivated me more than once.
The solution? It is simpler than you might think!
Overcoming the Language Learning Plateau
Here is the section where I am supposed to list all the language-learning tips you already know plus the “believe in yourself” advice. Let’s make a deal and skip that part. Instead, let me give you an actionable solution:
No matter what your language learning routing is, stick to it!
Keep studying and striving, and go the extra mile. You do not have to tear up your learning process or add new tasks or rules. Continue to do what you have always done and has worked in the past. Getting over the language plateau is as simple as that!
Remind yourself that you are experiencing a rainy period on a lifelong journey. Yes, learning a language does not take months or years. It takes a lifetime, but you already know that. What matters here is keeping that in mind while facing the plateau.
If you feel bored and unmotivated, you could try adding some new language learning challenges, but do not increase the pressure on yourself. If they do not work, as is likely to happen since the plateau usually lasts a few weeks before ending, you may feel even more disappointed.
Plateau is part of the game. Embrace it, accept it, and run over it with consistent study.
Want to dig into this topic? Watch the clip below:
The plateau effect is so common in language learning that there are several studies and scientific papers about it. In this article, we delved into some of them to understand what it is, how it works, and when it happens. Then, thanks to my experience with it as a language learner, you saw an easy way to overcome it.
Thanks for reading! I hope that you found this article helpful. Feel free to leave down below any questions, comments, or suggestions.