Saturday, October 20, 2007

Language Learning: Why does it slow at intermediate levels?

Many ESL/EFL students experience a slowdown in their language learning once they reach an intermediate level of language proficiency, and they often do not know why. Although there are a number of factors that contribute to this, a main cause can be a fossilization (a state of not changing) of their language skills. In other words, at the beginning stages of language learning, students are focusing on everyday topics like shopping, eating out, and directions; however, as levels increase, students need to be able to talk about more abstract topics or subjects (e.g., freedom, honesty, psychology) that require critical-thinking skills (e.g., compare, analyze information from various sources, infer meaning); unfortunately, students tend to try to rely on their basic language skills to talk about advanced topics instead of experimenting with newer language skills they are learning at the intermediate level.

What complicates this matter is that most people, even in their native languages, tend to use basic language on a daily basis---you can't change that---and might not find themselves (or try to put themselves) in more challenging situations, particularly when learning a foreign language.

So, what other factors affect the slowdown of language learning among students? Share your own personal experiences and solutions to this issue. Randall


  1. Actually, that is true.
    A higher level in communicating skills in a second language depends chiefly on the knowledge and capacity of argument a student has in their own language. For instance, as a Spanish teacher in Brazil, I have noticed that students with problems in Portuguese grammar and composition transfer those limitations to the new language. In addition, they often presented a not so good reading habit.
    Because of this, while teaching Spanish to Brazilian adults, I successfully taught them part of speech and composition in Portuguese. I did so because they needed to make a composition in Spanish in a test.
    In the first semester of 2007, while living in the US, I had another good experience by teaching Spanish to a fourteen-year-old American student. At first, I slightly taught him part of speech in English. Therefore, he (re)learned nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, etc, in English. Then we switched to Spanish.

    Billy - Brasilia, Brazil

  2. As for me, language (English) learning is kind of like an experience of mountain-climbing. The higher you get, the harder you walk(work). For my example, I ask myself to think and write down my thought toward topics here every morning, adding comments and practicing my writing as a daily routine. Within the process, I look into the dictionary for vocabularies I am not sure, clarifying those blurry and loose concepts. Although it could only do a little good, the effects of cumulation could be eventually enormous. Moreover, having parters to study together could strengthen the motivation of learning.

  3. I have some thought too:) First I suppose if you feel you stopped in learning - change your style of learing. It's like in any other subject. Your brain is used to your actions and begins to do careless work. And second: don't forget about 20/80 rule - 20% of efforts make 80% of results.

  4. I agree with your view that we may experience a slowdown in progressing as we reach intermediate level. In my opinion, there are many reasons causing this situation. First of all, when your level raise up, you will encounter more difficult subjects which take us a lot of time to deal with. Second, the feeling that we must be perfect as we are in high level may be a barrier in our improvement.


Thanks for posting a comment. I appreciate your interesting in sharing your ideas.



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