Learning a language requires two things: a considerable amount of time and a flexible method. Flexibility is absolutely essential because you will progress through three stages as you build a language core. If you are rigid in your approach, you will find that it takes longer to clear each of these stages.
Language isn’t just about vocabulary, grammar, and phrases. You are aware of this at least on a subconscious level because you understand things like irony, hyperbole, and sarcasm. There are a lot of skills you must obtain to really know a language.
Most language books and classes are broken up into three phases:
While there is no absolute time or test to say when you pass each phase, there are signs that show you are transitioning between them.
Remember, everyone learns at a different pace. You cannot expect to learn at the same rate as your friends and family. The amount of time you put into learning a language will play a large role in how quickly you progress.
The Beginner or Novice
This is the most precarious time or stage, and most people stop before they leave this phase of the process. When you have everything to learn, it can be both intimidating and overwhelming. Listening to a native speaker talk at a normal pace makes you feel like the whole thing is impossible. It is difficult to distinguish different sounds and words as the sounds wash over you. You don’t have adequate knowledge to catch more than one or two words, and even that is a challenge.
When you can’t make out the sounds, words, structures, and patterns, you are in the beginner phase. It will take a lot of exposure before you will even begin to feel comfortable with basic things like greetings.
It is going to take time and motivation to keep you learning. Your brain will have a harder time retaining information because everything is new. Be prepared to give yourself time to incorporate everything you are about to learn. Your brain has to be able to comprehend it in a way that networks it with your existing knowledge. This is not a quick process.
By the time you reach the end of the beginner or novice phase, you will have the linguistic core you need to begin doing more with your chosen language.
The Intermediate Learner
You know you’ve reached this stage when you hear someone speaking the language and you are able to understand at least bits and pieces. The sounds make sense. All you are missing is the vocabulary and more complex structures to really understand what the speaker is saying. When you are using basic talking points, like greetings and familiar subjects, you can understand what is being said and can put together a basic response.
This is a rather exciting phase as you can see the progress you have made and have an idea of how much further you have to go. It is much easier to stay motivated because you start to feel like you are accomplishing your goal. You are able to absorb more because your core is working for you.
There is still some apprehension because you are not fluent. However, you are likely to be less easily discouraged. You may not be able to fully understand people, but you can get a good big picture of topics and ideas.
The Advanced Learner
Easily the most enjoyable phase, being an advanced learner means that you can communicate with native speakers. You may still be self-conscious when you are talking with others, but you are far more certain in your comprehension. You forget the fact that you are actually understanding something other than your native English.
This is when things are clicking in your mind. From watching TV to hearing people talking while you are on the way to work, you don’t have to focus as much when you are listening to the language. Real life situations make more sense as you talk about your daily activities in the language.
You also need to be careful not to get complacent. After all of the time and effort you have put into the process, you don’t want to forget it because you don’t keep at it. Whether you read articles online, listen to podcasts, watch TV, or talk with native speakers, make sure to continue to make time in your daily schedule to stay at your current level of progress.
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