Whenever you learn something new, there is a sense of excitement and promise that will help to motivate you during those early periods. This tends to be very true of languages because they are so new and exciting. With everything to learn, you feel certain that success will start to show early on. However, at some point you are going to notice that you are putting in a whole lot of effort and the successes you were expecting (or even experiencing) are quite small compared to where you want to be.
This is when most people hit a learning plateau. You notice that you aren’t learning as much as you were, and what you are learning doesn’t seem to stick. Your enthusiasm has waned and you begin to wonder if you should continue.
This is the time when you need to start doing more to vary your tasks and push your learning in a different direction. The following five activities can help you keep learning and challenging yourself so that you can start to see progress again.
Mini-speeches and Oral Presentations
Most people resist public speaking. However, it is the actual speech in front of others that bothers most people and not the preparation process itself. This is why it is ideal to focus on writing short speeches and presentations. You will start to learn how to focus and think in your new language.
You can literally write and speak about anything that you want to, which will help you break out of your shell as you focus on the basics. The following steps show you what it takes to get started.
- Pick a topic that you think you can cover. You should have a personal interest in it.
- Write your short speech or presentation in English. This will give you all of the ideas you want in the final version.
- Get help either from a tutor or a native speaker to translate the speech or presentation into your target language.
- Once it is done, have your tutor or the native speaker read it and record it. The recording is incredibly important.
- Practice what you hear. By hearing and re-hearing a native speaker on a recording, you are more likely to get the right inflection and emphasis.
The main purpose of this activity is to help you get comfortable with the language. You will be more confident when you talk and your speaking cadence will begin to be more natural. The words you learn will be much more memorable vocabulary words than the ones you learn simply because a book told you to.
Once you have practiced, make sure you recite the speech for your tutor or the native speaker and get feedback. Select the topic for your next speech so that you don’t get complacent.
Commit to Forgoing English for an Hour Every Day
Following this activity will be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. If you have native speakers or people who know the language, it is much easier to do since you can have a gathering where everyone practices the language. If you don’t know anyone who speaks the language, set up the hour every day for a time when you are alone in the morning or evening. You also need to find people who do speak the language so you can speak – but get started on the one hour rule while you look for someone.
Clearly this isn’t a rule you can implement in the first month or so, but as soon as you hit that plateau, it will force you to start thinking in terms of the target language. It will be incredibly painful at first because you are unaccustomed to it. Even if you are just listening and reading the language, the progress will be slow at first.
If you need clarification, you may need to temporarily fall back into English. Make sure it is a very brief period. Then return to the language. Never let discomfort be the reason you start using English. It will go away over time as you push yourself into your discomfort zone.
Record Things You Want to Say for Your Next Lesson
This rule can be difficult, especially if an idea hits you while you are in the middle of something. Fortunately, smartphones make it a lot easier to put it on a list. Keep a running tab of everything you would like to be able to discuss in the language. When you have your next lesson, find out how to go about discussing the topic.
Typically, it will be in a few words. That’s ok too. You are much more likely to remember vocabulary that you selected over words that someone else chose. The personal approach helps your mind to retain more earlier.
High Flashcard Standards
In the early days, flashcards are for everything. When you reach a plateau, you need to get very picky about what words end up on the flashcards. Your vocabulary is growing, and your brain is going to have a harder time adding random words to your long-term memory.
Make the effort work for you. Only make flashcards for words and phrases that have a value to you. This can be because you think you will need them, or it could be that you are interested in the subject.
The better the quality of your flashcards, the more likely you are to remember what you are reinforcing. You can also use the 80/20 rule to determine what should get a flashcard. Just make sure you have a standard for determining what makes it into your pile of vocabulary memorization.
Dedicated Weekly Speaking Sessions
It is best to speak your new language three or four times a week. When that is impossible, make sure you get at least one full hour session of speaking every week. It should be just talking in the language. Unlike the no-English hour usually tied to your lesson, this is just talking about any subject that you can think of. You will be taking notes and learning new vocabulary. Use the new vocabulary words again in your next session. The more times you can do it, the more you will learn and retain.
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