Saturday, September 08, 2007

Language Plateau

This post is dedicated to Art. He asked me to write about handling language plateaus.

Plateau is a word that comes to us via the French language. If we check the dictionary, we can find this definition:
a period or state of little or no growth or decline

In language learning, I believe, and you should also believe, that a plateau is just a mirage. It feels like you're not making progress and that you are not advancing. However, to what is it being compared? When we first set out to learn a new language, we learn a lot. Before you start, you may know nothing. Then the next day you know something! After a month you can review your notes and see all the words you have learned.

But somewhere on the journey, you feel like you have not been making progress lately. Now, if you think about walking up a hill, a hill's steepness is graded. A 10% grade is not as steep as a 45% grade. In the beginning, you face a very steep grade, but you are enthusiastic and you charge up the hill. You look back after a short time and you can see just how high you have climbed. So you continue forward. Things get a little easier for you because now you can talk a bit and understand things. Here, the hill is not so steep. You look back and think, "Hmm, I am not much higher than before."

Again, you continue on. Your hill is getting flatter. Maybe you don't notice the steepness at all. You think, "I am not making any progress. I've hit a plateau!" This is when it is important to realize that you are not on a plateau. You are still walking up and maybe it's only a 5% grade. As long as you keep walking, you will be making progress and your level will increase. This is what we call, "slowly, but surely." Your progress is slower, but if you keep going, you are sure to get there. You are sure to improve.

If you want to make progress faster, what do you have to do? You have to run instead of walk. You have to pick up the pace. I have to admit, I don't do a lot of running. You don't see a lot of posts from me in languages other than English. If you do more than you can handle, you can get burned out. You'll be tired of it and won't want to do any more, even when you've had sufficient rest.

Think about your favorite food. If you eat your favorite food 3 times a day, everyday, I guarantee you it won't be long before it doesn't taste so good. If you do that long enough, you will reach a point where you never want to eat it again.

So, you just have to realize that you are not on a language plateau. You are still making progress and every year you can be sure that you are higher than the year before. This is why I want to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test every year. I can't see my improvements, but a test can show me that I have improved. I can't expect a big jump, but a steady increase is reassuring.


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