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Friday, June 10, 2011

Language Learning Plateau

Flat Iron - Phoenix, Arizona

I've been living in Shanghai, China for a year & a half now. Since I got here, I've been diligently studying Mandarin Chinese in hopes of adding it to my linguistic repertoire. It's been slow going, but I think I've finally reached a new level.

Learning a language is never easy, but there are times when it can seem impossible. In the beginning, people often learn new words quickly: red! yellow! blue! one! two! three! It's fun & encouraging to learn the basics in just a short period of time.

Inevitably, however, you reach a learning plateau, when you don't feel like you're advancing in your language abilities. After all that success in the beginning, it's frustrating to reach this stage, & many understandably give up when they find themselves stagnating. It's hard to push on ahead when you're walking in mud.

Even so, it's important to get daily exposure to the language you're studying, even if it doesn't seem to be producing results. A balance of active & passive exposure is best. My own language learning has a little bit of both.

Every morning, I listen to a ChinesePod lesson on my commute to work (passive), I go to the Chinese classes offered at my office (passive), I try to make small talk with my co-workers (active), & when I get home, I spend about 20 minutes practicing characters (active). In spite of all this, I feel like I've been stuck at the same level for a while now.

Sometimes the language just needs to incubate - we need to process what we know in order to move on to the next step. The harder the concepts are that you're learning, the longer it takes to process. So the more advanced you are in your language skills, the longer the learning plateau will be. But I keep at it because I know that I will eventually reach the end of this plateau - & the reward will be so worth it.


Scott said...

Nice picture of Flat Iron! That's a pretty high plateau! Would love to be up there with my spanish... glad you are making progress in your chinese. Nice work!

Nancy Lewis said...

I'm sure your Spanish is better than my Chinese :)