What is the “plateau effect” in the context of learning German and why can’t it be avoided? How not to give up training when hands down and motivation is not enough even for the usual reading of German books and watching TV shows in German? Let’s tackle this complex issue together.

On the way to mastering any skill, everyone, without exception, faces the “plateau effect”. This happens when progress ceases to be felt despite the efforts made and it seems that the goal is only moving away from you.

What is a “plateau” and when does it occur when learning foreign languages

In simple words, a “plateau” is a certain level of development at which previous efforts are insufficient. This phenomenon is familiar to you if you have ever struggled with being overweight. In the first weeks of the diet, the weight goes off quickly, and then suddenly freezes at one mark, although you secretly did not eat any “prohibition” and did not reduce the amount of exercise. This is the plateau effect.

The level of “plateau” in learning foreign languages ​​corresponds to levels B1 and B2 , when your vocabulary has reached 2000-4000 words and you know everything you need to survive in a foreign language environment (by the way, we even have a test that will help determine whether your German is enough for life in Germany;). But you still can’t fit into the environment. You do not stop meeting unfamiliar words in texts, slowing down when you are asked questions, and missing important thoughts in other people’s remarks.

“Am I trying too hard?” “Did I waste so much time?” “Nothing helps me!” “I can’t do anything!”

Most often, it is when people hit a “plateau” that they give up their training.

Let’s imagine that learning a language is creating a portrait, for example, of your girlfriend. On B1 you have already drawn a sketch. It makes it clear that you want to portray a girl with long hair. The main idea is clear, right? But there are many girls all over the world, and your friend is the only one. You need to add individuality, details and nuances: moles, prominent facial features, hair color.

Only the details make the portrait look like the original. And if you want your language to be similar to the native language, you will have to go into language nuances, which are many: synonyms , slang , idioms , and the like.

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Why does the plateau effect occur?

Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • you have reached your goal . Remember why you started learning the language. Maybe you never intended to move to Germany, work in a German company, study at a German university, read German classics in the original? Maybe you needed the language only for reading highly specialized literature, for understanding your favorite songs, or for traveling?

How to decide: Set a new goal that can really motivate you to further learn the language. That’s what a school grading system is for. Without proper motivation and an alternative factor, no results can be achieved.

Or don’t waste precious time and energy on things you don’t need. Do something that interests you and become a pro at something else. Have you ever tried skiing?

  • You have lost your target. The move was cancelled, you got a job in a French company, not a German one, and you decided to study in your native country.

How to solve: see paragraph above 🙂

  • You have acquired immunity to classes. Of course, it is necessary to hone certain exercises to automatism. But over time, you will stop paying the necessary attention to the exercise and start doing everything reflexively, thoughtlessly, automatically.

How to solve:  It is very important to regularly take yourself out of your comfort zone and force your brain to work. Find new ways to memorize and repeat words: for example, in addition to cards like quizlet or anki, test your knowledge with dictations and tests.

  • You are greedy. Don’t be offended, that’s just one of the possible reasons 😉 Perhaps your expectations were too high after a quick and easy start and you were hoping to get everything at once.

How to solve it: Be patient and test the strength of your motivation.

  • You are a perfectionist. You have a brilliant command of the language at the level you have reached, and you are afraid to make a mistake. You don’t want to re-learn new methods and learning structures that are necessary for further development, so don’t go any further.

How to solve: Fight your fears. Yes, further you will have to learn new things, learn exceptions and subtleties of already learned rules, and learning will cease to be so predictable. But you have already gone much further than many, which means that you can overcome this level too!

  • You cannot rate or track your progress . A plateau is not a pause. If you do not quit classes, progress is being made, even if you do not feel it.

How to decide: The first step is to get tested. There are a huge number of language proficiency tests on the Internet. Get in the habit of periodically passing different tests of this format. And the most objective thing would be to pass an official German proficiency exam. The second step is to start studying with a teacher (for example, a native speaker or a teacher from a university). After all, the view from the outside is always more objective than your own.

How to get out of the “plateau” and improve the level of German

  • Don’t give up and don’t slow down! Always look for new options to explore. Do not relax, do not reduce the amount of time you devote to studying, look for new materials. The lack of tangible progress does not mean that something is not working out for you (before it worked!). Most likely, you are just doing something wrong or you have outgrown the usual methods.
  • Review your goals. What do you know at this level? Is that enough for you personally? Why do you need something else? Why do you even need German? It is very useful to ask yourself this question at different stages of training and to sum up intermediate results.
  • Find a teacher . An experienced teacher can help you find a new methodology, track your progress, and find a learning approach that’s right for you.
  • Focus on improving your German . Replace simple words with more complex synonyms. How many, for example, synonyms for the adjective ” good ” do you use in your speech? Pleasant, glorious, satisfactory, excellent, excellent … A lot. And how many synonyms for the adjective ” gut ” in German do you use? If there are no more than fingers on one hand, then here’s your first task: replenish your vocabulary with synonyms. But in addition to synonyms, there is also slang, set expressions, idioms, dialect words and many, many beautiful things that make the language truly alive!
  • Try changing your method. It is possible that you have already grown out of your previous program, just got used to it, or maybe you are terribly tired of it (and interest is one of the most important success factors). As we have already advised above, try to break out of your comfort zone. If you are already taking classes with a teacher, try other forms of learning, such as group courses. Conversely, if you are attending group courses, take private lessons.

Also, look for tutorials and articles marked “for advanced” and take them.

  • Reward yourself, don’t scold! Believe me, the easiest way out of all situations is to give up and scold yourself. But self-flagellation does not lead to a result. Look back at the whole path you have traveled: you have overcome a lot, right? And all by yourself! Until some time ago, you could not even introduce yourself in German. Rejoice, praise yourself. Once you get to this point, nothing can stop you. Of course, do not allow yourself to be lazy, but do not try to scold yourself!
  • Speak up. Try to find someone to communicate in German. Install an app to communicate with native speakers or sign up for a conversation course. This can help you learn to communicate more naturally and use conversational structures.
  • Repeat what you have learned. It is impossible to unlearn how to ride a bike. But to forget the information memorized in a hurry is very possible. To transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory, it is often necessary to return to the learned material. Polyglots advise using the spaced repetition method for this.
  • Read more. Whether it’s classical literature or modern books. By reading you will unlock a new set of vocabulary that you have not previously seen or heard. If you are not a fan of classical literature and enjoy a more hands on approach, then check out this book pack I have to offer for you!
  • Check out my email newsletter! I share tips and tricks on learning German, as well as interesting facts and information about the language and culture. Sign up today and get started on your German language journey!

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