When we want to learn a new language, it can be overwhelming. There’s so much to learn in grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary.
So to make it simpler and easier to manage, we choose a textbook, (Or our teacher chooses it for us.) We complete that textbook, and then go to the next in the series.
But then we can get ‘stuck’ – especially at intermediate or even advanced level. Here are some ways you can get ‘unstuck’ with English so that you continue making progress.
Why you get stuck at intermediate level
Two common reasons why you stop making progress are these:
1. You reach a natural plateau
You’ve probably heard about this concept. Basically, when you first start learning English, everything is new. That means progress is easy to see. But at higher levels, you’re learning less new grammar, so it seems that your progress is slower – or has even stopped.
However, if you’re learning correctly, you’re consolidating what you know (= making it stronger) as well as learning new vocabulary and phrases. You should find that you can do things in English with greater speed and more confidence and accuracy.
2. You stop at the exercises
You do all the exercises in the textbook, but don’t apply them to the rest of your English. You do an exercise on English tenses, for example, and then think, “OK, I’ve done that – I’ll move on to the next”. You aren’t giving yourself enough time to really practise or use the new grammar point or vocabulary.
How to get ‘unstuck’ with your English
The way you make real progress with English is by applying what you learn. Here are some simple ideas:
1. It’s OK to memorise a new word or grammar point – but you have to use it to remember it. (Write it in your own example sentence.)
2. It’s fine to drill a sound in a pronunciation exercise, but you have to focus on it the next time you speak, so it becomes part of your muscle memory.
These ideas work because they’re supported by research. Research shows us that:
– We learn by doing, then making a mistake, then trying again
– Knowing something so you can use it actively means seeing it and hearing it in more than one context
– Combining new things with things you already know helps you to consolidate all this knowledge
– Reviewing new information regularly helps you remember
Practical ways to get unstuck and improve your English level
Don’t just do more and more grammar exercises, or more and more pronunciation drills. Instead, think of ways you can focus on one thing at a time so that you deepen your knowledge of that grammar point, or English sound. For example:
1. Read a short news report in English. Can you see the grammar point / new word or phrase? How is it used? Could you use it in similar ways?
2. Search for it. A good way to search for a new word is to write the word + definition, or word + collocation into the Google search bar. What search results do you get?
3. Choose two sentences from a news report / book, etc. Read them out, focussing on one pronunciation aspect. For example, you could focus on correctly pronouncing a ‘h’ or ‘th’ sound, or you could focus on linking between words.
4. Imagine a conversation using a particular phrase. How would that phrase be used?
5. Listen to a minute of spoken English. (Try news reports again.) Do you hear any grammar / vocabulary that you have studied recently?
When you do any of the things above, you’ll connect what you study with the English you use in your everyday life. Your learning will become more efficient and more effective because you’re finding ways to integrate and connect it.
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