The intermediate plateau

I’m sad to say that, after three years of on-off German study, I’ve arrived at the plateau. The dreaded plateau. I haven’t spent much time here since 2010 (the final year of my Russian degree), but let me tell you that it is not good to be back.

How do you know when you’ve reached the plateau? I know because information suddenly stops going in: I feel as if I’ve learned all the grammar I’ll need to know (ha!), but it’s impossible for me to absorb any more vocabulary. Try as I might, the new words won’t stick in my brain, and I find myself using the same phrases ad nauseam. Bleurgh.

Thankfully my German teacher has recognized the signs. Sign one: I have stopped doing homework. Sign two: I aced my Goethe B1 practice tests, but can’t fathom how to approach the B2 exam. Sign three: I moan about it. All the time.

So what to do? I’m determined to persevere with German because I know that the plateau doesn’t last forever: I made it through my A-levels (French plateau), and managed to pass ТРКИIII (the C1 equivalent of the Russian state exams) before I left Moscow. And I started learning German because I wanted to speak it fluently, and hopefully well enough to work in a German-speaking country one day.

As luck would have it, the internet is full of ideas on how to get off the plateau. According to this article, at language-learning community Lingholic, I haven’t actually reached the mythical plateau: I’m just progressing at a slower, less tangible pace. I might not be retaining as many new words as I was in the early stages of my German journey, but I am still acquiring new vocabulary and I’m getting better at understanding the spoken and written language. Now I ought to concentrate on ‘deliberate practice’: focus on my technique, stay goal-oriented, and request constant feedback.

I also stumbled across an old #ELTchat on the intermediate plateau that happened to include the most flattering definition of this state I’ve seen: @MarisaC’s ‘working hard but not getting anywhere’. I do like to think that I work hard.

The #ELTchat discussion raised some interesting points about authenticity: accessing more authentic texts gives learners more challenge, and reading or doing something interdisciplinary renews enthusiasm for the language by making the topic more engaging. So from now on, I’m going to concentrate on my reading: finishing my first novel in German (and not worrying about understanding every word), and keeping up with the news via Deutsche Welle, rather than the BBC.

And hopefully in a few months you’ll see me coming round the next bend…


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