This last week I met with two different language learners who are at a more advanced level of the language they are learning. Most of the people I coach with tend to be just getting started and are at the beginner or intermediate levels. Meeting with these two gave me a new challenge to think about as a language coach: How do we continue to progress after we have enough of the language to really thrive?
At the beginning, we make fast improvements, our vocabulary grows quickly and our days are filled with success. Like anything in life though, it is easy to see improvements when starting from zero. It’s the other end where the real challenge lies. How many have tried to lose weight only to have the last five pounds be the most difficult to shed? Language learning too becomes more difficult as we progress. Why is this?
There are a couple of reasons why this happens. First, the areas we need to work on are fewer and identifying where we need to improve is more difficult. Second, and probably more detrimental to continued progress is the fact that we are able to do most of the things we want to do with the language. It’s not always perfect and we don’t get everything, but for all intents and purposes we can communicate pretty well. Our motivation to keep improving will wain as the urgency decreases. When people ask me about my Turkish, I usually respond that there is not much that I can’t do with my Turkish, but there’s not much I do really well either. I’d like to be better.
In today’s post I would like to offer a few ideas for advanced speakers who want to continue to progress in their proficiency with the language.
Stay in the Game
I asked my wife for her thoughts before beginning this post. She too is an advanced speaker of Turkish and she had this to say:
I think the biggest challenge for advanced speakers is to stay in the game. It’s the mental challenge of continuing to press in, of continuing to want to press in and improve. That’s the biggest challenge I face. My Turkish friends think my Turkish is fine. I can do most everything I need to do. But I know I want to keep improving.
Read For Fun
Another activity that I think will greatly help learners continue to improve in the language is to read for fun. Not textbooks. Not things you don’t enjoy. Find a good book that you really love and read it for fun. Enjoy the book. Don’t worry about looking up words a lot though if words or grammar structures do keep coming up and you aren’t understanding them, make a note to talk to a native speaker about them. Mostly though I want to encourage you to just get lost in reading and to read a lot.
Another activity that has helped me is to think about creating projects around the things I am excited about and diving into the language through them. For example, one thing I have been excited about for the last five or six years has been straw bale construction. Yup – building houses out of strawbales. I never imagined that Turks would be interested in this idea and had never looked, but today I went to Google translate and typed in “strawbale house”. I typed the Turkish “saman ev” into the Google search bar and found a lot of sites dedicated to Strawbale Homes! Wow. Now I have a project to dive into – articles to read, videos to watch, podcasts to listen to and a phone number or two to call and talk with real folks in Turkish about strawbale homes. I’ll write journals about the strawbale home I want to build and maybe write a letter or two to Turkish strawbale enthusiasts. Now I have a whole new arena through which I can approach Turkish and expand my vocabulary, my ability to use expressions and I’ll probably pick up a grammar nuance or two along the way. For projects make sure that they come from either a true passion or a felt need. Do not just chose a topic randomly.
Take a Grammar Cruise
As a teen, I cruised the strip on a regular basis. As a language learner, periodically taking a cruise through a simple grammar guide can be helpful. I don’t study it, but rather flip through it until I come to one of the grammar structures that I feel I have yet to master. I’ll read that section and maybe take some notes and write a few example sentences and then determine to spend a little time everyday working on mastering this grammar point. When I write about strawbale homes, I’ll try to work this in just to practice it. I’ll write journals and post them at Lang-8 and I’ll experiment a lot with it hoping that in doing so, I’ll be able to tease out exactly how it is used. I’ll be looking for it in my favorite book as I read. I will have created a sense of noticing.
Well, there are a few ideas to consider if you are an advanced speaker thinking about how to keep progressing in the language. I feel like my wife’s point is probably the most important – you have to stay in the game and make intentional choices to keep working at this life long journey of mastering another language.
Good luck and if you have any ideas that have worked for you, please feel free to share them in the comments section for everyone’s benefit.
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