Advanced Language Learners: How to Keep Making Progress (and Notice It)

If you’re a Spanish speaker or learner, you may well follow my Blog en Español series. If you do, or even if you don’t but you’ve read this blog before, you probably know that I’m currently in the final throws of formal university study for Spanish. Phew. It’s been a long old journey. And you know what makes it harder?

The better you get at a language,
the harder it becomes to notice progress.

That sucks! I’m sure we’ve all felt this, right? The plateau of language learning. “Argh! I still feel like I have such a long way to go but am I ever going to get any better at this?!”. I feel your pain. It’s all because you’re unable to see the progress you make. I’ve been experimenting a little with ways to do just that. So today, I want to share some ways to keep making progress as an advanced language learner.

Record yourself regularly

record yourself regularly advanced language learners how to keep making progress and notice it
Stepping away from whatever it is you’re using to study and recording yourself speaking the language may sound super obvious, but it becomes harder to do, I find, because you think that you’re doing alright so why the heck-a-roo would you need to speak to yourself? Put a reminder in your phone each week or each month and record yourself speaking directly into your phone. No-one has to know. Shh! Ignore it for a while but then check back on it a few months down the line and you might just be pleasantly surprised by how much you’ve improved in a short space of time. When I’ve learnt languages as part of the italki Language Challenge, I’ve taken to recording ‘before’ and ‘after’ (and sometimes during!) videos to document my progress. Watching the early ones back for each language are cringey, but a nice reminder of how much I’ve improved.

Set regular writing challenges

different language scripts writing systems alphabets lindsay does languages blog
I feel like I’m cheating here. It’s basically the same tip but for writing. It’s often a forgotten skill, and granted, not always necessary for everyone. However, we’re talking about advanced learning here and if you’re at this level, you should really be rounding out every skill in my opinion. This is why I started Blog en Español, to practise my writing in Spanish and to share my progress with you. It was scary at first. I mean, I teach Spanish and use this blog to promote that fact! What if there’s mistakes?! But hey, even though I am at a level where I can teach Spanish comfortably, I’m still learning, and I always will be, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Which leads nicely to my next point.

Accept the boom period is over

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Woah. Ok. This is probably a controversial one but there comes a time in language learning when you have to accept that the boom period is over. When you start learning a new language, especially if you’re a bit of a regular at it, the progress will come quickly and you’ll make leaps and bounds very soon, which is awesome. However, that will flatten out. You won’t plateau completely, and if you’re still actively learning then you definitely won’t, but just take comfort in the fact that the boom period is over and it’s ok to begin to make progress at a steadier rate. Don’t be so harsh on yourself.

Keep learning vocab

portuguese live commentary vocabulary  2
I’ll be totally honest with you. I get to a point learning a language when I stop learning new vocabulary. I know, I know! Terrible! But I’ve turned that around recently. With this Spanish course, I’ve actively kept learning new vocabulary and created my own Memrise course for new words I come across in the course. The thing is there will always be new words to learn in any language. Well, except for maybe Toki Pona. So you can always make progress. Hooray!

Revisit your favourite things

ponyo world cinema club foreign film japanese studio ghibli lindsay does languages blog
Having something that you’ve loved for a long time, as in since the early hazy days of learning the language in question, is a great way to check in periodically. As cliché as it may be, I do love a good Almódovar film, especially La Mala Educación. I wrote about the film for my Spanish A level and so it’s something I can watch every now and then, enjoy, and hopefully notice something new each time. I also wrote about Poeta en Nueva York by Lorca for A level, but everytime I open that book it lands on the ‘rio de oro’ page and I get Fairytale of New York stuck in my head. Plus it has 17 year old me scribbles of meaning and pretentious poetic interpretations so that’s not a great option. My other go to is Shakira. It’s always been something I’ve enjoyed listening to, but every now and then when I listen I’ll pick up something new, which is crazy but a great way to realise that I’m still making progress. Fistbump. Yeah!

Have you reached an advanced level in a language you’re learning? How do you keep making progress as an advanced language learner? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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About Lindsay Williams

Why hello there!
I’m Lindsay and I do Languages. I blog, vlog and teach all things language. I blog about languages right here at Lindsay Does Languages, and about travel over at Mundo Trundle. If you’re looking for language learning inspiration then stay a while. You might find just what you’re looking for. :)

  • I’ve hit a plateau with my Japanese since finishing my university classes. I’ve ordered a video camera so I can take vlogs when I travel and have practice speaking videos. I think keeping a recording of blogs and vlogs is a good way to see progress as well as accountability. Having things that you enjoy like movies, music or books is something you can work through, translate maybe even. I think something important is to make friends with native speakers! That way you can practice together or even just purely communicate, depends on circumstances. 🙂

    • That’s so cool you’ve ordered a video camera! Since documenting my language progress on the blog and YouTube, I’ve progressed much more than I would have done. You’re totally right, the accountability is so important. Great idea about making friends! 🙂

  • These are really great tips! I definitely need to record myself speaking more, but I always find some reason not to do it (usually, I’ll do it later because I don’t have time right now). But I don’t have time later, either!

    • Ahh, but you did in Russian! I saw it on Instagram and was blown away! 1 week?! That’s amazing! 😀

      • After reading your post, of course. 😉 I think Croatian gives me a huge advantage. There are quite a few similarities and more often than not, it’s a matter of modifying my pronunciation over learning an entirely new word (although there’s quite a bit of that, too).

        • That’s cool. Makes sense! I need to get into Russian soon…. 🙂

  • These are good tips. I feel like I have hit a point with Japanese where I sometimes don’t feel like I’m learning anything new anymore. I’m glad German hasn’t gotten to that level yet. I’ve been using Memrise and I make flashcards.

    • It’s tricky isn’t it? On the one hand you feel great because you’ve reached that level but on the other it can still feel like you don’t understand things from time to time and you then feel guilty because you’re not learning anything new so surely you should understand those things…vicious cycle! I hope these tips help with your Japanese! 🙂 Good luck with your German!

  • oriella

    I find that reading books and watching movies in English improves my knowledge a bit every time – even if I had already read/watched it! Oriella from Italy

    • Great! Same for me with other languages too! 🙂

  • Adilson Suzuki do Amaral

    Lindsay, I felt stuck for a long time when I was studying English in São Paulo – Brazil. It seemed that even taking a proficiency course, as I was doing, was not enough. I needed more. So I decided to travel to London, spend some time and study there. The best decision I’ve ever made. Since my stay in UK (only 4 months) I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my English skills. Of course, I have so much to learn yet. But anyway, I’d add one more item to your good tips: consider travelling to and staying in for some time in the country you’re learning its language. Immersion is crucial, in my opinion, to cross that final barrier.
    P.S. Are you studying Portuguese? I say this because the picture you posted above (in the section “keep learning vocab”). 😉

    • Thanks for sharing! That’s a really great tip. I didn’t include it because it’s not always possible for everyone at the time they want to improve but if you can do it then it’s definitely a great idea to boost your skills. 😉

      I learnt some Portuguese last summer with the italki Language Challenge and documented it all here: 😀

      • Adilson Suzuki do Amaral

        Thanks for answering! I’ll watch the Portuguese videos you made and I promise I’ll let you know my opinion on them. E, quando você quiser praticar português ou quando tiver alguma dúvida, por favor, entre em contato. Você pode me achar facilmente no Facebook ou no Tweeter. También hablo español. Anche italiano. I’ve studied Latin and Japanese as well. So, feel free to contact me. See you.

        • Cool, thank you! All the best with your language learning! 😉

  • Andrea

    Try to be in new situations, with new people. Even when you move abroad to improve a language, you make huge progress at the beginning, after a while, though, it slows down. It is because you create your own vocabulary package you use for your routine, e.g. you know specific vocabulary related to your work, shopping lists, items on the menu and usual conversations you have in the pub with your local friends. But when you start doing yoga, meet someone interested in physics or watch a film on ancient Egypt, you realise you are short of loooooads of vocabs. So new activities are good not just to broaden your horizons but also for language learning 🙂

    • This is so true! I couldn’t agree more 🙂

  • dandiprat

    The only way to really notice a difference is either to record yourself or to go back to something you did so long ago you can’t even remember and see how you do. If it is simple then you can really see you’ve made a lot of progress. I had this experience going back to intermediate textbooks I’d worked on in college about five years later and found them to be completely effortless even in chapters I had never read or listened to before. The only time I really consider myself to have mastered a level is when I can listen to the texts at that level and understand everything the first time, which is not to say that a higher level wouldn’t be useful to study, too.

    • Agreed! 🙂 It’s so satisfying as well to understand everything first time!

  • Nina

    I made a plan that I will import somewhere the articles in English, because I read them regularly, and then learn vocabulary. I also listen to the songs in English, mostly American, for all of my life, and I think it’s helpful. 😀 I can also study from the lyrics of the songs which have deeper meanings, even if the performers are not from an English speaking country. I just think that my only concern should be the vocabulary.
    I also watch movies from time to time and currently I am taking online courses in English, and like to watch and listen to talks in English. There are a lot of things which surround me in that language (even now I’m practicing the writing here 😀 ), so I concluded from all of that, and the feedback from native English speaker (who told me that my pronunciation is perfect) that I should stick to learning vocabulary.

    • Sounds like you’re doing some great things to keep making progress, Nina! 😀

      • Nina

        Yees! I’ve noticed just now, when I got “the word of the day’ email, that I could review relevant words by Anki. 😀

  • Just pocketed this for language linkfest at the end of the month. Some GREAT tips there, Lindsay! I particularly agree with “keep learning vocabulary”. It can be a misconception to think that becoming an advanced language learner means becoming less of a “learner”.

    • Thanks, Kerstin! Yeah, I’m totally guilty of doing it myself so observed it and changed my habits. 😉