What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

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sirgregory
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What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby sirgregory » Sun Jul 25, 2021 12:51 am

I see this term used but I'm not entirely sure how people interpret it. My sense is that there are two main plateaus.

The first would be the point at which you have gone about as far as you can with the usual language programs. You are shy of "basic fluency," and no number of additional courses can get you over the hump.

The second would be once you've reached basic fluency and can "get by" in the language. I think most people tend to progress pretty slowly at this point without deliberate study (tidying up their grammar, doing a lot of reading, etc.).
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Re: What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby smallwhite » Sun Jul 25, 2021 1:12 am

Looks contradictory!

> first... no number of additional courses can get you over the hump

> second ... progress pretty slowly [...] without deliberate study (tidying up their grammar

*

My experience is that basically, textbooks & grammars + an effective vocabulary-acquisition method => beginner and intermediate knowledge. So if you want fast then cram or study grammar and vocabulary, and if you choose slow then absorb grammar and vocabulary via exposure like reading. Then fast enough to be happy = no plateau, and not fast enough for your liking = plateau.
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Re: What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby luke » Sun Jul 25, 2021 2:18 am

sirgregory wrote:My sense is that there are two main plateaus.

The second would be once you've reached basic fluency and can "get by". I think most people tend to progress pretty slowly at this point without deliberate study (tidying up their grammar, doing a lot of reading, etc.).


smallwhite wrote:fast enough to be happy = no plateau, and not fast enough for your liking = plateau.

Maybe it's just a state of mind. Or maybe one needs to mend their ways.
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Re: What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby sirgregory » Sun Jul 25, 2021 2:59 am

smallwhite wrote:Looks contradictory!


The second case says "once you've reached basic fluency," so I don't see any contradiction.
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Re: What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby Sumisu » Sun Jul 25, 2021 4:19 am

sirgregory wrote:I see this term used but I'm not entirely sure how people interpret it. My sense is that there are two main plateaus.

The first would be the point at which you have gone about as far as you can with the usual language programs. You are shy of "basic fluency," and no number of additional courses can get you over the hump.

The second would be once you've reached basic fluency and can "get by" in the language. I think most people tend to progress pretty slowly at this point without deliberate study (tidying up their grammar, doing a lot of reading, etc.).


To me, the second plateau you describe sounds more like an advanced learner than an intermediate one.

I think under normal definitions you wouldn't describe an intermediate speaker as being able to "get by" in the language. Maybe in certain situations they could, but in just as many situations they would not be able to get by. For example, you can understand your professor, but you can't get a job as a customer service representative because your speaking skills are insufficient. By contrast, an advanced learner can "get by" in almost all situations, with the key word being "almost:" there might be some rarefied level they are trying to reach for some reason (e.g. job promotion; career change; friends, etc.).
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Re: What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby Lisa » Sun Jul 25, 2021 6:49 am

Sumisu wrote:I think under normal definitions you wouldn't describe an intermediate speaker as being able to "get by" in the language.


"Getting by" as I would understand the term, would mean you can speak but not very well, you might make mistakes but can understand and be understood: intermediate. Personally: I would be willing to say "I can get by in German"... since I can have a conversation and interact with people, and, well, get by; where I would not make a blanket statement that "I can speak German", since this implies more skills than I have.

My experience of the intermediate plateau - is when you lose the ability to see your day to day progress. I don't think it's really flat (unless you slack off). After the heady days of early learning and visible progress and the thrills of reading or understanding... comes a time where you can't see the progress. I know it's there, from time to time I'll notice hey, that's easier than it was. Still, it's harder to keep going when you can't see visible improvement.

To generalize... when I start learning something my expectations are low, so I feel thrilled when I can do anything. As I practice, my skills improve. My expectations of my own performance increase faster than my skills, though. So as a intermediate, I can do pretty well, but I'm expecting myself to be so much better, and thus I'm disappointed. If I don't give up, eventually my skills increase and get in line with my expectations.
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Re: What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby Iversen » Sun Jul 25, 2021 9:00 am

In the usual EU framework there would be two tiers for beginners (three if you include the pitiful rockbottom level as A0), two in the middle and two at the top - and there are descriptions of what you should be able to do at each level. In principle you can have separate levels for each skill (reading, writing, listening, speaking - and last, but not least thinking), but it is rarely used that way - at least not in the references I have seen here and elsewhere. But this separation is crucial because it is very unlikely that you became 'intermediary' at everything at the same time.

Besides there is an inbuilt assumption which may be true for some learners, but not for people like me who get most of their input from written, rather formal sources. The assumption is that that it is easier to deal with "familiar matters" than with socalled "complex subjects" - which I take to mean things like popular science and documentaries. For me reading Wikipedia or a newspaper is much easier than understanding casual smalltalk.

But to answer the general question: you are intermediate if you can perform, but not as effortlessly as you had hoped. And there may indeed be plateaus or barriers, but they may apply to one skill only. Like for instance when I couldn't understand spoken Dutch yet, but could read it without much ado - and even write simple sentences, which I then could read out - but I hadn't yet had a decent conversation in the language. My ability to understand spoken Dutch suddenly appeared after 5 hours of uninterrupted listening to videos on a museum site on the internet - the day before I couldn't, the day after I could. This kind of sudden breakthrough is called an epiphany experience - but you could also see it as a case of the 'ketchup effect'. You already have the required knowledge, acquired through years of exposure and study, but the thing just needs to be activated. Maybe it's a question of rewiring your brain circuitry, but then I would have expected that it took longer.

In other words: I never had a clear intermediate plateau for spoken Dutch (I went suddenly from can't do to can do), but I definitely had one for written Dutch - and it lasted quite a long time.
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Re: What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby Kraut » Sun Jul 25, 2021 1:55 pm

THE CURSE OF A B2 LEVEL AKA THE LANGUAGE LEARNING PLATEAU – WHAT IT IS AND HOW TO GET UNSTUCK

https://universeofmemory.com/curse-of-a-b2-level/
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Re: What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby tungemål » Sun Jul 25, 2021 3:07 pm

When one has reached basic fluency, one is at a B2 level. You can get by in all situations, talk on all subjects, and have probably read a couple of books. However your vocabulary is limited, and your way of expressing yourself is not sophisticated and has some grammar errors.

I think most people get stuck here because it is not necessary to improve to function in the language. You can after all live in a country with this level, you can talk to people and you can read books and newspapers. It takes some effort to improve - isn't the consensus that to go from B2 to C1 is twice as much effort as going from B1 to B2? So that requires a certain motivation.
Last edited by tungemål on Sun Jul 25, 2021 8:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What exactly do people mean by "intermediate plateau"?

Postby alaart » Sun Jul 25, 2021 3:51 pm

For me it is the point where the day by day vocabulary and grammar is mastered, but I am not engaging deeper. There is not a clear plan anymore, and it is hard to focus on a specific goal. I should read books, I should watch movies and so on (I even can, but it is just easier and faster in English), and I should talk with people about deeper topics, study rare grammar.. but at the end of the day I am not.

The "immediate benefit" - meaning you learn something and encounter or use it shortly after - is not there anymore. If you stay passive (like me), you will eventually encounter some of the advanced materials as snippets thrown into day-to-day material that is within your comfort zone, and you might slowly progress from there passively, but it will take much longer than a deliberate active approach.

If you are reading a lot about the same topic, or continue watching series about the same topic and so on, you will get engaged and you will gain advanced level in this particular topic. If you are interested in a lot of topics, then you can probably overcome the plateau pretty fast.

For others the "plateau" might look different, like expressed above - if you are a bookworm, maybe day to day speech interests you less. Anyway to fully master the language you have to engage with the language in all it's forms, and if you are not using a lot of these forms in your native language either, it is just out of your comfort zone and feels a bit difficult to overcome, maybe boring even..

So, yeah I can understand people in the plateau. It happens with other things too: You like playing chess for fun and win against your friends, but you don't take the step to become really good (well you don't need to). Or at some sport, you do it for the routine, for the exercise - but you are not trying to master it and suddenly improve your stance and start fine tuning certain movements. You like cooking and can cook well enough for your guests, but you have not moved into territory where you can create something that would have even impressed your grandmother. Mastery of anything in life is just difficult and requires a lot of focus. We often don't need mastery, expect in our professional carrier. So it's hard.
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