Plateau Effect — Why Don’t I See Progress? How To Learn Russian?

«I’m constantly learning the language and get zero result» — I often get messages like that from my students who learn Russian as a foreign language. Such impasse demotivates students very much. If you face similar challenges while learning Russian, perhaps, you’ve reached the phase of PLATEAU.

What is that mysterious plateau?

This term is often used when discussing sports or losing weight. In short it’s the law of diminishing returns. As to learning languages it often happens at the transitional level. You already passed the «beginner» level, but haven’t reached «upper intermediate» yet. Probably you still work hard, but there’s no progress. You find yourself at a point when you learn everything diligently and built on a certain vocabulary, but still don’t understand anything or cannot communicate with confidence.

What is really going on? The feeling of being «stuck» is explained by diminishing return in the language learning process. At early stages the progress is pretty obvious, but when your knowledge is deepening, it’s more difficult to notice the progress.

Let’s take Russian for example. 100 most frequently used words cover 50% of everyday language. I think you will agree that to learn 100 words is not that difficult. The first 1000 words is 89%. 2500 words is about 90%. And each next thousand of words covers less and less of conversational language. At the beginning of learning we first study words that are in frequent use, then gradually move to rare words. As a result our progress doesn’t seem so evident. The same tendency is true for the aspects of Grammar, Listening, Phonetics.

At the very beginning of learning from zero the curve of progress will be very steep. Most people expect their progress to be linear constantly. In reality any development of skills lead to diminishing maximal return. Of course it’s not helping a student’s motivation. It’s also proven by statistics that I keep among my subscribers who begin to learn Russian. There are much more students who just begin learning than those who continue and improve their skills. If you look for additional motivation, it’s here.

Illusion of Plateau

The feeling of absence of tangible progress after a certain point is rooted in the system of traditional education. While studying grammar rules, sentence structure etc, we feel like we learn a lot, and we get an impression that from now on we’re going to understand much more. So why doesn’t it happen? Language skills can be devided into two categories:

— output

— input

Input — information that we get from books, dictionaries, podcasts, films. This information is not fixed in the mind yet. Output — information that we share. It implies communication with real people, monologues, telling stories in writing or in speech. The impasse appears exactly when the balance between input and output is disturbed. Most often imbalance is in favour of input. Students thoroughly study grammar, new words, read adapted books, try to watch videos with native speakers as often as they can, but they don’t generate the thoughts in Russian of their own. And 95% of what they got will be quickly forgotten, because it’s not in use. Human brain and memory work in such a way that we would not be overloaded.

There’s another extreme: after learning 1000 words and several conversational phrases, one can be captured by the illusion of that you already know the language. You know how to express basic needs, and there’s no need to waste time for learning new things. The language becomes dull, there’s no development. That’s a dangerous comfort zone.

How to overcome the plateau and start speaking fluently?

1) Goal

Recent research has shown that people, who put down their goals and share them with a friend, sending weekly reports, are by 33% in average more successful in reaching the goal than people who just formulated the objective. Precise definition of the goal comprises 90% of success, even if you take into consideration methodological or theoretical mistakes.

Remind yourself as often as possible about the motives — why do you learn Russian? And track your progress. It’s a simple but very important first step. You can use my 10 Day Checklist for learning Russian

2) Diagnosis

Be honest with yourself and identify the point where you are at the current moment. If you cannot do it on your own, find an experienced teacher, who will help to specify your weak spots and make a plan of development.

3) Keep balance

Distortion in favor of both input or output leads to slowdown of the language development. 50% of the time should be devoted to learning something new (new words, grammar, reading, watching films), and the rest of your time should be spent on sharing this new information with others.

4) Shift the focus from learning to understanding

Try to learn Russian in context, without grammatical explanations or translation. This way you can escape a fake sense of progress, that we get, when reading textbooks or attending classes. It’s better to lower your expectations and come up with a completely different method of assessment of progress.

5) Awareness

Concentrate on what you say automatically. Make your speech more conscious, become more qualified in self-correction. Perhaps at first while implementing the new approach, you will become less fluent, but with gaining quality, you will get your fluency back.

6) Change the tactics

Practice language immersion as much as possible. Watch and listen to media for the natives, make friends from Russia and other Russian- speaking countries like Ukraine or Belorussia, find activities that you will gladly do using the Russian language. In most cases stop figuring out why different phrases are pronounced this or that way. Very often even native speakers cannot explain that!

7) Set interesting and difficult tasks for yourself

Practice more difficult grammar topics. It’s easy to get satisfied with yourself, if you use only simple grammar constructions. Don’t fall into this trap! Apply in practice long sentences and use new conjugation.

8) Vocabulary

Set the goals of enriching your vocabulary. Decide, how many words you want to learn every day, where you would get new words from and how you would memorize them.

9) Test yourself by reading material a bit above your level

This will open for you new word stock and grammar. Watch TV and films without subtitles to imitate the “genuine” experience of watching.

10) Communicate with native speakers

Get in contact at forums or write in your own blog in Russian.

11) Learning a language is a marathon

You need time and consistency to get fluent. Sometimes you may feel that you’re too tired. When it happens, try to reduce the learning process to only 5 minutes a day. If you need a break, learn effortless. Listen to music or watch films in Russian.

These are 11 simple and effective tips. Use them and share this article with friends, get progress and learn Russian together!

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