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Why Learners Plateau on their Spanish Learning Journey

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

You may find yourself wondering why you can't seem to advance in your Spanish fluency level, and wonder what you can do about it. Don't panic, as this is a very common issue that can be solved with the right approach and mindset.

Conversational-Only Spanish Lessons. Do They Help you Advance when you Plateau?

Interestingly, they can be an issue.

The problem with Spanish classes where students only talk in and listen Spanish is that, while they are very beneficial at the beginners level, students who already know the basics and need more push forward are at risk of staying in their comfort zone and overuse the language they already know to communicate. In many instances my students are surprised at what they still don't know, because they are used to not being corrected in class, since they've been taught it is "good enough" and "what's important is that you are more or less understood".

This attitude of not pushing students forward makes it difficult for students to correct their deeply ingrained mistakes, and also hinders future progress. Students may think they are understood, but the message across is different than the one they intend to communicate.

At Arriba Spanish, we are very aware of this problem, and we pay attention to, on one hand, teaching structures and vocabulary adequate to each student's level, to push students forward in their learning, and on the other hand, correcting their mistakes when they make them. At more advanced levels, it is important for Spanish teachers to be vigilant of each student's issues, and offer means to correct them, so that plateauing doesn't occur.

What You Can Do if You are Plateauing

If you see yourself stuck in your fluency level, there are things you can do to move forward.

First, the most important this is already done. You realized you are not moving forward! As always, the first step towards change is to realize that there is a need for it.

Next, my advice would be to pay close attention to the details, and to hit the books. Now, not in a traditional way hit the books -memorizing grammar and vocabulary-, but in a targeted way. This means to be curious and attentive to when your teacher says something you don't understand. By understanding I mean not just more or less in context, but in detail. To move forward you need to pay attention to the details. Take notes of what you don't understand, and ask questions. During my lessons I give first explanations of the specific grammar structure or present the vocabulary we will be using in our conversational activities, but always ask if you have doubts. We teachers like it when you ask questions!

Then, practice, practice, practice. Nobody likes homework, specially of the grammar type, but it's necessary to keep advancing. I always assign homework after class, and point them to where they can find extra practice. I understand the enormous benefit it brings to my students. Homework lets them know their strengths and weaknesses.

Last, try to use the new language you learn as much as possible. During my Spanish class, we do targeted practice of the new language in meaningful conversation that implicitly target that new language. For example, if we learn about a past tense in grammar, we prepare an activity to talk about what we did during our last vacation, or something that is going to prompt students to talk about past events. When you are not in class, listen to podcast that deal with people talking about past events. Be as proactive as possible.

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