Singin’ the intermediate blues?
Don’t worry, it’s a familiar tune to most language learners.
Once you’ve outgrown your beginner-level resources (congratulations—that’s an accomplishment!), it can be hard to find more advanced resources that suit your specific needs. While there’s a huge array of beginner materials readily available, great intermediate-level ones are harder to come by.
For one thing, not all intermediate-level courses, lessons or resources are explicitly labeled “intermediate.” Or, resources that are labeled as such might cover content you already know, because we all muddle through the stages of learning in our own unique ways.
But that doesn’t mean some great, intermediate-level resources aren’t out there!
There’s no road map for learning a language, no step-by-step complete course that will take you all the way from absolute beginner to seasoned fluent speaker. Still, by being creative and tailoring materials to your level, you can work through the intermediate plateau and progress faster than you ever thought possible!
Keep on reading to discover intermediate resources that can work for you!
Looking for Intermediate Language Lessons? Leap Toward Fluency with These 6 Resources!
1. Get Yourself to a Tutor
Tutors come in handy once you’ve reached the intermediate stage. Because you’ll be dealing with a person, rather than lessons or books, that tutor will understand what you personally need to work on and how to help you achieve your goals.
By hiring a well-trained, professional tutor (whose teaching style you like), you’ll be able to stretch yourself and get out of your comfort zone. A trained tutor can diagnose problems and help you move past them. It’s a very personalized learning experience, and you’re in control. Language tutors are especially great for learners who are focused on conversation and love talking.
How to Get the Most out of a Tutor
First of all, you’ll have to find a tutor in order to get the most out of one, right?
Decide whether you’ll be okay with online learning through Skype or a similar program, or if you strongly prefer real-life interaction.
If you’re learning a European language and would prefer a teacher who’s guaranteed to be an experienced professional, you may want to check out coLanguage. Their tutors are all pre-screened and their courses are based on the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), but you can still choose your own teacher, compare prices and often even take a trial class.
If you want to meet someone in real life, try searching for a tutor on nearby university campuses (international students often offer language lessons for affordable rates) or posting an ad on Craigslist.
WyzAnt is an incredible resource for locating stellar tutors near you. This site is professional and polished, and it features well-educated and well-qualified tutors in your local area. Follow this link to see who's available close to home!
Remember, though, that hiring a tutor isn’t a “one size fits all” sort of thing.
Everyone looks for different traits in a tutor (remember how you chafed against certain teachers in school?). To ensure a good working relationship, take a sample lesson or two from a tutor you want to try out (often, these are offered at reduced rates or are shorter in duration) and see if you two are a good match for each other.
Take into account personality and teaching style. Think about your weaknesses in your target language in detail before your meeting so that you can clearly communicate what you hope to achieve through your lessons. Mention if you only want conversation practice, or if you would like feedback on textbook work you’re doing. See what they say!
Once you’ve found that match, schedule regular lessons at a rate that’s sustainable for you. That could be once a week to once a month. Take plenty of notes during your lessons so that you remember that valuable feedback your tutor gives you, and study hard before the next lesson to retain that new information.
2. Commit to Online Lessons
Why Online Lessons?
Sometimes we crave structure. We want predetermined goals, and boy, do we love that high of accomplishment after achieving a finite task. If you can’t take a class in person, free online lessons are a wonderful resource.
You’ll probably find the most in-depth lessons through either iTunes U or Coursera. Both sites offer recorded university-level classes as well as courses made for online learning (known as massive open online courses, or MOOCs) and you can find many intermediate and advanced courses for major languages.
A great example of what you’re looking for is this intermediate Chinese course offered by Seton Hall University through iTunes U. And here’s an example of a conversational intermediate Spanish course by The Open University.
iTunes U and Coursera aren’t your only options, though.
Try BBC Languages for major languages and look around to see if they have material at your level. Bowdoin College offers Spanish grammar lessons that work great for intermediate learners seeking to tighten up weak points. Deutsche Welle offers intermediate German courses. Google is your friend, so poke around!
How to Get the Most out of Online Lessons
Consistency is key! Pretend that it’s a physical class and make it a priority, even if you didn’t pay cold, hard cash to attend.
Take notes, purchase the accompanying textbook if you’re working on a university course and study hard. The coolest thing about online lessons is that you can repeat class sessions if you didn’t understand something the first time. Take advantage of that!
Another tip: skip around to lessons you know you need to work on. Learning on your own means you can focus on whatever is most important to you.
If you’ve reached the intermediate level, you’ll know by now that you have seemingly random holes in your linguistic knowledge. After all, we don’t learn languages in a linear manner, even if we followed a strict beginner’s course. If you’re strong on verbs but weak on adjectives, skip to those lessons!
If you’re great at grammar in general, but the writing system is getting you down (ahem, Japanese and Chinese learners), then focus on that. If conversation’s your thing, skip to lessons that give you practical phrases for real-life situations.
3. Master Listening Comprehension with FluentU
FluentU is a great resource for intermediate learners who want to work on listening comprehension. Why? It uses native resources (commercials, music videos, movie trailers), but keeps you grounded with lessons and vocabulary pointers.
You can dip your toes into native material without feeling too overwhelmed! The word lists and built-in Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) help aid memory. Soon enough, you’ll be absorbing native movies and music without a care in the world.
While beginners can use FluentU as well, this is a particularly strong tool for intermediate learners, because you already know basic grammar and vocabulary. You can concentrate on slang and listening comprehension without being weighed down by simpler concepts.
How to Get the Most out of FluentU
If you’re trying to build up your listening comprehension, then exposure is key. You need to let your ears take in the sweet, sweet sounds of native media as often as possible. At a bare minimum, you should set aside time to work on listening every day (if you want to go above and beyond, by all means, listen to native music and radio all the time!).
As the Romans say, repetitio est mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of learning)! The short and sweet length of most FluentU videos lends them perfectly to repetition.
Listen to them over and over again to get the most out of them. Once you know the words by heart, it’s so much easier to understand the second time through. And this applies when you hear similar phrases in unrelated contexts!
Finally, take full advantage of the built-in SRS to ensure you never forget vocabulary. Since SRS is best when used consistently over long periods of time, that means you can’t slack off! But don’t worry, the benefit is priceless: effortless memory of the language!
4. Pick Up Some Graded Readers
Why Graded Readers?
Graded readers are books written or adapted specifically for a language learning audience, usually with glossaries or translations included alongside the text. They’re awesome for those learners who prefer reading over audio or conversational skills. Most are implicitly made for intermediate learners (it’s helpful to know the fundamentals of your target language to get the gist of the literary writing that these readers generally include), but many are explicitly labeled by proficiency level.
Readers are great for the literary learner, because they introduce more esoteric, uncommon vocabulary and artful grammar usage. It helps bridge the gap between lessons and reading literature!
How to Get the Most out of Your Graded Reader
When you’re first starting out with a reader, you’ll feel most confident if you read through the vocabulary section or simultaneous translation before reading the native text. Then, after you’ve read the native text straight through (no looking things up!), review the vocabulary or translation.
During your second reading, you can look up specific words as you come by them, but practicing reading and understanding through context is a valuable skill. Definitely mix and match intensive reading (looking things up) with skimming—don’t risk burn out by grinding away at looking up every single unfamiliar word!
If you choose to use SRS for what you’re learning, make sure you apply it to single vocabulary items rather than sentences. The sentences in a translation aren’t always literal, so avoid that potential confusion!
5. Try Out a Traditional Textbook
Easy to find and easy to use, of course! If you’re learning a major world language, chances are, there are plenty of textbooks out there for intermediate learners. Intermediate textbooks will probably focus on nuances of grammar, and that’s much easier to absorb after you’ve completed a beginner course.
For regular bookstore-level textbooks, check out the 501/201 Verbs series (Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese) or the Routledge Comprehensive and Essential Grammars (Spanish, Chinese, Japanese).
Both have tons of useful example sentences so you can get more comfortable with verb usage and conjugation. Whatever you decide to go with, example sentences are key at this stage, especially if you didn’t encounter many as a beginner. Many beginner-level resources focus on learning isolated words out of context—now it’s time to start putting those words to use.
If you’re looking for something different or more specific in terms of intermediate learning material, try searching for your target language on VitalSource. They offer e-textbooks for a variety of subjects that you can rent or buy, and they have a wide selection of foreign language books.
How to Get the Most out of Your Textbook
If your textbook has exercises, do them regularly. It stretches you and ensures that you use new concepts actively. You can use SRS for complicated grammar concepts, which helps to lay a good “subconscious” foundation through repeated exposure so that you can learn the actual rules much more easily at a later time.
Finally, keep up native exposure while you’re doing this. A lot of the more complicated language covered in intermediate textbooks is readily available through native media, like radio or TV. Even if you just have it on in the background, you’ll start to recognize some of the concepts you’re learning, and that will only solidify your knowledge even more!
6. Sign Up for Local Classroom Lessons
Why Local Classroom Lessons?
If you can afford it, taking a class from your local university/community college/language club will give you accountability and a built-in support group if you’re the kind of person who learns best with those structures in place.
You’ll have a teacher readily available to approach if you have questions and you’ll be surrounded by people with similar goals! Even if you stick to cheaper or free resources at the beginner level, formal classes can round out your intermediate education by giving you a teacher who can guide you through textbooks and conversational skills.
How to Get the Most out of Classes
Go to them! Seriously—you paid, so you should definitely attend.
Talk to your classmates in your target language. It doesn’t matter much that none of you are native speakers, because the conversational practice is great for getting your brain working and drawing on what you’ve learned passively so far.
Go to your teacher/professor’s office hours and ask questions or simply get in some conversation practice. Your teacher is likely either very experienced in the language or a native speaker, so don’t pass up the opportunity to practice talking with him or her!
As always, never forget to supplement with native media outside of class, whether it’s with reading or listening or both. Using native media outside of class expands your knowledge and helps you retain the classroom content you’ve learned. It’s much easier to remember new vocabulary and grammar when you keep coming into contact with it.
No more intermediate blues! There are so many ways to move to the advanced stage and then to fluency. Just because those beginners get all the shiny new programs out there doesn’t mean intermediates can’t have fun—and learn—too!
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