The sweet center of language progress isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the middle.
Some might even say it’s the best part of a s’more or a sandwich cookie.
But if you’re stuck at the center level of language proficiency, chances are you’re eager to get out of that messy middle once and for all.
Regardless of what language you’re studying, as an intermediate learner, there are certain challenges you’ll face.
But this means that once you’ve wised up to what intermediate language proficiency is like, what setbacks you’ll face and what you’ll need to do to get out of it, you can wiggle your way out of the middle and on towards advanced study.
But before we look at ways to do that, let’s see how you can identify whether you’re an intermediate learner in the first place.
What Is Intermediate Level Language Proficiency?
If you’re unsure of what proficiency level you’re at, the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines can help you determine it.
You can also get a good general idea of whether you’re at an intermediate level by considering some basic questions.
- Can you speak and write on familiar topics? For instance, if you were asked to write a paragraph on your favorite hobby in your target language, could you do it? If not, you might not be at an intermediate level yet. On the other hand, if you can speak on the spot about much more complex topics, you may already be advanced.
- Can you put together previous learning to create new meaning? If you rely on specific words and phrases you’ve memorized, you’re probably still a beginning learner. However, if you can put together words to create new meaning, you’ve probably reached the intermediate level.
- Can you put together sentences? If so (and if applicable to the language you’re learning), what verb tense do you use? Intermediate learners can put together basic sentences but usually use present tense verbs.
What Challenges Do Intermediate Language Learners Encounter?
If you’re at an intermediate level, you’ve probably already faced some of the challenges below. Don’t feel discouraged, however, as identifying these problems now will help you start to work on fixing them!
- Insufficient vocabulary. While intermediate language learners have a good amount of basic, generic vocabulary, they still lack more specialized terms, and this can make clear communication difficult.
- Inability to use language in native-level contexts. Intermediate language learners often struggle to apply book learning to real-life situations, so they struggle when they try to watch authentic media or interact with native speakers.
- Lingering grammar issues. Whether a grammar rule was learned incorrectly or simply not learned thoroughly enough, grammar questions or misinterpretations often crop up and hinder intermediate learners’ overall fluency.
- Difficulty expressing complex ideas. While intermediate learners can cover basic ideas, they struggle to express complex ideas. This is due in part to limited vocabulary and lingering grammar issues.
- Lack of confidence. Unlike beginners, many intermediate learners are advanced enough to be acutely aware of their own limitations, and this hampers their confidence. Intermediate learners have acquired some valuable skills, but they also know that there’s a lot they don’t know. Sadly, this can slow down the learning process by making learners more hesitant to use the skills they do have!
Now we’re going to look at how you can take the awesome intermediate skills you’ve already acquired and apply them to moving up to the advanced level.
7 Ways to Take a Bite Out of the Intermediate Language Level
1. Take lessons that target your specific weaknesses
Pursuing intermediate language lessons will address many of the main setbacks intermediate learners face.
There are a wide variety of courses available online or in person—the important thing is to make sure you find one that caters specifically to the intermediate level and specifically to your needs. Some may require you to complete an assessment first to ensure they’re an appropriate level for you. If a course doesn’t require this, you might want to ask to see the lesson plan or syllabus to ensure the topics that will be covered are right for you.
Otherwise, you might consider taking private lessons. Private lessons may be especially helpful at an intermediate level, as they allow you the flexibility to target material and topics you’re struggling with. There may be tutors available in your area, or you can find one though online services.
coLanguage is a great resource for finding a qualified, pre-screened private tutor to teach you online at the intermediate level. They use material and testing based on the CEFR levels, and you’ll get regular feedback pertaining to your progress. They currently offer lessons for 28 different languages.
If you’re interested in finding a tutor near you, Wyzant can help you locate the perfect qualified teacher close to home. You can browse all sorts of info on teacher profiles like hourly rates, how far they’re willing to drive to meet with you and even feedback left by students.
Personalized, targeted lessons can help build your vocabulary and fix lingering grammar issues. In turn, they can help improve your confidence. After all, knowing more vocabulary and perfecting your grammar are huge confidence boosters.
2. Use authentic media
Using authentic media is an ideal way to address an inability to understand language in native-level contexts. After all, you can work on understanding native speech without the intimidation factor of speaking to a native speaker.
The problem with using authentic media at the intermediate level is that additional support is often needed. If you’re already working with a language teacher, you may want to ask them to integrate more authentic material into your lessons.
If you prefer an interactive online course to a live teacher, or if you just want a streamlined resource for real-life language practice, FluentU is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. It provides a flexible course for intermediate learners and is based around authentic content.
FluentU uses authentic, real-world videos like movie trailers, music videos, news and more. However, you won’t be in over your head, since supportive learning materials are included. Each video is captioned and the captions are annotated, giving you easy access to a word’s definition, example sentences and an associated image. You can even click any word to see how it’s used in other videos.
FluentU offers two different levels of learning for intermediates, but it’s also highly flexible and customizable. You select your videos and your pace, and FluentU keeps track of all the words you know for a 100% personalized learning experience.
3. Speak often
One of the main reasons that intermediate students often lack confidence is that they simply don’t have enough practice. The more you speak, the more confident you’ll get. Not only that, you’ll also find holes in your vocabulary (which you’ll then be able to fill) and become increasingly comfortable communicating complex ideas.
To get your speaking time in, try speaking with friends who are also studying your target language. Better yet, interact with a native speaker you know, or find one through language exchange sites like Languing or HelloTalk.
Interacting with a native speaker will also improve your ability to understand authentic language, so it’s a win on all counts.
4. Teach others what you know
Teaching can help reinforce what you’ve learned, which will likely improve lingering grammar issues and help build your confidence. If you struggle with a particular conjugation or grammar rule, go over it, then try to explain it to someone else.
To do this, it might help to find someone who’s a little behind you in learning the language. This way, you won’t be in the position of having to explain something that’s too advanced for you. You could even offer your services as a tutor for beginning students.
LingQ is a language learning system and app that gives access to community forums where users can ask questions, giving you the opportunity to chime in with advice or insight on topics you’re already familiar with. Since LingQ also focuses on learning with authentic content found on the web, it’s also another great resource for expanding your understanding of a language as it’s used by natives.
5. Read a novel
Once you’re an intermediate student, you know enough words and grammar that you can likely understand a novel, even if you struggle at times. Persevering through any struggles to complete your novel of choice will help you build your vocabulary and your confidence.
You can find current books in almost any language on Amazon. The “Harry Potter” series is a particularly good choice since it’s available in many languages and won’t be too advanced for most intermediate students. Better still, you may already know the plot, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting lost.
Another good option is Project Gutenberg, which offers free online books that are in the public domain in a variety of different languages. Children’s books are a good choice for intermediate students because they aren’t too complicated. You might also try reading classic works in your target language to increase your understanding of both language and culture.
6. Jot down common and critical words
Whether you’re reading or listening to authentic media, you’ll probably encounter several words you don’t already know. That’s okay—it happens to most people even in their native language!
Most words you can guess the meaning of or deduce based on context. Others, however, require a little more focus. There are some words that you’ll want to jot down, look up and study.
Do you frequently encounter the same word that you’ve not yet learned? If so, that’s a good cue to jot down the word and look it up. Does the meaning of one particular word seem critical to the overall meaning of a sentence? That’s another good word to jot down. If you focus on the most frequently used and/or critical words, you’ll be learning some particularly valuable vocabulary, and that will tend to be the vocabulary that helps you move forward the fastest.
7. Think in your target language
Whenever you have a couple minutes to spare, try thinking about whatever you were already thinking about in your target language. When you realize you don’t have the words you need to think about what you want, learn those words. Doing this will improve your confidence, your vocabulary and your ability to communicate complex ideas. Plus, it takes virtually no time out of your schedule.
It’s time to get out of the middle.
With these tips and tricks, you can begin the climb towards advanced proficiency!
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