At its best, language learning is like a really fun road trip.
And while you’re probably not thinking about it too hard, helpful road signs are there to guide you.
If you follow them, you’ll never miss your turn or exit.
But the one sign you never want to see along the road to language fluency is “Wrong Way.”
Or even worse, no signs at all.
That’s why it’s important to measure your language learning progress.
By taking a careful look at where you’ve been, you can double-check to make sure you’re still on the right road and avoiding dreaded detours. All while continuing to enjoy your journey, and maybe even singing along with the radio.
Here are a few simple ways to measure your language learning progress!
Why Measure Your Language Learning Progress?
One important reason to measure your language learning progress is to ensure your methods for learning are actually improving your skills. Sometimes, you might not be sure if all your studying or practicing has really paid off. Measuring your progress can clarify this.
Additionally, you may want to measure your language learning progress to motivate yourself by remembering how far you’ve come. While learning a language, progress can feel slow. Measuring your progress can show you that you’re actually learning much more quickly than you think, which is motivating and exciting.
Finally, measuring your language learning progress is a useful way to give yourself a more realistic idea of your skill set. Some people are naturally confident and will assume they’re practically fluent as soon as they learn to say “hello.” Others lack natural confidence and feel they’re beginners even if they’re nearly fluent. Since self-perception can be skewed, measuring your progress can improve your insight.
Are We There Yet? 9 Ways to Track Language Learning Progress
1. Maintain a list of words you know.
If you’re just starting to learn a language, try keeping a list of all the words you’ve learned. As soon as you’re confident you know a word and its meaning and will have no trouble remembering it, enter that word into your list. Maintaining a list of the words you know can be motivating by showing you at a glance how much you already know. Plus, you might even find yourself memorizing a few extra words just to watch your list grow.
FluentU makes this easy by allowing you to mark off any word you already know. It keeps track of those words for you and even changes up your learning material accordingly. It also makes it easy to create and maintain vocab lists (see #4 below) with handy built-in audio and flashcards. FluentU takes real-world videos—like cartoons, vlogs, news, movie trailers and music videos—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
2. Record yourself speaking your target language.
Record yourself at intervals throughout your learning process. You can use audio or video recording—whichever you’re most comfortable with.
These recording sessions shouldn’t be spaced too closely together, or the progress may seem insignificant, which it definitely is not. Aim for making a recording every 4-8 months.
You may choose to speak on the same topic if you want to see how your vocabulary has progressed, but discussing any topic will still help you see marked improvement in your pronunciation, confidence, grammar and rate of speech.
If you repeat this process for several years, your recordings will provide clear and remarkable evidence of your improvement. You may even look back and laugh at some of your early foibles.
3. Write (and read your writing).
Try to write often. Not only is this good practice, but it’s also an easy way to see your own improvement.
You can write on any topic you wish, but journal entries are particularly helpful since your own life provides you with endless material for daily writing.
One method is to leave your work uncorrected so that you can go back at a later date and see your mistakes.
However, you can also use Lang-8 or a language partner to correct your work. This will provide you with immediate feedback, but allow you to have a clear record of mistakes you’ve previously made. Just make sure to note the date on any of your writing so you’re able to keep track of it.
If you write an entry in a journal every day, you can easily flip between dates to see your progress. This makes it easy to compare your progress over any time period you choose to see if your vocabulary has improved, determine if you’ve finally nailed down that conjugation you struggled with or see how the depth of your content has gotten better as you’ve become more comfortable in your target language.
If you’ve had entries corrected, you can also go back through and see if each entry has had fewer and fewer corrections—if this doesn’t seem to be the case, you should also consider whether you’ve become more ambitious in your writing.
4. Make vocabulary lists, study them and return to them.
Vocabulary lists are one of the best tools for seeing your own progress.
Use one list to learn with at a time, and once you think you know all the words on your vocabulary list, put it aside for a few weeks. Then, go back to the list. See if you can come up with each word based on its English translation. Then, see if you can look at the word in your target language and translate it into English. If so, check that word off your list. Once you’ve done this with every word on the list, look to see how many words you’ve checked off. This will give you a clear idea of how much vocabulary you’ve learned.
Using themed lists is particularly helpful since all the words will be somewhat related so you can group them together in your mind. You can come up with your own vocabulary lists just through brainstorming, and this can actually add to the fun. For instance, you might do a list of vacation supplies like suitcases, passports, etc. You might also try seasonally themed lists to expand your vocabulary while putting yourself in a festive spirit, or even build a list around a story or a video.
Lists of between 20-50 words work well because they represent a notable improvement without being overly daunting.
Quizlet is always a useful tool for vocabulary lists. You can use user-created lists or create your own with words you hope to work on.
Another way to track vocabulary learning progress is by using flashcard apps. Apps like Fun Easy Learn (available for iOS and Android) maintain lists of vocabulary words you’ve learned. This is a quick and easy way to check your progress.
5. Try rereading something you previously struggled with.
Reading books is a valuable way to improve your skills or assess them, but reading any material in your target language is also useful.
Whether it’s a book, article, blog post or even recipe, if you’ve previously read material that you’ve struggled with, try reading it again whenever you want to check your learning. Every time you read a certain piece of writing that you find difficult, mark the passages you’re struggling with. With paper copies, you can dog ear pages, use a highlighter, etc. Thankfully, e-readers often provide similar features along with the ability to add your own notes, so don’t hesitate to explain to your future self why your past self is struggling. Over time, you’ll likely understand more and more of the text until you understand it completely.
Seeing how you understand more and more of something you once found daunting is motivating and will show you how far you’ve come.
6. Try rewatching a movie or TV show you previously couldn’t follow.
If you’ve ever tried to watch movies or TV in your target language, you probably found some movie or show you just couldn’t follow. Native speakers speak rapidly, and sometimes it’s hard to even figure out where one word ends and the next word starts. However, as you learn more and more of a language, movies and TV are easier and easier to follow.
As with reading material, whenever you’re watching a TV show or movie in your target language that you don’t completely understand, try to pause for a moment and jot down the time in the movie or TV show when you struggle the most. Then, you can return to these specific scenes at a later date to see if your skills have improved. Can you understand more than you did last time? If so, that’s real progress!
7. Imagine a scenario in detail.
Choose any scenario you want. It could be renting a car, having a friendly conversation or having a business meeting.
At regular intervals in your education (ideally every 4-8 months), try to imagine how that conversation would go. Go through what you would say and what someone might reply.
After you’ve gone through the scenario, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can you communicate at all in this scenario?
- Do you have to substitute in some words that aren’t ideal?
- Do you have the exact words you want?
Repeating the same scenario over time and considering these questions will help show you how your conversational skills have improved.
8. Refer to the ACTFL’s Can-Do Statements.
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) provides “Can-Do Statements,” which are performance indicators you can use to assess your skill level.
Since all you have to do is check which statements are true for you, it takes mere minutes to determine what level you may be at in various skill areas like “interpersonal communication,” “presentational speaking” and more.
Once you know your level, try reassessing your skills every six months. This will help you see what areas have progressed and what areas aren’t progressing as quickly as you might have hoped. But with any luck, you should see yourself bumping up a level quite often.
9. Try proficiency tests and other online assessments.
Aside from the assessment above, there are plenty more online skills assessments and proficiency tests out there. Sources like Language Trainers and Dialang can provide a snapshot of your skills. Since these tests are based on exam performance and not self-reflection, they’ll give you a more objective idea of your strengths and weaknesses.
Not only will skills assessments help you determine your present level of proficiency, you can also use them to track growth over time. To see your improvement, try repeating the same test or assessment every six months.
Online skills assessments can give you valuable insight into how much you’ve learned, but they might also provide future directions for your education.
Many language skills assessments take into account a wide variety of different skills, so over time you may see that some skills are progressing more quickly than others. You can use this information to determine which skills need more work.
Whatever you do, don’t take a detour and wind up with a “Wrong Way” sign staring you down.
Use these simple methods to measure your language learning progress and follow the road signs straight to fluency!
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