An Introduction to the Intermediate Stage of Language Learning

As an intermediate learner, there are certain challenges you’ll face.

Whether you’re an intermediate Spanish learner or an intermediate German learner, the road ahead probably looks quite similar…and sometimes quite daunting.

But it’s okay since you can totally wiggle your way out of the middle and on towards advanced study!

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.

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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.

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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 want an interactive online course to supplement or use as an alternative to a live teacher, the program FluentU is one option for language practice.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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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 italki 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.

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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.

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7. Think in your target language

Whenever you have a couple of 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!

And One More Thing...

If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.

With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:

FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.

Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.

You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You get a truly personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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