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  • Writer's pictureAlex

"My English isn't improving. What should I do?" (audio included)

If you feel like your English has hit a plateau, you're not alone. This is a phenomenon that happens to writers, musicians, artists, second language learners, and anyone who is trying to acquire a new skill. What should you do if this happens to you? I've got six suggestions.

1. Ask yourself "What have I already learned?"

The first thing you should do is realize that you have made progress. Think back to when you first started learning English. How many more phrases do you know now? How much more comfortable are you speaking, listening, reading, and writing the language now? How many English conversations have you had? How much more do you understand of TV shows, movies, and news articles than you did before? Taking a look back at your journey and your progress is something that might help you to feel more encouraged about your learning process.

2. Get an assessment

Find a language school in your area, or an experienced teacher or evaluator who can point out your weaknesses, so you can focus on them. You could also consider taking an official test like the IELTS, TOEFL, or one of the Cambridge exams, but those won't necessarily tell you the specific points you need to work on outside of "Oh, my speaking needs to improve," and they can be expensive. Getting specific details from someone who can tell you "You need to work on question construction with much and many, and speaking in the present perfect" is more useful.

3. Select level-appropriate materials to help you take the next step

Our brains grow when they experience tension. If you're not improving, it's possible you're using study materials that are too easy for your level. This is good for making you feel comfortable about your language ability, but it's not helping your long-term progress. Don't use materials that are far beyond your level either, but try to find something that is maybe 30-40% new and 60-70% familiar, so you're always learning new things and seeing new language without the road feeling too alien.

4. Be honest with yourself

Are you really doing all you can, or are you just frustrated because you can't learn a language in a month? Are you making time for your studies? Are you maybe being too hard on yourself? Are your goals realistic? Be honest about what you're actually doing to advance yourself, and realize that you might be doing too little or you might be being too self-critical. The key is to be direct with yourself about yourself.

5. Take a break

It's normal to feel discouraged and tired when you're trying to learn something new. If this happens, sometimes the best thing to do is to step away, recharge your batteries, and come back to it with a fresh mind and a fresh perspective. You can read motivational articles like this one, talk to others about your problems and frustrations, or just do something simple like go outside for a walk and put your mind on something else because our minds, like our bodies, need rest. Step away and come back when your energy and motivation are renewed.

6. Remember that it IS a process

Learning a language, like everything else in life, takes time. Don't believe promotional videos that tell you they can teach you English in 30 days, or that you can master all the tenses with one sixty-minute YouTube video. Can you improve and become more familiar with a language in 30 days or even 60 minutes? Absolutely. But internalizing knowledge and putting it into practice require commitment, and we need to accept that it is only regular exposure and practice that will help us get where we want to be.

Have I missed anything? What do you do when you feel discouraged during the learning process? Let me know in the comments, and I wish you continued success in your studies.

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