Problem of Intermediate Language Learning

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I’ve finished Pimsleur 1A and 1B of Farsi.  I can talk about basic things in Farsi.  When I ask for  sentences from Farsi and Dari speakers, I can break down the grammar OK to extract the new words.  I can work through a newspaper article with a dictionary.

Now begins what in my mind is the intermediate slog.  The excitement of new discovery does not characterise this phase.  I’ve gotten past a quick, “Hello!  How are you?” and bumble around with, “What are you working on?” and not understanding the answer.  My interlocutors feel uncomfortable, wondering whether to try to continue to speak in Farsi or avoid the pain of answering “What?” after every sentence (at least).  I find motivation hard to come by.

So now I have to commit to some patient friends–who are willing to talk to me.  They would rather speak English, usually.  That’s why I’ve had more success in other countries: more monolingual speakers.  When I learned Russian in Ukraine, folks didn’t know another language, so they had to explain and re-explain, or at least move to another topic, but still in Russian.

At this point, I memorize vocabulary.  I listen to podcasts where the victories of comprehension are rare (“Oh!  He just said ‘also’!”).  I recently found a good way to use podcasts that go way beyond my comprehension.  I listen along till I hear a word I can pronounce.  I try to write it, and then I look it up.  I might do 1-2 words a day.  I listen to the same podcast a number of times.  I recognize these words out of a stream of words, and it tastes like sweet victory.  It feels like a game of cryptogram, where you take a sentence of scrambled letters, and one-by-one replace the wrong letter with the right one.

What techniques or resources do you use in the intermediate phase?  How do you stay motivated during your “slog”? or maybe you love this part of the language-learning process?

10 thoughts on “Problem of Intermediate Language Learning

  1. Thanks for sharing this. You raise good points about intermediate learning. Our language award winning language game, KLOO, helps learners make sentences in French or Spanish in seconds. Take a look!


    1. That looks like a game after my own heart!

      In your opinion, after someone has “mastered” your game, how well can he or she speak the language? What would the person need to do for a next step towards becoming fluent?

      What I’ve found is tons of options for starting a language, and then a vast wasteland. Any ideas for the intermediate learner?


      1. Hi Richard I agree with you about intermediate. With KLOO it gets you from absolute beginner right up to early intermediate. Where it scores highly is it helps learners to treat words as building blocks to create sentences rather than teaching stock phrases by rote (How are you? / my name is / I am x years old etc). After several games of KLOO players will have a working vocab of several hundred words and be able to form tens of thousands of sentences. For middle intermediate and beyond I liked Michel Thomas because again he focuses on verbs and structure…so you have the engine room of the language under control – then add vocab to drill deeper into it into it.I also like reading foreign books on Kindle – the dynamic of having an electronic dictionary to hand really helps. BTW this is a great blog – I am a follower now and will tweet your posts.


      2. Thanks for the comment. I love how your program builds in interaction into the beginning stages of language-learning. I hope to apply your methods into future programs. Thanks for the comment and the follow!


  2. Take it easy! That’s the first thing. This is a normal phase and a normal way to feel. Pat yourself on the back when you do understand. Secondly, break it down a bit. Conquer the language one situation at a time and anticipate your vocabulary as much as you can. This is one of the reasons I like foreign language journals. Write a page or so about your colleague before you talk to him again.

    Ex: Reza works down the hall. He has a Ph.D. in Persian history. His specialty is the Sassanid era. Right now he is translating texts and working on a book.

    You get the point. Once you write out a page on him in Persian, go talk to him. Steer the conversation a little towards the vocabulary you’ve picked up already. This helps reinforce it. Once you can tell that you’ve “floated into the deep-end” and don’t understand enough to keep talking, politely end the conversation in Persian and leave.

    As you break the intermediate stage down into situations that you can prepare for, you will find that they eventually interrelate. I hope that helps!


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