Happy New Year, everyone! If are new here or even if you have been here a while, you might be struggling with how to progress in your studies. Read on!
If you’re a language learner (or a teacher) then you’re probably aware of the dreaded ‘plateau’ that you hit, usually once you have reached B1+/B2- level. Hitting these plateaus is a common occurrence in skills development. Some experts believe that mastery comes in bursts and doesn’t happen in a steady linear progression over time, as we would like to think.
One of the major causes of ‘hitting the plateau’ seems to be routine and sticking to the same habits often results in failing to progress, despite investing a lot of time. Another reason might be that after a lot of deliberate practice (consciously trying to get better at something and working on one’s evident flaws), as we all would and did do in the early stages of our language development, we eventually reach a phase called the “autonomous stage,” when our subconscious decides that we’ve become as good as we need to get at the task and so begins to run on autopilot. During that autonomous stage, we lose conscious control over what we’re doing. That’s what some call the “OK plateau,” the point at which we decide we’re OK with how good we are at something, turn on autopilot, and stop improving. (You may not agree completely with this idea, but hear me out).
Some experts have found that the top achievers tend to follow the same general pattern, developing strategies for consciously keeping themselves out of the autonomous stage while they practice by doing three things:
We call this S.M.A.R.T Goal Setting. This is used in many industries. But what does it stand for?
What exactly in your language development do you want to achieve? The more specific you are, the more chance you will have of achieving your goal.
I hear many students say ‘I want to speak fluent English’ but how about breaking it down to a more specific goal such as ‘I want to focus on my speaking and be able to tick off the B2 ‘can do’ statements for spoken interaction (with confidence) by March’.
Questions you may ask yourself when setting goals and objectives are:
What exactly do I want to achieve? – as above
Where? – in my lessons but also in the evenings at home
How? – by focusing in class and revisiting each lesson in the evening with help
When? – One hour each evening
With whom? – host family / friends.
What are the conditions and limitations? – If I am working / going on a trip with friends, I will make that hour up during the week.
Why exactly do I want to reach this goal? What are possible alternative ways of achieving the same?
To communicate more fluently with clients in work. Alternative way would be to take private lessons to focus on this goal (one goal at a time).
You need to identify exactly what you will see when you reach your goal by breaking it down into measurable elements.
You will need concrete proof. ‘Improving’ in your language learning is not evidence but ‘making fewer errors when using the target language in spoken production (presentations, debates)’ is. Defining the manifestations of your goal or objective makes it clearer, and easier to reach.
Is your goal attainable? That means taking the time to consider whether the goal really is worth the effort. You need to weigh up all the factors (time, effort, cost) against your other personal/professional obligations and make a decision; if it is attainable, then you must commit to it 100%.
If you don’t have the time, money or commitment to reach your goal, you won’t succeed. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take something that seems impossible and make it happen by planning smartly and going for it!
There’s nothing wrong with reaching for the stars; if you aim to reach C1 from A2 by December 2019 and work hard towards achieving that goal, it wouldn’t be too bad if you reached B2-, would it?
Is reaching your goal relevant to you? Do you actually want to reach C1 level, or do you need to? Maybe you will find that reaching a B2+ level would suffice in finding the job you want. Start asking yourself these questions:
Why do you want to reach this goal?
What is the objective behind the goal?
Will this goal really achieve that?
Time is money! Everybody knows that deadlines make people switch to action mode. So you need to plan deadlines for yourself and commit to keeping them.
Keep the timeline realistic and flexible, that way you won’t become demoralized if you are not moving as quickly as you had hoped.
Remind yourself to Inform your teacher of your plan and to show your teacher an outline of what you hope to achieve. Remember being too hard on yourself can have a detrimental effect on your own morale and motivation.
So if you are new the Verbling site, I hope these tips helped you figure out how to focus yourself for the new year! If you have questions, don't hesitate to ask! Good luck!