The fallacy of the two big jumps in language learning

Years ago, I remember listening to a podcast, in which one of the hosts talked about some cpod user statistics. For those not familiar with Chinesepod, it is a Mandarin learning podcast with 6 levels, which (roughly) equate to the general A1,A2,B1,B2,C1,C2 standard frameworks.

In this particular podcast, the host mentioned that cpod users seemed to face “two big jumps” or hurdles.

The first jump was moving from A2 content to B1. The second jump was moving past a “B-something” level. That is, most users dropped out, or stopped, using cpod before accessing B1 level content. A further, significant number, dropped out somewhere around the B1-B2 level.

I was thinking about this in the context of this post here:

In which I made a personal observation that “canned” intermediate content is largely a waste of time for language learning. That is to say, it is better, imo, to mix “authentic” beginner content with native level content, with the aim to move exclusively to native level content as soon as possible. Steve has made this last point many times.

I was also prompted to think on this topic after finishing the book “Make it Stick: the science of learning” which was discussed in this post here: Do Read This Lingq Twitter Post "Ditch The 10,000 Hour Ru...

Even though this book isn’t, directly, about language learning, it reviews a lot of the recent science around the general topic of learning. One study, that stuck with me, is described in the book as follows:

”A group of 8 year olds practised tossing beanbags into buckets in gym class. Half of the kids tossed into a bucket three feet away. The other half mixed it up by tossing into buckets two feet and four feet away. After twelve weeks of this they were all tested on tossing into a three-foot bucket. The kids who did the best by far were those who’d practiced on two- and four- foot buckets but never on three-foot buckets.”

So what’s my point? Well, I’m not really sure, but I do think an awful lot of language “experts” waste an awful lot of time publishing canned A and B-level content, which learners would do well, perhaps, to avoid… there’s only one big jump, and that’s the jump to natural native content.


I full agree Iain. Here are two related videos that I made, that seem to touch on the same phenomenon: one on interleaved learning, and one on the importance of forgetting in learning.

I am impressed by the choice of the word ‘fallacy’. This is an interesting topic. I suppose that the concept of ‘general A1,A2,B1,B2,C1,C2 standard frameworks’ in itself is a kind of fallacy. Classifying difficulty into several categories or levels is not easy, and every language has its own standard learning curve if we presuppose the existence of such a quantitative curve.

I keep meaning to write some notes about “Make it Stick”.

Agree, studies related to sports (or music, or general learning) aren’t directly related to the specifics of language learning, and any analogy won’t be fully correct, and could be misleading.

The main things I took away, from the book, were the importance of varied and interleaved practice, and techniques such as elaboration. Also, that massed practice isn’t really an effective approach.