Tips for the plateau

I’ve hit the plateau. I had heard enough about it and yep, it’s real. I know that the solution is to keep on keeping on, which is what I’m doing.

I am curious how others handle the plateau and what tips they might offer from their experience.

PS. I am not interested in personal advice.

hey there! I have definitely been stuck on a plateau for German for a while, so I feel you there. For me, I’ve noticed that when I really drill down on watching long form shows or movies in the target language (i.e. at least an hour episode every day along with my Lingq work) that many words will just start to stick for me for some reason - I think it’s the combination of listening, having subtitles, and having actions that go alongside the dialogue are really helpful. Of course a lot of the time it’s not words that I want to know the most - it’s really pretty random for me. I am definitely frustrated, though, when I am not able to track my progress as well as when I started learning, but of course that is how it goes.

@alexb – I regularly watch movies with French subtitles and English audio. It’s not a concentrated way to learn, but it’s free time with the language and some words and phrases do sink in better.

It’s also useful because my thinking goes from English to French, as it would when I am speaking French. Most of my French experience is listening/reading French and translating to English.

I’m not going with French audio yet, because I still can’t hear full-speed conversational French and worse yet the subtitles often don’t correspond to the audio, making it even harder.

I think that, as soon as we get over the beginning stages of learning a language, the rest of the learning curve feels like a plateau (very slow progress). I think that we just have to buckle up, keep reading on LingQ, keep listening, keep talking. I don’t think that the learning curve will suddenly speed up again, but I don’t know ; I am still in the process of self-learning my first foreign language as an adult.

This is also why one can sometimes feel tempted to start a new language, to get that satisfaction of going from zero understanding to being able to read newspaper articles some months later. Progress beyond the newspaper article stage feels much slower and doesn’t have the same satisfaction of “Wow! I am so much better than two months ago!”


@jt23 I’m not quite sure the difference between wanting tips, but not wanting personal advice. You just want general tips?

In any case, I’d say there are two scenarios here:

  1. Plateauing at the intermediate level (that is, static, zero progress)
  2. The perception of plateauing at the intermediate level

Here on LingQ, there’s an easy way to check, which it is for us - look at your stats. Is the graph of your known words actually flat? Very likely it’s not, which really points to the second point - the perception of plateauing.

Honestly, with LingQ, if you keep selecting material, which has New Words, and are spending more than 30 minutes per day studying (ideally an hour or more), it’s very hard to plateau at the intermediate level. The progress may feel like its not as fast as at the beginner stage, but it’s not plateauing. This perception of plateauing is actually one of the reasons why LingQ has statistics. It gives you the motivation to keep going, when you feel like you aren’t progressing, because when you look at your statistics, you see you actually are. If you look back to where you where several months ago, you will see an improvement. It’s just hard to see on a day-to-day basis.

Outside of LingQ, and especially at the upper levels, there’s definitely plateauing. This is because people become too complacent and stay in their comfort zone (such as foreign workers only using the L2 in their limited work environment and nowhere else). To continue to improve, you really have to seek out challenging situations. Generally this involves reading, but it can also be found in other ways too. Furthermore, as you increase in your ability with the language, you really have to invest more time. Towards the upper levels, you need plenty of time, because you really need to encounter those low-frequency words, which only occur once in a book.


@nefera I want to know what others say about a general issue based on their own experiences.

I don’t want a lot of “you this” and “you that” comments tailored to what some might imagine is my situation or concerns.

I don’t know what “the plateau” is, but, even if you’re not learning new words, surely that doesn’t prove you’re not progressing?

For me, progress includes becoming more comfortable expressing myself, becoming more able to understand more people and more accents, and having phrases become more familiar (& hopefully eventually enter my active vocabulary).


How do you deal with such situations that it’s not an issue for me, but I know it’s a common issue for others? For instance, I know many people think they are going through an intermediate plateau, because they don’t feel like they are progressing, but in fact they are (their LingQ stats show it). I personally don’t have this issue, but I know it’s very common.

Not really my personal experience, but I think that on LingQ, it’s pretty hard to be in an intermediate plateau though. The reason is that the intermediate plateau only exists, when people getting too comfortable and don’t study new, challenging material. It is kind of built into LingQ to choose content with New Words, so in many cases, this ends up avoiding such a situation. There are humps between the transition of didactical content and various levels of native content, but there are not really plateaus. As long as you keep increasing the difficulty of the content and seeking out challenging situations, there’s no plateau. This last sentence is from my experience.

Not from my experience, as I haven’t ever reached a very high level in an L2, but at the advanced levels, I imagine it’s much easier to plateau. My thoughts are that the same rule applies: actively seek out challenging situations and out-of-your-comfort-zone content to study. One thing that differs from the intermediate plateau (which I’ve seen people have, but they weren’t using LingQ) is that at the advanced levels, you really have to increase the time investment. This is not from personal experience, but rather personal experience extrapolated.


I agree with nfera. I think it’s a perception for most people on LingQ.

Long winded version:
If your known word count is going up, you are not plateauing. In fact, for me, in general, my word count goes up waaaaay faster than the beginning levels. As nfera points out, if you keep on working on material with new words, or with a decent number of yellow words, then you really shouldn’t plateau in the intermediate level.

It certain does FEEL like a plateau. However, this is, in my opinion, is because, despite the higher known word count, you still often are encountering words and constructs (grammmar) that you may not truly understand yet. Also, your listening may not be keeping up as well. I think many of us using LingQ may stick to reading too much, or due to the nature of being able to easily read on LingQ anywhere, those skills may be disproportionate to listening activities. I know this is the case for me. I’ll read in line at the store, in the bathroom, while feeding the cats, in bed, etc. Listening I am doing a lot more than I used to…trying to fit in a half hour or more every day that I wasn’t before. This helps a lot, but I’m also now trying to get back to doing R+L as much as possible. It was something I had intuitively done in the beginning levels to learn the sounds and match to the words, but it was something I put to the side from about the 4000-24,000 known word stage. My thinking was that, I know how the words sound, or should sound, so I don’t really need to look at both at the same time. noxialisrex and PeterBormann put that R+L bug back in my mind. I think, despite knowing how the words, in most cases should sound…it is still way better to hear how the native pronunciation is, and especially with dialogues, be able to see what they are really trying to say as it is often shortened, abbreviated, or “blended” with the surrounding words. So one needs to keep their ear tuned and visually see. Plus it pushes the speed. If just reading you’ll tend to read slowly which isn’t helpful at all to trying to understand someone at full speed.

This intermediate stage is a LOOOOOOOOONNNNGGGG one. That’s also why it feels like a plateau. You need to learn a lot of words…and also, when it comes to listening, I was thinking…despite knowing way more words, one still may not understand a speaker. a) even if you don’t know just one word, you may lose the meaning of the sentence b) speaker may be hard to understand due to their speech (need more listening to natives practice) c) because we know many more words…but not quickly enough, I think that actually throws us off even more…because now more words we recognize, more words that we attempt to process in our heads. This ultimately freezes us. In some ways, I almost feel like I could understand people better when I didn’t know as many words. That’s truly, not the case of course, but if you can’t understand what’s being said, you can’t understand. Whether you know 5% of the words spoken or 80-90% or more.

Now, if your known word count is not going up. You need to change what you’re doing. In the intermediate stage, this shouldn’t really happen. You either need to be finding content that has new words to learn. Or your techniques are off. I’d be surprised if someone doing reading is not bumping up their known word count at a decent pace.


Hmm…I thought the plateau in language learning was a common term of art, at least in LingQ circles. Apparently not.

I’ve listened to most of Steve Kaufmann’s videos. He talks about the plateau and how it can be discouraging but as long as one keeps at it, spending time and learning new words, one is still making progress.

This morning I remembered a book I read long ago, “Mastery,” by George Leonard, which dealt with the plateau.

Leonard was an editor of “Look” magazine, now defunct. He wrote an article on the Human Potential Movement, and became enthusiastic proponent of the movement. Later he became an Aikido black belt and an instructor.

The book’s fourth chapter is titled, “Loving the Plateau.” While learning Aikido, he noticed he frequently hit short plateaus, then came through them. After a year-and-a-half, he hit a serious plateau, which took a while to work through and resume outward progress.

I said to myself, “Oh damn. Another plateau.” After a few more months there was another spurt of progress, and then, of course, the inevitable plateau. This time something marvelous happened.

I found myself, thinking, “Oh boy. Another plateau. Good. I can just stay on it and keep practicing. Sooner or later, there’ll be another spurt.” It was one of the warmest moments on my journey.

–George Leonard, “Mastery” pp. 40-41

I had forgotten how good this book is.

Love the plateau!

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Provided you don’t reduce your activity levels, I actually don’t think there is a plateau. I think it’s just perception.

It’s more like there are two stages: One where improvement feels rapid because we’re starting from zero, and another where it takes longer to perceive the same level of improvement, although it is there.

The content we begin to consume at this new level is so wide and varied that it’s just a much longer road than the road we were on during the first stage. but it’s technically the same road. When we get to this “new” road, or really the new stretch of the road, it can feel like a plateau simply for the fact that it’s a longer one.


@hellion: I believe that’s understood here.

For me hitting the plateau felt even worse, like I was losing ground.

In a psychological sense I was. I was comparing what I knew with what I didn’t know. In the first months I didn’t realize how much more French there was to l know.

When my French got past the beginning phase, I suddenly saw the vastness of all the vocabulary I had to learn, idioms, verb conjugations, grammar, listening comprehension and speaking still ahead, I was daunted.

It was hard for me to believe adults learn French. But of course, they do and I can too. So I know the plateau is not impassable.

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Well, I told my subconscious mind to consider German language as my mother tongue. This way I do not consider learning it as a chore rather treat it as an integral part of me as a German native would have considered it. I have not read or listened to anything either in my native language Urdu or (English as foreign language.) for the past 3 years and 4 months . This way every free moment goes to either listening or reading in the language. Just like I did for my native language.

You should approach learning French that way. Simply organize your whole existence around it.


Oh there are definitely times you’ll feel this way for sure…but, again, if you are doing the right things, you’ll see in your stats, on a weekly basis you are gaining ground (or you should be unless you are taking the week off). That’s one reason why I think Lingq is great. You can see, while it may seem you aren’t making progress and may feel like you’re moving backwards, your known word count should be going up fairly steadily (unless you are super strict…then you may need to just simply be motivated by words read, hours listened and know that because you are increasing these, you are incrementally getting better).

The intermediate stage is so long, we feel as though we should be able to speak and understand everything. It sometimes feels you’re just on the cusp of a HUGE breakthrough. Nope, it doesn’t really work like that. It really is pretty gradual. I think the times we feel rather good just happen to be when we come across something that is very recognizable and understandable, but then we could easily come across something that feels incomprehensible the next day. Just have to take the ups and downs.

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@ericb100, @asad100101 :

Really I am not looking for personal advice, help nor comments on what I am doing. Please stop.

Address the group, not me.


Really I am not looking for personal advice, help nor comments on what I am doing. Please stop

.That is not my personal advice. That’s how I overcame my plateau. Increased my intensity and surrounded myself more with a variety of content. Since I am living in Germany . I get instant feedback when I notice that Native Germans keep increasing their level of Input. (The same people who were speaking German at N+2 level, now they are speaking at N+10Level). Their delivery of speech has now increased and the variety of vacabulary they are using is more advanced.

At the end, quantity and intensity matter. How do you achieve it? Simply surrounding yourself
with more language. If you can overcome your plateau with 30 minutes a day, do that and see if it works.

I have come across a comment by an American on Quora who thought German language was the most difficult language (it took him 36 years to attain C1 level in it without landing in Germany).
Sure, German is a challenging language but it is not that challenging . I am sure he was spending 30 minutes a day with a lot of free gaps in between with no language learning.

Maybe if you think you have hit the plateau please check if your langauge studies on a daily basis are “intense” enough.

Ps: I am not giving you advice I am just saying that “intensity” helped me overcome my plateau.


It’s going to be hard to discipline people around. Some of them are just used to express themselves using you-statements, which mean just “one”, or “somebody”. Unless people aren’t throwing shit at personal pronoun, I think it’s better to parse what is valuable and leave the rest as it is. They don’t have real access to actually “fix” personal pronoun against personal pronoun’s will, so why bother? :slight_smile: To put personal experience into words isn’t easy sometimes, let alone checking on an occasional imperative.


i dont think a plateau exists. your constantly learning and getting better if you’re putting in the effort its just not so obvious as it was in the beggingin. Enjoy the process and find stuff that interests you. You’d be surprised if you keep trucking along two years from now you’ll be like omg i cant believe how much better i am.

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Sure, tell us about you plateau experiences … but leave me out of it. No statements addressed to me or your advice to me.

In other words, no “You” statements. I am not the subject here. I do not wish to be discussed.