Traction in the learning process

From time to time, I will put up some ideas here, on subjects that I am thinking about, and which might become subjects of my videos or my blog.

It seems to me that in any learning, or self-improvement activity, we need to have the impression that we are making progress. If we are working out, but do not feel any improvement in our physical condition we are discouraged. But if we notice our shape improving, or our physical condition getting better, we are encouraged to do more. I call this traction. We feel that we are not just spinning our wheels, but are actually getting somewhere.

In language learning it is easy to feel that we are just treading water. When do you feel that you have some traction, that you have achieved something? How does this encourage you? Please feel free to reply in any language.


The most memorable instance of this ‘traction’ occurred to me in Swedish. I had been listening to episodes of “Who is she” for a while and knew the content well but was very frustrated by the audio. What I heard just didn’t correspond to my understanding of the text. One day while I was driving I suddenly and clearly heard every single word of what before was “justsoundsofasentencewithoutmakinganysensewhatsoever”.

And then there is dreaming in the other language, dreaming ‘fluently’. That’s just wonderful!

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Yeah that’s awesome to dream something in that language and then you wake up and realize it makes perfect sense and the grammar is even correct. That’s traction!

“The grip of a tyre on a road or a wheel on a rail”
“S-curve of learning”
“Aha moment of language learning”

Can the meaning of the word “traction” be conjectured in these contexts?

My mind can grip the flow of words written or spoken in English, but I feel that I am still on the relatively steep part of the S-curve of learning. I can say that I enjoy a sense of “traction”, but I had better not drive on the snowy or icy slopes of the learning curve.

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I am quite sure it can. Once you realise you are moving forward and that you have been making progress, that’s the traction moment Steve’s talking about, I think.

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I agree with you. I think we need “success” in learning in order to remain motivated, This was true in my music studies and remains true in language learning.

My first real sense of success was when the language no longer felt strange, and I could really get a sense of when words began and ended. During my 90-day challenge, I had a huge sense of improvement and it pushed me forward.

I have a question on this subject, however. And I would like everybody’s thoughts.

Japanese is my first L2, so compared to a lot of you, my experience is minimal. But I have found that language learning seems to be a consistently “downhill” affair. i.e. it just gets easier and easier. The hardest, and least fun part, seems to be on Day 1.

Of course there are challenges, and we always focus on what we aren’t able to do versus what we can do, but at the same time, I know that I understand more Japanaese today than I did yesterday. I know I can access more interesting content today than one month ago. And therefore the process seems to get easier and more appealing.

With this in mind, at what point do most people seem to “give up” or stop on the road to their language learning? Is it simply a case of approach?

For me personally, I started off with “Who is she?” at LingQ, and then went straight to the podcasts. Of course I had to fight through it, but I wanted to know what they were saying so it was worth it, haha.

Anyway, those are my thoughts from the perspective of a very new language learner.

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You are a great learner. To go from Who is She or similar beginner material to interesting content is how I like to learn.

The victories at the early stage are more obvious as we move from no knowledge to actually understanding something. However, the path to our final goal, to understanding most situations, to saying what we want to say, albeit with mistakes, that takes a long time.

At times we feel we are not progressing. That is why the occasional feelings of “traction” , of achievement, are important to stir us to greater efforts. That is why we need to tell ourselves, to remind ourselves, that we are doing well.

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The other day I had a dream in Portuguese, as if I was speaking fluently. Oddly, though I have watched movies in Portuguese, I have never studied the language! It made me wonder if our subconscious could truly remember dialogue from movies that in waking hours we wouldn’t think we knew. Maybe the dream just means that my mind thinks it is time to take up Portuguese.

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The stats here are great at reminding me that I am learning new words and phrases. It doesn’t always feel like I’m making progress. But I can’t deny it when I look over the statistics the system is keeping for me.


I agree.

I believe the learning process should be, or at least feel, easy – with the knowledge that it takes a lot of time, of course.

Speaking might be hard, understanding radio shows might be hard, so we needn’t make the learning process hard as well. If we just focus on what we enjoy, the feeling of success and improvement in language learning will almost become a byproduct as we follow our interests.

That’s been my experience so far in my meagre six months of japanese study. Long way to go!

That’ s what I believe. As long as the stats are going up, I KNOW I am moving forward. It is not because I believe that the stats measure what I really know but because they tell me about my consistency in interacting with the language.


I find the beginning to be the most exciting stage when everything is new and interesting but also sticks pretty well because it’s the easy stuff. Later on, when one reaches the so called ‘intermediate plateau’, that’s when it’s hard to notice real progress. One day every single podcast sounds clear and easy to understand and then the other it’s as if you couldn’t grasp anything. It all depends on what listening or reading material I stumble across and that’s natural but such an experience can be really disheartening and demotivating if not understood properly.

Muitas vezes me senti desencorajado a continuar estudando, mas o meu desejo era muito maior que qualquer outra coisa, mesmo nĂŁo notando nenhum progresso , continuava a estudar simplesmente por pura persistĂȘncia. Acredito que a persistĂȘncia Ă© algo que faz a diferença no aprendizado de um idioma, no trabalho e na vida.

Sem dĂșvida, mas vocĂȘ tambĂ©m precisa da vitĂłria ocasional, sensação de realização para incentivĂĄ-lo.

Todo esto me suena a español. Me pregunto que tiempo me tomaria aprender ha hablar portugues!?

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Pour mesurer ses progrÚs, il faut un étalon, une référence,

Au fur et a mesure de mon apprentissage, je capte de plus en plus de mots dans les discours d’Obama, donc ou il parle de mieux en mieux, ou je m’amĂ©liore


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I think it is very important to have some kind of sense of moving forward. In LingQ, I enjoy watching my known words go up, because it gives me this sense. I do wish I progressed through levels faster, though. Going from Intermediate 2 to Advanced 1 in German is just taking me forever, and it is discouraging. I wish there could be more levels. When I started studying German, I also had a few moments where I suddenly realized I was able to understand a lot more than I could in the past, but those moments have not happened for a long time. I’m not really sure how to measure progress.

I don’t know if it is correlated to the topic but it remembers me of when I used to do raja yoga. After some months of practice I obtained valuable benefits in concentration, memory, capability to focus more, a mind less “messy” and more detached to superflous thoughts, more willpower and so on. But progress comes so slowly that you forget where you were when you started and you end up thinking those gains were always been there. After I stopped to practice all those benefits went away so I realized those were thanks to meditation. And then I understood why it is suggested to keep a diary where you note down your actual status. So when, after two months you check your diary you will see the progress.

Maybe one could do something similar with language learning? Especially to write down what you don’t understand at the moment
 And check it from time to time
 I don’t know, it’s just an idea :stuck_out_tongue:

For me, I know I have made progress when I am speaking more fluently with a language exchange partner, or with my granddaughter that doesn’t speak English. Last weekend she and I were snorkeling together, away from her mother, so I had to rely on my French. Traction !
With an exchange partner, when we are laughing together, not about mistakes, but about the content of what we are saying, that is traction ! When I understand current events in the news on radio, in French, that is traction !

Nachdem ich drei oder vier Monaten Deutsch in Wien gelernt hatte, hatte ich das GefĂŒhl, dass ich nie die Sprache verstehen werde. Ich hatte Stunden pro Tag verbracht, um Deutsch zu lernen, aber wenn ich die echte Sprache hörte, konnte ich fast kein Wort verstehen. Ich hatte kein Traction. Ich weiß jetzt, dass ich nichts falsch gemacht hatte. Ich hatte einfach zu viel erwartet (vielleicht weil ich Bennys Artikeln gelesen hatte und erwartete, dass ich alles innerhalb von 3 Monaten lernen konnte) und konnte nicht verstehen, warum ich so langsam Fortschritte gemacht hatte. Nach drei oder vier Monaten fing ich an, die Sprache zu verstehen, und alles ist langsam leichter geworden. UngefĂ€hr fĂŒnf Monaten spĂ€ter war mein Hörverstandnis so gut, dass ich Podcasts und Hörbucher verstehen konnte. WĂ€hrend dieser Zeit hatte ich das GefĂŒhl, dass ich wirklich wichtige Fortschritte machte.

Es ist mir wichtig, dass ich die Sprache gut verstehe, und ohne verstehen zu können, wĂŒrde ich nicht glauben, dass ich Fortschritte mache. Ich habe jetzt dasselbe Problem mit Russisch. Ich weiß, dass ich lerne, aber es sieht nicht so aus. Ich werde einfach weitermachen, bis ich Podcasts und Hörbucher verstehen kann, oder TV Sendungen genießen kann.

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