Moving Beyond the Middle:
How to get out of the intermediate desert
I’m going to avoid the cliché “language learning is a journey” trope. Yes, it’s true, but it’s so tired and doesn’t say anything new. We’re often so hung up on the (still very important and impactful) messages from overtly positive portrayals of “language learning journeys” we see on blogs and social media, that we start to forget about the very real, messy, and frustrating work that is learning a language.
Much like a new relationship, or the feel-good music you have blasting at the start of a long-awaited road-trip, at first things seem amazing. But what happens after the learning curve starts to level off, and you start to run up against large swaths of thwarted progress, persistent mistakes you can’t seem to leave behind, grammar struggles, and always being behind keeping your vocabulary growing at a healthy clip? What about when you’re looking for a good learning resource and you start to feel like Goldilocks? Intermediate books are either too easy, too hard, or across the board have material that you already covered elsewhere.
You’re in the Intermediate Desert.
I debuted this talk at LangFest Montréal in August 2018, after working with a language app that’s geared towards intermediate learners. I had spent much of the preceding two years thinking and writing about the situation and challenges of language education’s largest yet most underserved demographic of learners — a learning group at the highest risk for attenuation, or even quitting.
As an educator, polyglot advocate, language technologist and lifelong language lover, it hurts to think of all the people who have quit learning a language just because they were fed the myth that language learning progress is linear, and that one must attend a class or be immersed to truly learn.
If you’re an intermediate language learner who needs some motivation and a reality check, or even a beginner or advanced learner who wants some inspiration and validation, then I made this talk for you.