There are people who have tried to learn another language multiple times and yet failed every time!
What’s up here?
Is it a lack of talent? Discipline, maybe?
No, rather, it’s a lack of understanding and experience.
You see, learning a new language comes in stages. And these stages have so much to tell you: where you are, what to do next, if it’s time to drastically change your methods or not, etc.
But only if you understand them…
I hope to give you some of that understanding today.
There are three types of language-learning stages. And working with them is an excellent way to finally learn that new language or make your language learning more effective.
It’s important to realize beforehand, that all these stages are like a map but the not the territory. They’re great guides to improve your language learning but they are not necessarily exact reality.
So without further ado, let’s start exploring them right away.
Proficiency Levels – Where You Are
This is the most straightforward and the most understood stage type.
These can be as simple as:
- as complicated and elaborated as you like.
In other words: they aren’t fixed.
You can immensely increase the effectiveness of your language learning by adjusting the methods and techniques you use, to the stage you’re in.
If you use something like Pimsleur when you’re already in the advanced stage, you’re wasting your time. On the other hand, using only native materials to learn a language will probably bring you a lot of frustration when you’re just starting out. You’d retain very little of what you learn because you’d have to learn too much at once.
Psychological Phases – What You’re Experiencing
These are the emotional stages you go through while learning a new language. They are quite the threat — many people quit learning a language due to the emotional power of these experiences.
A decent sketch of them can be found on the Transparent Language blog.
It’s important to understand that these stages aren’t fixed either. The stages that appear in the article are a bit too linear (generally inevitable with articles about the psychological experiences of a language learner). The sequence and frequency with which they come can vary quite a bit.
Some of you may not experience some of the stages and others will have different psychological experiences than the ones listed.
The important thing to remember is, as the title of the article suggests, that language learning can be quite an emotional roller coaster. A manic experience, almost. A period in which you feel you progress immensely is quickly followed by one that makes you feel you’re going backwards.
On the surface, a lot of these stages seem to be negative. It’s only after overcoming them that you see the value of the experiences. When a negative stage returns, you’re not going to be so upset as you was the first time. And with time, they’ll lose their grip on you.
Stages of Change – Using the Laws of Change to Your Advantage
This is closely related to the psychological phases.
At first, the connection with language learning may not be clear but…
To start to learn something on your own, is to make a change within yourself. Tweet This
This change comes in stages and many people get stuck in one of them.
As with the proficiency levels, the methods and techniques to help keep you at it need to be adjusted to the stage of change you’re in.
According to the brilliant book Changing for Good there are five stages of change.
Stage 1 — Precontemplation
“I’d love to be able to speak another language, but it isn’t worth the work. I’m not willing to give up my leisure time in front of the TV.”
In this stage a person is unaware of the need to change. She generally finds that the cons of changing outweigh the pros. With more serious issues (alcoholism, smoking and drug addiction) people generally deny they have a problem.
Stage 2 — Contemplation
“I really need to learn that language. I work for an international company, it would really help me climb the ladder and get a better life.”
By increasing the perception of the pros and decreasing the cons, she is now aware that changing is necessary or desired. Her intention is to take action some time within the next 6 months.
She’s more aware of the pros of changing but it’s still 50-50% when it comes to the pros-cons balance. This complicates the passage to the third stage. In fact, some people never get out of this stage.
They need to reduce their perception of the cons and increase their perception of the pros in order to progress to the Preparation Stage.
Stage 3 — Preparation
“I will do my language-learning activities in my house but there are many distractions there. How will I deal with them when they come up?”
She’s now ready to start taking action within the next 30 days. The pros of changing outweigh the cons!
It’s now important to make an action plan and to take into consideration the likely obstacles that she will encounter in her way. Failing to do so and deluding herself that everything will succeed just by positive thinking, will stop her in her tracks when things get though.
Stage 4 – Action
“I’m now well prepared to really start learning the language. My action plan will tell me what to do in difficult situations.”
This is where it really starts. Here, she needs to strengthen her commitments to change and ward off self-sabotage attempts. As new obstacles arise that she didn’t take into account in the preparation stage she may need to tweak her plan slightly.
Stage 5 – Maintenance
“I’ve really made progress but I’m feeling the temptation to let it slip. Is it really necessary to study every day, anyway?”
Months after starting her action plan, it’s now time to maintain the changes.
Threats to slip up come from stress and tempting situations. Planning how to deal with them is a must. It’s also important to maintain the dominance of the perception of the pros of learning your target language.
A growing perception of the advantages (pros) of changing is required to progress through the stages. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the pros of learning a new language. The pros can also include the cons of not learning the language (sometimes more effective). Ideally we augment both.
The above model is called the Transtheoretical Model of Change, and the book in which it’s featured, Changing for Good, is a real eye opener. Hey, we’re heading for 2014 — now is the perfect time to read it and finally keep your new year’s resolution of learning another language.
Don’t Have Stage Fright
As you can see, language-learning stages come in different guises. An understanding of them, especially if you keep failing to learn a new language, is essential to effective language learning.
It’s not your memory, talent or any other excuse you can come up with. No, if you think you can never learn another language, you need to pay attention to the three types of language-learning stages. They hold the key to overcoming your hurdles and achieving your dream of speaking your target language well.