Have you ever felt like the effort you put does not equal the return you get out? Does it feel like sometimes you are spinning your wheels without seeing rewards? It may be you are approaching or have reached a plateau.
Training plateaus are a natural part of human development. They also happen everywhere in nature.
The process is when you introduce a new form of stimuli into a system that system responds until it reaches equilibrium. But to avoid heading down a science path too quickly let’s look at an example that you may be familiar with.
A Plateau You May Have Experienced
Starting a new fitness regime is a perfect example that you may have personal experience with. Have you ever had a time in your life where you decided you needed to get fit so you started a training program?
The starting of a training program often goes something like this:
- You start out full of excitement and energy
- You do a few sessions and pull up really sore
- You almost quit but decide to keep going
- You then start to finish each session feeling great
- Not long after you start to notice some big gains in strength, speed, longevity etc.
- Then at some point those gains start to slow
- You then realize that you haven’t improved for a while and it starts to get hard to improve the way you did at the start
This is the point where you reach a plateau – where additional energy and effort return limited and diminishing gains.
The human body is a machine built on this principle. You introduce a new stimuli and it adapts to the change accordingly. Once it is satisfied it will stop adapting and you have to introduce new stimuli if you want to see further improvement.
How Does This Apply To Language Learning?
Let’s have a look at how this applies to language learning.
I know early in my Spanish journey I spent a lot of time learning words and grammar via websites such as studyspanish.com which has a great resource for Spanish grammar and practice exercises.
After a while my improvement started to slow down. So I then started listening to podcasts – news, conversations, sport etc – this introduced a new stimulus.
I had gotten used to practicing with grammar exercises I had reached a point where I was starting to see diminishing returns with that type of practice. So if I wanted to see big improvements, I needed a new challenge. When I introduced the new stimuli (eg podcasts) I forced my brain to adjust to a new challenge and asked it to adapt accordingly.
Then once I had spent a lot of time listening to podcasts I changed the stimuli again and started to go to formal classes.
Again formal classes were a new environment and a new challenge. I was forced to interact with a teacher and classmates. This meant I again had an opportunity to adapt quickly to a new challenge.
After classes started to have diminishing returns I then started move to practicing with Spanish natives. I made two trips to Spain in two years and spent time practicing with people over Skype.
Where To Next?
Take stock of where you are. How can you change your routine? Is there any way you can introduce a new training stimuli to your circumstances. Maybe you have spent a lot of time reading and could now do with listening practice.
Maybe you have spent a lot of time working on grammar and could do with some vocabulary building. Maybe you have spent a lot of time speaking and need some writing practice.
If you want to get to a conversational level of Spanish you need to switch the stimuli effort to move towards that outcome.
If you are short on words think about how you can change the stimuli to improve your access to words. If you are short on conversational skills think about the ways to you can improve your ability to ask questions, give opinions and reflect on what they are saying.
What To Focus On
To get good at anything you need to do the reps. But sometimes the smartest way to get improvements is not by simply doing more reps but by changing the type of reps
Look for different language learning opportunities and try something you haven’t done before. This is one of the best ways to boost your Spanish to the next level and consistently keep improving.
Plateaus are natural they are part of the equilibrium of life. Everything in natures moves in rapid adaptation followed by plateau as a response to stimuli. They can always be shifted if you are prepared to change the routine.
What can you do about training plateaus?