Published 20th May 2016

THE INTERMEDIATE PLATEAU

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Learning English is a long and bumpy road, most students will agree. It is not always easy to advance, no matter how much work you put into it. Even if you may feel like you are progressing at some point, at other times it will feel like you are stagnating and that dreamt-of Advanced status can seem impossibly elusive.

This is never more of a problem than at the Intermediate level. While when students are initially learning a language they will progress in leaps and bounds, after about 200 hours of language instruction they will reach the Intermediate level when they are able to communicate at a basic level but more advanced structures are frustratingly just beyond their competence.

This is when they will find that their effort and dedication is not reflected in their progress. They will notice that while their comprehension seems to be improving, their production is not progressing at the same rate – in other words, there is a gap between receptive and productive competence.

Because they enjoy a certain degree of fluency, they will compromise the complexity of the language they use in order to maintain that fluency – they will speak well but at a more simple level. This will spill over into vocabulary use and they will stick to using structures they are more familiar with and comfortable with using.

By this stage in their learning, certain errors will have become fossilised and will remain in their language production, regardless of the fact that they know they are errors and no matter how much time is dedicated to them. The result of this is that they will not sound like natural English-speakers.

If you are teaching a class of Intermediate learners, remember that they may be at a stage in their learning where they are frustrated and lacking in motivation. Don’t get frustrated when they seem to be making “easy” mistakes, and give them lots of praise for their efforts. Unfortunately, it will take time and exposure for them to break through the Intermediate barrier to a higher level – and it’s up to you to get them there!