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1.2 The learning curve



In blog 1.2, we address an essential success factor: understanding and planning for the predictable ups and down en route to fluency in a foreign language. 


Given the 90% attrition rate in language learning in the Anglo-Saxon culture, this personal management competence is absolutely crucial for success.


To the untrained eye, learning curves may appear incoherent on a day to day basis. Yet, they display predictable phases both in the short and long term.


Visualising the generic curve delivers a level of predictability, control and comfort. Locating our position on a map provides reassurance and support when confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Without it, we are faced with an emotional roller coaster which may induce doubts, throw us off-balance and decrease sharply our efficiency.


Beginners simply need this knowledge to avoid putting an end to their experience in the face of perceived setbacks. Intermediates and advanced learners alike also gain greatly from bringing stalling and stagnating into perspective. They  may   realise   what is not happening and thus optimize effort at each stage.  


There are two key moments when we may wish to know where we stand on our learning path.


The first one is ‘today’, as we are attending a lesson, producing the effort and confronting current results or lack thereof. The second one is when we are checking our position on the long term curve, ascertaining, evaluating and planning for the long run. This knowledge is crucial when considering future training, scheduling activity and organising resources. 


In this blog, we’ll briefly describe the long term perspective and present one of the four phases of the short term cycle.


Long term perspective


Once you perceive the fast learning lanes and handle inner barriers and roadblocks, the resulting curve is divided into three distinct parts.


It starts with a slow accelerating growth until intermediate level. As a beginner, reaching proficiency implies major transformations in the mind. For example, our memory experiences a notable uplift. Without such growth in numerous key underpinning skills, it would merely be impossible to remember a whole new dictionary, let alone use its content comfortably and effortlessly when communicating. The aggregate development of each competence sets the scene for the fast growth which ensues.


Secondly, we enter an exponential phase growth. The various sub-skills discussed in The Language Talent become more effective with practice and the performance  rise s   sharply. This rewarding phase lasts until near native standard is reached.


Beyond this point, a different set of competences is called for. A much gentler but highly perceptible and sought after development occurs as performance raises towards the highest standards when compared with the best native speakers.


Each phase of this long term development requires a specific type of input.


 The short term development cycle


The long term curve is itself composed of much shorter term cycles. Each offers a four stage pattern. 


All require a particular type of management to ensure you do not become caught in its traps and waste precious time.


The second phase of this cycle – a fast development stage is particularly mesmerising and hence somewhat misleading. 


Fast growth burst: This state can occur at the end of a steady studying period or may be experienced sharply at the end of a break away from regular learning.


You were longing for tangible results; here they are. Listening and speaking become much easier as if a veil had been lifted. The associated feeling is one of delight and elation. Suddenly the breakthrough you were waiting for, is upon you. Speaking becomes easier; you start to flow. You understand so much more that the relationship with the language embarks on a new level. Somehow you feel you are there. This intoxicating phase is often perceived as the desired state and expected as the norm.


Elation:  Enjoy it whilst it lasts but do not fall for it. In the immediate gratification society we live in, we expect this exhilaration every day. When it does not occur we give up – especially when the phase ends as we crave for ‘more’ and cannot cope with the intermediary ‘less’. Also, as we experience such a positive state, we feel intoxicated, we believe we have gained control over the language and unfortunately we start to relax too early. Often this momentary victory coincides with an end to the learning journey. Ironically, many learners give up there – on a high note when redoubling efforts is required to handle the next phase and would actually be easier to carry out than previously. 


When you are there, enjoy it… but don’t get too caught up and watch out for the next phase.



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