The Curse of a b2 Level AKA the Language Learning Plateau – What It Is and How to Get Unstuck

The curse of a B2 level might sound like a title of an F-rated horror movie but it’s a very real thing. In fact, it affects most language learners,

What is the curse of a b2 level (aka the language learning plateau)?

The language learning plateau is a phenomenon describing one’s inability to progress past the intermediate stages of language learning (i.e. a B1/B2 level). Typically, the main reasons are using inefficient learning strategies, or not using any learning system at all.

 

Let’s break down step-by-step why a B2 level is a final station for most language learners and what you can do to fix go beyond this mark. Time to break that curse.

 

What’s a B2 level is all about

 

What? You thought I would skip a dry, boring and theoretical part? No way! That’s where all the fun is!

Let’s take a look at requirements which one would have to meet in order to be classified at a B2 level. They are a part of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

 

Description of a B2 level (B2 INTERMEDIATE)

At this level, you can:

  • understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization.
  • interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

 

Brief explanation: this level can be depicted as a FULL conversational fluency. You can have real conversations with native speakers about a variety of subjects.

Expected conversational depth level: you can discuss things at quite a deep level.

Expected vocabulary depth: you can convey most of your thoughts but you still, for the most part, lack precision. Compared to a B1 level, you can discuss more topics with more precise vocabulary.

Still, any topic that differs from typical, conversational standards will probably throw you off.

 

How many people master a language at a C1 or C2 level

The curse of a b2 level - what it's all about and how to get unstuck

 

English proficiency in the world

 

Now that you know what a B2 level is all about, let’s take a look at the level of English proficiency in different countries around the world. It’s only natural since this language is still the most popular choicem Our starting point is the EF English Proficiency Index. For brevity’s sake, I will skip the part where I lambaste the reliability of those results.

 

Countries with the highest English proficiency

 

Here is a list of countries which were classified as the ones with “very high proficiency” i.e. a C1-C2 level. Pay very close attention to the top dogs. Almost every country in the top 12 has either English as an official language (e.g. Singapore) or it’s a Germanic-speaking country.

 

Very High Proficiency

 

Why is it important? If you’re learning a language which is similar to your native tongue, it will be CONSIDERABLY easier for you to master it. Since English is also a Germanic language, it’s not difficult to notice a pattern here.

Of course, there are other factors at play here but this is the most important one for me from the memory standpoint. The way information familiarity modulates your working memory and increases your learning capacity can’t be ignored.

A good example is my mission from a couple of years ago where I learned Czech from scratch to a B1/B2 level in about 1 month., even though my learning system at that time was far from perfect. Yes, I specialize in memory, so I knew what I was doing but I also already spoke Polish, Russian and German. Those languages helped me establish my initial familiarity with Czech vocabulary at about 80%.

 

Countries with moderate English proficiency

 

Now it’s time for countries whose English proficiency can be characterized as about B2 level.

 

The curse of a b2 level aka the language learning plateau

 

As you can see, once we drop outliers like the top 12, the level drops to a B2 level and below. But let’s not stop there.

Here is an excerpt from one of the official Polish reports about German Proficiency in Poland. Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about self-evaluation here of people who probably wouldn’t be able to describe language requirements for any level. The reality, in other words, is less rosy.

German proficiency at a B1+ level has been achieved by more than 53% of language learners., of which 22% mastered the language at a B2 level, 19% at a C1 level and 12.5% at a C2 level.

In other words, the amount of German learners who claim they have mastered this language amounts to about 16%.

 

The magical number 20

 

In different reports, the number 20 is the reoccurring theme. It seems that only less than 20% of learners of any language get past a B2 level. That is of course if you believe that these numbers are reliable.

Scientific studies are less forgiving in this department.

Long (2005, 2013) that the number of learners who achieve a C2 level is anywhere between 1-5%.

From that, we can only conclude that students who achieve a C1 are also relatively low (read more about in The Handbook of the Neuroscience of Multilingualism).

I rest my case. Let’s move on.

 

The curse of a B2 level – the two main reasons why you are stuck

1. No learning strategy and no system

 

One of the most surprising facts about how people learn is that most of them have no organized system of learning. You might think that’s an exaggeration but I assure you it’s not.

Here is an excerpt from a recent study (Schimanke, Mertens, Schmid 2019) about learning strategies at a German university.

To get a better insight on how students actually learn, we have conducted a survey among the students of our university (HSW – University of Applied Sciences) about their strategies and learning behaviors.

Overall, there were 135 students participating in this survey from all 6 semesters and between 18 and 31 years of age. 68.1% of the participants were male, 31.9% female.

Only very few of them deliberately make use of learning strategies, such as spaced repetition or the Leitner system. 94.8% of the participants just repeat the learning topics randomly to have them available during a test.

The terrifying thing is that we’re not talking about a bunch of clueless people without any education. We’re talking about bright individuals who will shape the future of their nation.

And yet, almost all of them rely on something I call a let’s-hope-it-sticks strategy. It’s nothing more than spitting on a wall and hoping that something will set. But it rarely does, right?

You can read, reread and cram all you want. Most of the knowledge you gather this way will be forgotten by the end of the next week.

There can be no effective learning if you’re not optimizing your repetitions.

 

2. Concentrating on passive learning

 

Passive learning can be a very effective learning tool provided that you’re already at an advanced level (especially a B2 level and higher). It can also be relatively useful if, for one reason or another, you are already familiar with a language you want to master (e.g. because it’s a part of the same language family). However, passive learning is a terrible tool for language rookies.

The body of research shows that you need to repeat a piece of information (unintentionally) between 20 and 50 times in order to put it into your long-term memory (i.e. be able to activate it without any conscious effort). Other studies quote numbers between 7-60.

I will let it sink in!

That’s a lot. Of course, the number varies because it all depends on your background knowledge, emotional saliency of words and so on but it’s still a very big number.

Let’s delve into its consequences.

We know that in most languages 5000 words allow you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)). Such a vocabulary size warrants also accurate contextual guessing (Coady et al., 1993; Hirsh & Nation, 1992; Laufer, 1997).

It means that as long as you are stubborn enough, eventually you will get to about a B2 level. It doesn’t matter how crappy your learning method is. As long as you soldier on, you will get to the finish line even if that takes you 10 years.

Why?

Because it’s almost guaranteed that you will amass a sufficient number of repetitions (7-60) of the words which occur in a language with a frequency of 98%! But what if you want to really master a language. Or two. Do you believe that you will be able to pull that number of repetitions for the words which occur with a frequency of about 2%? Of course not.

Think of any rare word from your native tongue like “cream puff” or “head physician”. How often do you hear them in your daily life? Not that often, right? And that’s the problem. C1-C2 levels consist of rare words like these. That’s why your chances of getting there if your default learning style is passive are very thin. Unless you have 20 years of spare time and are willing to spend most of your waking hours surrounding yourself with a language.

 

Real vocabulary gains from reading and listening at the early stages of language learning

 

 

 

Below you can find some findings which closely echo the results I have obtained from my experiments.

 

Vocabulary gains from reading

 

Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998) specifically looked at the number of words acquired from a simplified version of a novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, which had 21000 running words. The novel was read in class during six class periods. It was found that the average vocabulary pick-up was five words.

 

Lahav (1996) carried out a study of vocabulary learning from simplified readers. She tested students who read 4 readers, each one of about 20 000 words, and found an average learning rate of 3–4 words per book.

 

The above survey indicates that reading is not likely to be the main source of L2 learners’ vocabulary acquisition. If most words were acquired from reading, learners would have to read about as much as native children do – that is, a million words of text a year. This would require reading one or two books per week. If, however, teachers can expect only small quantities of reading, then word-focused activities should be regarded as a way of vocabulary learning.

 

Vocabulary gains from listening

 

Vidal explored incidental vocabulary acquisition from L2 listening (2003), and compared gains from listening with reading (2011). These studies analyzed the effect of a large number of variables (e.g. frequency of occurrence, predictability from word form and parts) on learning. Knowledge gains of 36 target words were measured with a modified version of the Vocabulary Knowledge Scale, on which learners could effectively score 0 to 5.

 

 

Out of the maximum score of 180, readers scored 40.85 (22.7%) on the immediate post-test and 19.14 (10.6%) on the one-month delayed test. Listeners scored 27.86 (15.5%) immediately after listening and 14.05 (7.8%) one month later. The main finding is that both reading and listening lead to vocabulary knowledge gains, with gains from reading being much larger than from listening. An effect of frequency occurrence (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 occurrences) was found in both modes but this was considerably stronger in reading. More repetitions were needed in listening (5 to 6) than in reading (2 to 3) for it to have a positive effect on learning.

 

Some caveats

 

At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to stress one more time that your learning capacity is affected by your background knowledge. If you’re a Frenchman learning Spanish, the aforementioned numbers won’t apply to you.

At the same time, there are just a few studies around which test long-term retention of vocabulary for almost any method. That’s a pity because 3 months is a cut-off point proving that words have truly been stored in your long-term memory. The studies quoted above also share this problem. Retesting the students of the above experiments at a 3-month mark would surely yield much worse, and realistic, results.

Anyway, the point I would like to drive home is that passive learning is an ineffective language acquisition tool for beginners.

 

The curse of a b2 level – how to get unstuck

 

The curse of a b2 level aka the language learning plateau

Photo by Tomas Tuma on Unsplash

 

The most important element you should concentrate on is to develop some kind of learning system. Ideally, it should encompass the following strategies:

 

Summary

A B2 level is achievable to almost anyone as long as you pursue your learning goal with dogged persistence. However, moving past this level requires from you the use of systems which will allow you to focus heavily on rare words which make up about 2-3% of a language since it’s almost impossible to master them just by learning organically (i.e. reading, listening and talking).

If you stick to smart learning methods, you will surely overcome this hurdle.

Have you ever experienced the curse of a B2 level? Share your stroy in the comments!

 

Accelerate Your Language Learning Thanks To A Great Strategy You Can Learn From Body Builders

Accelerate Your Language Learning

I would like to start this article with a hymn of praise for languages. Oh, how beautiful they are. Their sweet melody. Their hypnotizing rhythm. The ear-caressing flow of perfectly arranged words.

Ok. Joking aside. I’d like to pause again for a moment, just to think why learning a language resembles residing in one of the hell’s circles. You see, Dante was wrong. His vision did include only 9 circles.
There is actually the tenth one. It’s designed for beginners in language learning.

To successfully have a chat in a foreign language, you have to achieve so-called communicative competence. Sounds sexy, I know. But even without reading about it, you know that communicating in a language is damn demanding.

The simplified list of requirements looks like this. You need to quickly recall needed words (between 1k and 2k minimum). You need to know how to pronounce them (Phonology). You need to know where to put them in a sentence (Syntax). You need to know how they change (Morphology).

You need to when to use them depending on circumstances (Pragmatics). At the same time, you need quite a high level of comprehension to understand your interlocutor.

What’s more, if you happen to talk to somebody attractive of the opposite sex, you must remember to:

  • keep it cool
  • block excessive sweating
  • be at least remotely funny

And then there is a phase after each conversation when you have to swallow sadness, pick up the pieces of your self-confidence and convince yourself that language-learning journey IS exciting.

That sucks. We’ve all been there at one point or another. And the progress. Don’t get me started on this one. It’s excruciatingly slow in most cases.

Why?

Let’s take a look at the typical (unorganized) language journey.

Typical Effects Of Learning After A Few Years

 

Just a short notice – I didn’t make this up. These are actual words of one of my students.

“I can talk quite ok when it comes to vocabulary, listening, and pronunciation. I understand many things which I hear on the radio and TV. However, I make tons of mistakes in conversation and can only use a few tenses.”

That’s a bit shortened version. But it should give you some foretaste of the frustration. And all due to the typical classroom teaching language philosophy.

I, The Teacher, Will Correct The Cr*p Out Of Everything You Say

 

The common language-teaching philosophy is to correct or try to correct almost every mistake. That’s the way one-way ticket to becoming a mayor of the Looney Town.

Just try to imagine that you learn English (unless you really do!) and you say something along these lines – “Tim want to become doctor.”

Your tutor looks at you. His face slowly changes. And then the shitstorm ensues.

“First of all, you don’t say want, but wantS. Also, you always should remember that In English, an indefinite article is needed in front of professions. What’s more, you need to work on your pronunciation! You don’t pronounce x and y the right way…. “. And so on.

The chance is that after one lesson of this kind, you don’t remember most of these remarks. How could you? You can’t concentrate equally on talking and processing all the mistakes. Also, you probably haven’t uttered more than 30-40 sentences during one hour. The constant interruptions are not very helpful. At this pace, you’ll become fully conversant in about, well, 3-4 years?

I believe there is a better way to learn and to teach. The body-building champions can give us a great point of reference.

How Body Builders Train

“It all starts with body-part splits. The researchers were surprised to discover that every single one of these bodybuilders used body-part split-routines either five or six days a week. Every. Single. One. Not most of them or almost all of them, but every single one.”

(You can find the original article here)

A small explanation for those of us (including me) who keep their distance from gyms. Body-parts split mean that body-builders train a certain part of the body on a certain day.

You can imitate this process by conducting grammar and vocabulary drills.

Grammar and Vocabulary Grammar Drills

 

The main purpose of doing such grills is to concentrate on one thing and one thing only.
For a limited period of time, you practice just this one part of a language.

It means ignoring (as much as possible) all the other mistakes you make. If you decide to work on some future tense – so be it. Ignore the rest.

You can use this technique to activate and practise your vocabulary at the same time.
Simply prepare the list of, say, 20 words which you would like to practise and include it in your grammar drills.

Where Should You Start?

 

That’s always a very good question. But the answer is relatively simple. You should always choose the part of grammar which is essential for communication and the one that you are the worst at.

Personally, I recommend doing such drills 6 times per week. No, you can’t unwind on the seventh day. On the seventh day, you should put all the pieces together and actually have a conversation with someone. Unless, of course, you have a conversational partner handy. In this case, talk as much as possible.

Benefits

 

If you have done it before, I don’t have to convince you. For all the non-believers:

Secondly, to be a tad more mature, the said method allows you to significantly decrease the cognition burden on your working memory. You simply can’t process, analyze and correct all the mistakes you make. This method allows you to eliminate mistakes one by one.

It helps you join together and strengthen the elements that you already know, and build toward a higher level. It is like the big jigsaw puzzle when you can start plugging the missing pieces into the picture more and more quickly.

Language teachers can also use it. Instead of correcting all kinds of mistakes of your students, concentrate on one or two of them. Such approach will accelerate your students’ progress rate.

Results

 

I’ve experienced it for the first time with my German. I was doing drill after drill. And I felt like my progress wasn’t that great. And suddenly one day BOOM! Magic happened. Language fairy sprinkled some magic dust all over me and I started speaking with such confidence that I felt as if somebody else was speaking.

And I wish you the same! Let the language fairy be with you!

How To Learn Communicative Czech In 1 month – Results Of My Czech Mission

How To Learn Communicative Czech

Finally, after some delay (due to my laziness in writing!) I’m proud to present the results and final thoughts concerning my language mission. If you haven’t been following my struggles, you can find all the details below.

The purpose of the mission

 

My mission had a dual purpose.

First of all, I wanted to demonstrate that it is perfectly possible to learn REALLY FAST. assuming of course that you

  • use some mnemonics
  • disregard almost all the advice you’ve ever heard in your life regarding (language) learning, but more about that later

Secondly, I wanted to ENCOURAGE YOU to think more seriously about your learning; to be BETTER. To question what you know. My learning philosophy is simple – experiment to see what does and what doesn’t work.

To put it brutally – if a horse is sick, you don’t pretend that everything is fine, try to ride or show it to your friends and say “it needs a little bit more time to get better, that’s all”. No. It won’t get better. You take a shotgun, lead a horse behind a barn and put it out of its misery. It’s that simple.

It’s simple. But it’s not easy. If you’ve been using the same ol’ methods for years, it’s hard to kiss them goodbye. I know.

Time Restrictions

 

Start date: 1st February 2015

End date: 2nd March 2015

Total time: 30 days

Main Goals of The Mission

 

  • Memorize 100 words per day for 30 days in the row
  • Get to at least a B1 level
  • Assess my language skills

My Learning Materials

 

Money Spent

About 3$. That’s the cost of my pocket dictionary.

Disclosure

It’s my duty to mention that I had following pre-exisitng advantages before the start of my mission:

I could already speak 8 languages

Including 2 Slavic languages; one of them is my mother tongue – Polish. It simply means that I could understand, right away, all the grammar constructions I stumbled across.

Also, the vocabulary between these languages is quite similar.

And finally, due to the language similarities, my listening skills were at quite a high level from the very beginning.

I had a profound knowledge of mnemonics

I’ve been experimenting with my own mnemonics systems for years and I’ve created the ones which work great for me.

Update 2017: A couple of months after this mission ended, I had to relearn all the words. Read more about severe limitations of mnemonics.

The Difficulty of Czech

 

You can read more about it right here.

The Time Spent On The Mission

 

Altogether I spent about 140 hours during the duration of my mission. What was frustrating is that I had to spend about half of that time preparing the vocabulary lists!

Results

 

  • Results of the first test: level C1.1

Here are some more details:

  • The test consists of three parts.
  • There is a time limit of 30 minutes for each part.
  • The second and third parts can be entered only if you reach a minimum score.
  • The minimum score for entering part 2 is 40 points.
  • The minimum score for entering part 3 is 70 points (score in part 1 + part 2).

I managed to complete the test in 33 minutes and went through all 3 parts of it.

How To Learn Communicative Czech

  • Results of the second test: level B2

Here are some more details:

  • Make sure you do not spend more than 40 minutes on doing the test.
  • You should not use any dictionary or any other help so that the result accurately reflects your knowledge.
  • Stop filling in and submit the test as soon as the questions are too difficult for you (Do not guess the answers).
  • If you are a complete beginner, there is no need to do the test.

 

How To Learn Communicative Czech

Both tests concentrated only on the grammar use and reading comprehension. If you don’t know what these silly letters mean – don’t worry. Simply read Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

The Weaknesses of The Self-Assessment

 

Generally, the overall performance is calculated by averaging the scores you achieve in Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and Grammar.

I had a chance to test all of them (except writing skills). However, some language competences had to be assessed by myself, not by a qualified teacher. It leaves definitely a lot of room for personal bias but it was impossible to avoid considering the nature of such an undertaking.

On a side note, I’ve been working as a language assessor for some time now, so I can only hope that my judgment is precise enough.

Did I Succeed?

 

Yep, I feel that I accomplished all the main goals of my mission:

Number of words

Altogether I’ve memorized about 3100 words. About 2860 of them are the words from my ANKI list, the rest of them are noted separately on a few pieces of paper.

Including my knowledge of the rules of word formation, my total vocabulary size should amount to about 4,5 – 6,5k words.

Level

Considering the results of official and unofficial language assessment, I would assess my level as B1.2. In other words – somewhere between B1 and B2 level.

Articles Related To The Mission

 

If you haven’t had a chance to do it already, here are some articles (more to come!) describing my approach to learning Czech (or should I say – learning in general).

 

The Word Substitution Technique – How To Increase Your Vocabulary Size Considerably

Increase vocabulary size

 

You slowly open your eyes. You’re in your bed. It’s nice and warm. You know you should get up and start the day but somehow you cannot force yourself to do this. The blissful numbness is radiating from every pore of your body. You try to lift your head but to no avail. Getting up seems impossible.

Maybe you’ll just lie here for a few more minutes and… BAM! You’re asleep. As a consequence, you’re late for your work and get fired. Your spouse realizes what a loser you are and she decides to leave you. You end up getting homeless and fighting with sewer rats over the leftovers from Thai restaurant.

Alright, so maybe I’ve exaggerated a tiny bit. But that’s exactly what the comfort zone feels like.
It’s blissful and cozy. And that’s the problem.

 

Increase vocabulary size

 

Why?

Well, the simplified explanation goes like this: we use automated sets of behavior in every area of our lives. It makes perfects sense. If they are automated, it means that the energy expenditure is considerably limited while executing them.

Take a close look at your speech patterns in your mother tongue. It might turn out that you use a relatively limited number of words and phrases in everyday life. And bear in mind that it’s your mother tongue! The problem is even more conspicuous in foreign language learning.

Our vocabulary defines the borders of our perception and thinking. It’s good to constantly keep on pushing them.

The following piece of advice is equally valid for beginners and advanced learners.

Identify words/phrases which you repeat frequently

 

You can do it on your own with a little bit of mindfulness or with a help of your teacher. Just take a piece of paper (or use the ready-to-use template at the end of the article!) and note down all the words and phrases which you tend to repeat way too often.

They usually tend to fall into one of the 4 categories:

COMMON PHRASES

That’s a great place to start. Have you ever noticed how often your repeat “I think that…” in a foreign language you learn? Sure, it’s a very basic phrase. And necessary one as well! But it’s also damn boring. There is a variety of counterparts in every language which can make your way of speaking more colorful.

“I believe that … ”
“I’m convinced that…”
“I trust that … ”
“I reckon that … ”

And the list goes on and on …

ADJECTIVES

Adjectives are used to describe nouns. That’s why you can go wild with your creativity! Sure, you can say that some guy is big. But why not:

He is a great hulk of a man / huge / of considerable size / enormous / gigantic etc.

A place to start:
I have a very strict rule for my language students. Excluding absolute beginners, you can’t use “good”, “bad” and “interesting” during my classes. I kid you not. If I hear any of these words, my eyes turn red and start twitching. I haven’t hit anyone yet but I sense that this day is approaching inevitably!

Of course, you can find other words which you tend to overuse. We all have our wicked ways. I’m definitely guilty of using “creepy” and “awkward” almost every time when I speak English.

VERBS

In most languages, they don’t give you as much creative freedom as adjectives. However, it’s still worth substituting some of them.

A place to start:
I like to start with synonyms of “explain”, “use” and “convince”. General usefulness of these words makes them easy to apply in almost any context.

NOUNS

Probably the hardest category to substitute. Only one piece of advice here. Try not to use the word “thing”. Every “thing” has its name. Use it!

Substitute them

 

Once you’ve identified the words which you use way too often, it’s time to substitute them.

But how do you find good synonyms?

The best way is to ask your teacher or a befriended native speaker. But if you don’t have this luxury, feel free to use a dictionary of synonyms, i.e. Thesaurus.

Here is a short list for some of the popular languages.

English – http://www.thesaurus.com/
Spanish – http://www.sinónimo.es/
French – http://www.synonymes.com/
Czech – http://www.synonyma-online.cz/
Polish – https://www.synonimy.pl/
Russian – http://www.synonymizer.ru/
Swedish – http://www.synonymer.se/
Italian – http://www.sinonimi-contrari.it/
Portuguese – http://www.sinonimos.com.br/
German – http://synonyme.woxikon.de/

It’s important that you understand (more less) the difference between meanings of different synonyms!

When is the good time to substitute a word?

 

There is only one reliable indicator of the time when you should start substituting some word. Once your active recall of this word is effortless and immediate.

Only then. It means that the word is entrenched deeply in your long-term memory and you no longer have to use it frequently in order to remember it. And that’s actually the GREAT reason not to use it any longer or drastically limit its use. At least during your language practice.

I would actually go as far as to say that every time you repeat words and phrases you know actively, you waste your time. Every sentence is a new opportunity to grow as a person (and as a learner!).
Don’t waste it!

Now go on and put this method to good use and increase your vocabulary size!

 

Why context is no king of mine. Rebel!

context is no king

How many times have you heard it? Context is the king. It’s so important. You simply cannot ignore it.

But it’s no king of mine! Why?

Well, using this metaphor, I can only arrive at one conclusion. Most kings are evil bastards and don’t want you to succeed it in life. Just stay where you are a stable boy and scrape the dung off my shoes!

I strongly believe that when you start learning you don’t need and you should not use context-rich learning materials. I think that the there is a fundamental flaw in reasoning that the context is that important

We are cognitive misers. We follow the path of least resistance. Such is our nature. We may choose to oppose or we can accept it and use it in our favor.

How?

When you start learning a new language, the priority is to be able to express yourself clearly as soon as it is only possible. Diving into too many contexts taxes us immensely. There is no denying it. If we are to pay the price, shouldn’t reward be at least satisfying?

And it is not. Not for me anyway. Why should you spend hours and hours reading texts and listening to things which you can’t make sense of?

You can’t because you don’t know the vocabulary, and learning from context at the early stage of language learning is not always possible, nor is it pleasant. Such approach is not efficient.

WHAT’S DICTIONARY FOR ANYWAY?

My philosophy of learning is drastically different. If my aim is to get to B1 level as quickly as possible, I very often neglect extensive reading.

Why is that?

Because that’s always been a purpose of dictionaries. If I provide myself with a small, good dictionary I get an immediate access to the most popular words in a given language.

Good (yet still small) dictionaries are also characterized by other important features: they include pronunciation, the most important meaning of words and popular phrases and collocations.

If I want to get the most out of, say, 4 hours of learning, I’ll spend roughly 70% percent of this time trying to learn vocabulary from a dictionary.

This way, I can rapidly learn new vocabulary without spending a lot of time on thumbing through texts.

Provided of course, that I already know at least basics of grammar. Thus, my means of communication are greatly increased.

CONTEXT IS ROUGHLY THE SAME IN MANY LANGUAGES AT A BASIC LEVEL

There. I said it. Have you ever tried to listen, really listen, to many of your everyday conversations?

Are they really that complicated? Is the language really that bombastic? It is not.

You don’t usually use flowery expressions to impress anyone. I don’t deny that if you truly want to master the language, you need a lot of practice and a lot of materials and contexts.

But it’s not half as important as many people and polyglots claim if you want to learn to communicate.

How wrong can you be when you use words “eat”, “drink”, “assume”, “bad”, “good” (etc.) and their counterparts in other languages?

Speaking from my experience, not very wrong. Sure, sometimes you get the context wrong. Sometimes, some collocations simply do not exist.

But because you’ve learned quickly enough how to communicate, you can now start adjusting what you already know to the real-life situations.

Just to be clear – I don’t advocate abandoning other activities and sticking only to learning vocabulary. I simply believe that in order to speak as quickly as possible such an approach works fantastically.

I spend about 70% learning vocabulary and 30% listening on my journey to B1/B2 level.

If anyone wonders – yes, I haven’t mentioned grammar on purpose. That’s a topic for another article.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SUCH APPROACH?

I start speaking very fast, imperfectly though. Extensive vocabulary practice gives me a huge advantage when I start listening.

The answer to “why? is obvious – it’s much easier to listen when your vocabulary is big.
Reading also becomes easy, once I start doing it.

I try to keep an open mind about my abilities and every time when I can confront my knowledge with real-life context, and I see that I’ve been wrong so far, I revise my outlooks.

I’m sure that it doesn’t sound like fun for many people. But the question I always ask is: do you learn for fun and you or do you want quick effects?

I want effects – but we’re all different in that manner. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t have fun while learning!

I’m aware that for many people my approach is quite ludicrous.
But it’s always good when we read something that triggers our emotions as long as we approach them with an open mind and curiosity.

How often do we discard theories and opinions of others because we can’t seem to look at them differently than through the lens of our biases?

What do you think about the importance of learning? Let me know.