I feel like no matter how much I'm studying my language, no matter how hard I'm doing it (Georgian and Chinese), I'm still at just, a level. I can have conversations in them, read articles in them, and just, use them, but I don't feel like I'm getting any better.

I don't feel like I'm making anymore progress at all because I simply can't find use for the progress I'm making (I'm literally never going to use 混沌 - chaos - in conversation).

It wasn't even hard to get to the level that I am now. I just learnt for a little bit and I'm here, but I want to go further. I just feel like I'm plateauing and want a way to go above and beyond the level I have currently achieved.

Is this common?

What can I do?

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    "I'm literally never going to use 'chaos' in conversation" You will! I thought I would never use "dinosaur" in Japanese conversation when I learnt it, and I actually used it for the first time in Dinseyland when I told my team to "shoot the dinosaur" at an attraction to earn points. Every single word is useful!
    – user2415
    Jul 31 '17 at 5:01
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    @Zozor I suppose I have had experiences like that before when I used 'accountant' in conversation (I use that SO rarely I've forgotten the character for it), but my point is, you don't use them enough to remember them easily/have the illusion that you're making rapid progress (as in you can understand loads of new things) Jul 31 '17 at 7:56
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    Even word usage itself is logarithmic. We learn common words first, and learning just 10 new common words is enough to understand 1% more of any given text. On the other hand, if you can already read 90% of any given material and you want to reach 91%, then you’ll need to learn not 10 words but more like 1,000 or 2,000
    – user2415
    Jul 31 '17 at 8:29

What you describe is a well-known phenomenon in second language acquisition theory and goes by the name of interlanguage fossilization. If it is only temporary, the period of stagnation is also known as a plateau period.

Why the term "interlanguage" in "interlanguage fossilization"? Some theories of second language acquisition describe the incomplete knowledge of a foreign language as "interlanguage" because you start from your native language and gradually move to the foreign language. Each transition phase between the native language and the foreign language is a mostly consistent "interlanguage". When you stop making progress, this interlanguage becomes "fossilized". Since many people learn a foreign language only up to the level that helps them get by (I consider passing tests and exams at school also as a form of "getting by"), interlanguage fossilization is quite normal.

People have suggested all sorts of ways to get over a plateau.

Donovan Nagel at the Mezzofanti Guild makes an analogy with weight training and advocates the "shocking principle": do exercises that your mind (or body – in the case of weight training) is not used to. He also suggests setting very specific microgoals. (A macrogoald would be something like " I want to pass a B2 French exam before the end of the year", and microgoals would be steps that take you closer to that goal.)

Noel Van Vliet has a long article about overcoming a plateau. He says that you need to get out of your comfort zone (a suggestion similar to Donovan Nagel's shocking principle), that you should gradually move to learning materials in your target language, that you should analyze your weaknesses and then work on them by using "mini goals", and that you should write more. (Noel Van Vliet gives several examples of mini goals, e.g. learning 100 new words in two weeks.)

For other articles, see Language Hacking: Breaking out of the Intermediate Plateau by Robert William McCaul, and 5 Innovative Tips for Language Learners Stuck on the Plateau Phase by Brian Powers.

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    Do you have any sort of personal experiences in overcoming a learning "plateau", language learning related or not?
    – Hatchet
    Jul 29 '17 at 23:15
  • I read one of them about a 'swear jar'. I'll definitely try this, a few of my friends are native speakers of my target languages! Jul 30 '17 at 8:21
  • @Hatchet I have personal experience with a learning plateau in Standard Chinese but I have almost abandoned that language now. I have relied on other people's articles to write my answer.
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 30 '17 at 15:15

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