Pushing Past the Plateau

Posted on 03. Feb, 2016 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Mystery Solved

I gotta admit, lately I’ve been feeling a little out of the language-learning loop.

With a new job, my marriage coasting well through its second year, and a cat that gets bothered when I move any furniture around, I feel like I’m settling into a routine. Sadly, that routine doesn’t really involve any new languages.

I live in Berlin, capital of Germany, yet I feel like I have very few opportunities to practice German in my day-to-day. My new job is at an international school based out of England, so the office language is English. With the few German-speaking co-workers I do have, I ask them if I can speak German and they always agree, but it’s never gotten past office small talk. I excel when talking about my weekend plans, but…isn’t there more to it than that?

When watching a TV show on Netflix, I always try to see if there’s a German-dubbed version, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t think I’m learning anything new. Everyone on TV talks about the same stuff, more or less, and I feel like I’m understanding it at the same level I was a year ago. I went and saw the new Star Wars movie again, but dubbed into German, just because I was dying to hear something different for once (“lightsaber” is Lichtschwert. Wow!). Like the poor fellow in the comic above, I don’t feel that I’m really gathering any new information.

My wife is Italian, sure, but 90% of the time we speak English together, unless we’re in Italy. Even then, like my work environment, it’s just small talk (except instead of being about weekend plans, it’s about food, food and more food). Am I learning anything new? I’ve started trying to learn the Venetian dialect spoken by my wife’s grandfather, just to add a bit of spice and variety to my Italian day. Surely I haven’t exhausted my Italian learning opportunities?

I know what the problem is. It’s not that I’m out of the loop. It’s that I’m plateauing.

Egads! I’m now past conversational and trudging my way up Mt. Fluency. But it’s not a steep cliff, where every step is rewarded by visible progress. It’s a long, slow, boring hillside; it’s like Mt. Kilimanjaro, whose slopes are so gradual you just walk up. It’s not easy, but it’s no Everest, either. I’m in the language-learner’s doldrums, stuck in an endless routine of everyday conversations and unbearable chitchat. I’ve lost my forward momentum, dawdling here in a linguistic eddy while everyone else seemingly rushes down the river to fluency.

My step-father is a guitar instructor. He’s been playing guitar since he was ten years old – so nearly 55 years. He still spends four hours a day practicing, and he says plateauing is the hardest thing he has to deal with. How does he know, after so many years, that he’s still learning anything? He maybe be considered the greatest blues guitarist in his home state, but he still doesn’t feel he’s as good as his idols. How can he be sure he’s making any progress?

He can’t. But he still practices, because he knows he’s always learning something. And that’s the trick.

There’s only one way to get past the plateau, and that’s to keep walking forward. I may not notice that I’m learning, but I am. Sure, I’m not reading medieval poetry, but I’m holding conversations, and every conversation has new words, new phrasing, new ways of thinking about structure and grammar. I’m watching, I’m listening, I’m trying things out. I’ll never be 100% fluent, because that’s not a measurable thing. I just have to keep going, keep moving forward, and trust myself. Although the progress may not seem impressive, I’m still improving. I’ll always be improving, and so will you.

What about you? Do you feel you’re stalled in a language, not making any progress? How do you deal with it?

Russian for Astronauts (Free Online Lesson)

Posted on 01. Feb, 2016 by in Language Learning, Language News

Did you know that astronauts traveling to the International Space Station must speak Russian? While English is the working language of the ISS, the Russian spacecraft Soyuz is the only means of transport for the crew heading to and from the station. During the six-hour flight, from lift-off to docking, Mission Control gives commands in Russian. An interpreter would not be able to translate commands quickly enough, so the astronauts must learn enough Russian to make the flight.

Americans flying in Soyuz must be capable of speaking Russian at the Intermediate High level according to the ACTFL scale. Not only do the astronauts learn basic Russian, but also very specific “space Russian” in order to understand the control and navigation system in Soyuz, among other commands and procedures. The flight engineer trains Russian four hours each week to make it happen.

For some astronauts, learning Russian is as difficult as it sounds. British Commander Tim Peake recently commented that learning Russian was the hardest and least enjoyable part of his entire training regimen. Take a walk in his moon boots in our free Russian for Astronauts lesson powered by Transparent Language Online.

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Super Bowl Crash Course for Football “Un-Fans”

Posted on 27. Jan, 2016 by in Language Learning

Here at Transparent Language, we’re all about learning new languages, new cultures, and (considering we live in New England) new sports! With the Super Bowl fast approaching, maybe it’s time for you to brush up on your football (or should we say American football) knowledge.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, you’re probably going to tune in to the Super Bowl this year. After all, the 2015 Super Bowl was the most watched TV event in history with almost 115 million viewers.

Don’t be one of the masses who only pays attention during commercials and the halftime show. Our Super Bowl Crash Course powered by Transparent Language Online will teach you game basics, so you’ll be cheering for third down conversions before you know it.

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