The Leap: Going from Pre-Intermediate to Advanced

In my last post I wrote about the cases where language classes tend to be the most productive: absolute beginners to pre-intermediate, maintenance for advance students and specific needs such as preparing for a job interview.

What’s missing is going from pre-intermediate to advanced. In my decade of dealing with language learning, I have yet to see people smoothly go through this process. Getting the basics of a language is easy enough - all you have to do is learn a new set of rules. You can brute force your way through this and still usually get things done like reading a blog post, booking a hotel room or asking for directions. You won’t sound natural or nice in English, but it works.

If this is all that you need English for, you’re done. Watch a movie in English from time to time, travel a bit and just relax.

For the rest of you, I’ll quote Dante:

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

The platonic forms that you create in your native language have to be destroyed. You have to realize on an intuitive level that the way you map the world with your native language is just one of an infinite number of ways to classify and experience the world. You’re native language, nor English for that matter, ain’t special.

I don’t have a nifty list of tricks to follow that will make the process easy beyond my post about how to study English independently. Instead, I have a lot of theories. Try to break down mental rigidity in other domains if that comes easier to you than doing so via language learning. My hunch is that activities that induce flow also how grind down platonic rigidity that keeps a person trapped in pre-intermediate English. So, go out and do some sports, meditate, get involved with music, write some code, play a game of go or whatever. Just hammering away at more grammar exercises and vocabulary lists is probably not going to produce advance, natural and effortless English. For some real fun, use English to do something interesting—say reading Robert Anton Wilson’s Quantum Psychology.

I’ve spent most of my adult life in the language classroom. I don’t think I’ve seen the classroom produce the spark that leads to the breakthrough moment between intermediate and advanced.