Learning a Language: The Later Stages

Things get a bit fuzzier.

What do you do after you already speak a language? You know the grammar, everyone understands you, and you understand them for the most part, but there’s still one little nagging detail. You’re not a native. People understand you despite your mistakes. You understand, but not the the connotation of one word compared to another. The rules make sense, but you don’t know all the native expressions or collocations that would make your language proficiency absolutely perfect.

What do you do indeed! Now that you don’t have a pre-made path of grammar rules and vocabulary, learning has become a choose-your-own adventure. With so much to choose from, which path do you choose? Do you perfect your pronunciation? Focus on idioms? Learn specialized scientific jargon? How do you choose?

I ran into this problem recently. After studying Russian for five years, I speak it. Of course I speak it. I better speak it after studying for five years and living in a Russian- speaking country, but people still know I’m not native. There’s always room for improvement, so I’ve compiled a list of direction-giving ideas to help those who also find themselves in my shoes.

Advanced Language Learner Tips

  1. Focus on getting a qualification. Maybe you don’t necessarily need it, but tests usually have very specific standards and aspects of language that you need to learn. It gives you some direction to keep you on track and it’s nice to have a piece of paper that says you’ve achieved a high level of fluency.
  2. Choose one area that’s important to you. Specialization is the future, right? Whether you get really good at talking about business, psychology, food, or music, it’ll help you out somewhere down the line. Find books, podcasts, or videos about these specific topics and get studying!
  3. Make a list of problem words you often can’t use correctly. Nobody’s perfect, so it’s okay to go back and review stuff you didn’t get the first time.
  4. Have fun with the progress you’ve made! You deserve it. Dont forget to watch comedy shows, read news, listen to music, and do fun things in your second language. It makes your life so much richer to be able to interact with a completely different culture and consistent practice makes it easier with time.

Once you’ve found your direction, it makes it easier to stop that floundering feeling and continue learning.