Language Learning – Going from Intermediate to Advanced

This is part of a longer post about language learning from the section about how to go from knowing nothing to becoming fluent.

Now you have a solid foundation and conversational fluency is in reach but going from intermediate to advanced is the hardest. At this stage, you need to increase the intensity of your practice. It’s challenging at this stage because it’s hard to find learning materials that don’t feel too basic yet native media is still quite challenging. You’re going to have to sweat it out for a while; doing the same old things as before is not going to cut it.

  • Types of practice: Intense and focused practice, listening for comprehension, socializing, writing more complex stories, Anki flashcards, more complex sentences for building intuition
  • Goals: learn 1000 more vocabulary words, build confidence with socializing, be able to socialize without getting stuck, master more advanced grammar, consume native media at full speed,
  • Timeframe: 3-12 months, large variability depending on intensity and language difficulty

Speaking and socializing should now be your main focus. You’re still going to make a ton of mistakes; you just have to get over it. One goal I have at this stage is to no longer get “stuck” when speaking. One way to practice this is to record yourself telling a story, just talk in English when you get stuck, and then afterwards go back and look up how you would say that correctly, then repeat until you can tell the whole story.

I will do targeted pronunciation drills at this stage and get a lot of feedback. Practicing online with tutors or language exchange is a great option if you don’t have anyone to practice with. If you do have someone to practice with, you likely now have enough of a foundation so that talking to you won’t be too annoying for them. Writing is still helpful practice since you can do it alone, at any time. Try to write how you actually talk or try to write about more involved stories to push yourself.

Now you should be listening for comprehension, not just the gist. I will do an exercise where I listen to an audio clip where I have the actual transcript and try to transcribe every word. I can only do about 1-2 minutes of audio (takes me 30 minutes to complete) before my brain feels like it’s cramping. It’s quite difficult at first but gets easier. Importantly, you start to identify your specific gaps in comprehension and begin filling them. Over time, this prepares you to fully comprehend native speakers.

I don’t know a good way around this – you’re going to need to learn at least 1000 more vocabulary words. I still tend to read articles and internet comments on topics I enjoy. At this stage, you can learn words more easily in context but I still depend on Anki. I will also use Anki decks made by others and slog through them in a Slow Burn.

You will also want take the plunge on consuming native media at full speed. At first I watched Netflix and such with English subtitles, then switch to target language subtitles, then no subtitles at all (if possible). I usually watch with a notebook handy so I can write down words I don’t know to look them later and add to Anki. There is a chicken and egg problem where you need enough vocabulary to consume native media but just learning vocabulary alone is quite dull. Once your vocabulary is large enough you can read a book, but if I have to look up words too often it’s too much for me and I will quit.

You also need to know most of the grammar rules. You have probably encountered them all by this point but try to at least be intellectually aware of them all. Then just keep building grammar intuition by memorizing phrases with Anki. Try for longer, more complex, and compound phrases.