How To Handle A Plateau in Your French Language Learning


Have you hit a plateau with your French language learning? You know… that maddening period when– despite your best efforts – it seems that you’re not retaining anything new, not speaking a jot better, still making the same mistakes, and will never, ever become fluent.      

Don’t worry. This happens to almost everyone who learns a new language. In fact, linguists say that it’s perfectly normal to reach a plateau (or to feel as if you have). This is partly because the amount of time you spend studying a language is not directly proportional to the amount you actually learn.

Think about it: When you first start a new language, you learn a large and broad base of simple words and phrases (Bonjour, J’ai faim, Où sont les toilettes?) fairly rapidly. It’s easy to feel great about your progress because you’ve gone from knowing nothing (or almost nothing) to being able to understand and communicate in a foreign language on a basic level.

 As phrases, expressions and rules become more complex (hello subjunctive!) and vocabulary more specialized, your progress is not as immediately evident to you…. hence the feeling that you’re not moving forward at all.

 But if you are studying consistently, you probably are. So, how to get that “blast-off” feeling again and regain the sense of your advancement? Here are 4 tips:

  1. Identify Your Biggest Sticking Point

 Everyone reaches a different plateau. For some, it’s being able to converse in a particular tense or form complex phrases. Others get frustrated by their limited vocabulary. Still others are disappointed with the time it takes to process and respond to spoken French. And many fluent non-native French speakers struggle with written French.

 Consider your biggest sticking point and commit to primarily working on that. When you try to fix all your problems at once, you’re only going to make incremental steps in all directions and that’s frustrating. But if you decide to focus on overcoming your bête noire, chances are, you’ll be able to see results faster and get that thrilling feeling of advancement again.

  1. Shake Up Your Routine

 Your plateau may be a consequence of being stuck in a learning rut. If you’ve been studying from textbooks and online aids, then maybe it’s time to put these things down and try something new, like reading French newspapers and magazines or watching French movies. Of course, link your new learning technique with your “biggest sticking point.” So, for example, if you’re having trouble processing spoken French, make more effort to listen to French, whether it be through French music or French television.

  1. Set Short-Term Goals

As we noted above, a large part of the frustration with reaching a plateau is not seeing immediate rewards of your study. You can overcome this by setting short-term goals. For example, if you’re frustrated by your limited French vocabulary, commit to learning 5 or 10 new words a day for a month. Every day, write them down and practice using them in sentences. By the end of the month, you should have a noticeably larger vocabulary.

If communicating in French is your problem, why not identify a topic on which you’d like to converse fluently? Allow yourself a month or two to master this topic, practice speaking with friends or a French tutor, until you feel quite comfortable talking about this particular topic. Sure, you still have an ocean of topics to conquer, but fulfilling this short-term goal could get you out of your rut and boot you to the next level of learning.

Think along these lines and you’ll probably start getting excited about learning French again and notice your forward movement.

  1. Learn Consciously

Sometimes language learners really do plateau….meaning that they’re not really advancing at all. This is because sometimes when you’ve reached a certain level of communication and understanding in French, you start to think, (maybe unconsciously): Well, this is good enough and you stop making a true effort to improve.  

If you want to improve and break away from that plateau, you have to make conscious effort to better your French. Be aware of your mistakes as you speak, don’t just let them slide. Ask friends to correct you. And above all, seriously commit to steps 1 -3 above.   We think you’ll be happy with the results!

Hit a plateau in your French studies? Share your “biggest sticking point” with us below…and tell us below what steps you’re going take to break free! Or if you want our advice, just leave a comment below. We’ll help you!