If you’ve been working in ESL for any length of time, or if you’re working to learn a language yourself, you likely have faced the flatline, where language learning and useage seems to stand still, with little noteworthy progress to spur you on.
Basic students usually enjoy sharp, or at least a steadily rising learning/application curve - where they are constantly taking in new vocabulary, using it, and making themselves understood in English. It’s exciting. It’s motivating. It’s fun. You can really note the difference from when you first began, to where you are now.
Then the slump hits. You break into intermediate level fluency, and everything seems to grind to a halt.
I’ve been noticing this with my students, all of whom are at a high intermediate level of English. I’ve been working with some of them for over a year and a half, and with the exception of one, all continue to make very similar mistakes, and still seem to be stuck in a lower geared level of fluency.
There have been improvements, but they’ve been about as measureable as watching a tree grow. You just don’t see immediate, noteable growth overnight. Instead we’ve entered slow grow. It’s about years vs. weeks or months.
I’ve noted considerable increases in confidence, the ability to express thoughts - and have everyone else understand them - has also gone up. However, they are walking the flatline.
Seth Godin has an interesting post around this that I thought was quite interesting. It’s about understanding the local max, and developing the staying power to break through to the BIG MAX.
The local max, borrowing from Godin, is when you or your students are flatlining. When they’re wondering if they’ll ever be able to speak English well, if they’re checking in on how many years they’ve been at this whole English thing, if they’re about ready to try something else, or just plain throw in the towel.
But Godin pushes for something more, something you’re not seeing yet, but should be.
“You’re not succeeding because you haven’t started yet.” (Godin)
While my post is geared towards esl, I think principle applies to many areas, inside and outside of education in general.
If you feel you’ve maxed out, that doesn’t mean you’ve stopped moving forward. More than likely you’re heading towards a minor dip before the next big climb.
Seth’s Blog: Understanding Local Max