Getting over the Intermediate Plateau

Getting over the Intermediate Plateau

Most low-level students can easily mark and notice their progress. Every lesson they have a feeling of satisfaction and achievement. However, once learners have achieved Intermediate level or higher, some of them reach a plateau in their language learning and do not perceive that they are making further progress. Frustrating, isn’t it?  

To help your students to move from the Intermediate to an Upper-Intermediate/Advanced level of language proficiency, the first thing teachers need to do is identifying an area that needs to be addressed if learners want.

In the previous article, we have already covered some reasons and solutions such as lack of practice of the new complex language (including the problem of students using limited vocabulary range and lower-level grammar), lack of motivation, fossilized errors and “artificial” language. 

Jack C. Richards in his booklet  “Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning” notes down some other problems that Intermediate students often face and provides ways to overcome them.  

  1. There is a gap between receptive and productive competence. 

In such situations, learners’ receptive skills (reading and listening) continue to develop, they recognize and understand a lot. However, their productive competence (speaking and writing) remains relatively at the same level. Productive skills will not arise naturally from comprehension skills, therefore, practice in using target language forms is necessary for learners to acquire the new target language. 


  • Students should practice noticing (the noticing hypothesis). Only intake (that part of the input that learners notice) can serve as the basis for language development. When students noticed an item once, they start to see it everywhere and use it in speech. 
  • According to the output hypothesis proposed by Merrill Swain, learning takes place when a learner encounters a gap in his or her linguistic knowledge of the second language. By noticing this gap, the learner becomes aware of it and may be able to modify his output so that he learns something new about the language. Carefully structured and managed output (language students produce) here refers to tasks and activities that require the use of certain target-language forms that “stretch” learners’ language knowledge and that consequently require a “restructuring” of that knowledge. 
  1. Language production may be adequate but often lacks the characteristics of natural speech. 

Learners’ spoken English may be fluent and accurate but doesn’t sound natural, maybe too formal / too bookish or lacks appropriate use of chunks and formulaic utterances.  Research by Prodromou suggests that a key difference between the speech of advanced successful users of English and native speakers is the presence or absence of chunks. 


  • Teach your students to observe examples of natural discourse (for example, multi-word “chunks” such as ‘if you know what I mean’, “no kidding”, “and all that sort of thing”, etc.) and notice patterns of usage that occur in them. 
  • Talking about resources, work with tasks and materials that highlight the use of multiword units and conversational routines.  
  • Provide opportunities to practice using chunks

The activities mentioned above should help your learners become successful monitors and managers of their own learning, aware of the limitations of their current level of language ability and ways by which they can move beyond the intermediate learning plateau to more advanced levels of language use.

Мария Цедрик

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