More on the upside-down hockey stick

There are two stages in language learning, the intense study of a limited number of words, or the blade of the stick. Here you are learning the high frequency words and basic structures of the language. The most common 2,000 words account for between 75% to over 90% of all content. These words appear frequently and so they are easier to learn.

You should be listening and reading a lot without worrying too much whether you understand all that well. Keep listening over and over, slowly moving on to new content. The more you see words in different contexts, the more likely you are to remember them. You need to master these words. You need to do a lot of intensive reading and listening. You need to listen to the same content over and over again. You should use these common words over and over in your writing.

But at some point you move to a more extensive approach to learning in order to acquire the up to 10,000 words you need to function at a professional level. This is the long shaft of the hockey stick. A comment to this blog expressed frustration at not being able to remember new words and phrases. It can at times seem like a journey without any progress.

Nevertheless you must continue. You need to expose yourself to a lot of content. You need to listen and read a lot. Now you move on to new content more frequently. You need extensive exposure, rather than the intensive exposure of the early period. You also need to to review new words and phrases on their own. This will help you when you meet them again in new contexts. But at times it feels as if nothing sticks. But you are learning all the time.

If what you are reading and listening to is interesting, you keep going. It is your interest in the subjects of your reading and listening that keeps you going. Read widely. Read in your area of professional interest. Also read novels and literature. Gradually you start to notice these new words and phrases more and more. Naturally and ever so slowly you start to use the new words and phrases and they become a part of you.

If you are using The Linguist you should print lists of your new words and phrases and make sure you use them in your writing and speaking.

If you read and listen a lot in order to meet your “saved words” and “saved phrases” targets in The Linguist, you will train other language skills. The more you read, the better you get at reading. The faster you read the words you already know. The better you understand the meaning of what you are reading. Yes, there are still words that you do not know, or have learned and forgotten. But you overall comprehension skills improve. You understand the surrounding context better. And soon you start to master those elusive new words.

Stay positive, keep listening and reading, and all of a sudden, when you least expect it, you will feel that you have made a great deal of progress along the shaft of the hockey stick.

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