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Helping Advanced Students Overcome The Language Learning Plateau




When it comes to learning a language, the journey is as important as the destination. This is particularly true for advanced learners who often encounter a ‘language learning plateau’. At this stage, progress seems to slow down or even stall, leading to frustration and discouragement for learners (and, perhaps, teachers!).  

Unlike earlier stages, where learners accumulate new vocabulary and grammar, advanced learners face the challenge of expanding and refining their existing knowledge. Polishing and perfecting a language requires time, patience and a shift in focus. 

For us teachers guiding advanced learners past this language learning plateau, we need to remind our students that they are shifting to understanding the nuances of language in various contexts, rather than building foundational blocks as they did early on in their language learning journey.  

Here are some ways we can help our advanced students overcome the language learning plateau. 

1. Remind your students about what to focus on 

As mentioned, an advanced learner will be refining their language skills rather than building on them as much as they would at a lower level.  

To help students understand this, give them examples of a sentence which could be understood in different ways depending on context, stress or the way in which a sentence is said. For example:  

I didn’t say he ate the cake.  

  • If you stress I, it may mean someone else said he ate the cake.  
  • If you stress he, it may mean you said someone else ate the cake.  
  • If you stress cake, it may mean you said he ate something else.  

You can do this for any word in the sentence. Why not think of other examples or have students come up with their own? 

2. Utilise the CEFR descriptors

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) is a valuable tool for discussing learning objectives.  

  • Go through the CEFR descriptors with your students and have them tick off the skills they feel confident with. This helps them recognise their competencies and understand more deeply, what their language level is.  
  • Then, identify areas students wish to improve. Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals can provide clear direction.  
  • Encourage students to write ‘can-do’ statements, reflecting on their progress and acknowledging improvements they might not have noticed.

3. Make progress visible

Progress tests designed to encourage, rather than catch students out, can be highly beneficial in helping advanced learners overcome the language learning plateau.  

These tests, along with self and peer evaluations, can help learners see their advancement and development throughout each level of learning. Regularly referring back to their objectives allows students to visibly measure their progress, reinforcing their motivation. 

There are also proficiency tests such as the Oxford Test of English which you can introduce to your students if they’re looking to progress in their careers and work overseas, study abroad or take courses taught in English. You could explain that the Reading and Listening modules of the Oxford Test of English are adaptive, meaning that the questions are tailored to the test taker’s specific answers.   

4. Encourage peer teaching

Encourage students to identify areas they find challenging and develop activities so they can assist one another in improving. For example:  

  • Have students identify three areas they think they are good at/strong in, and three areas they think they need to improve. For example, pronunciation, fluency, paraphrasing, using more complex sentences etc. Pair students up. Have one student who said they need to improve something work with a student that feels confident in that particular area.   
  • You can encourage students to have a weekly check-in with each other, or pair them up when working on specific tasks that practice that particular skill.  

Peer teaching can be highly motivational as it involves learners in their own and their peers’ development, fostering a collaborative learning environment. 

5. Connect with authentic language

Incorporating authentic language materials can be helpful for advanced learners.  

  • Show learners examples of how proficient English speakers make errors and correct them, helping them understand that language learning is an ongoing process. You can do this by watching authentic videos online.  
  • This approach can also help students identify and rectify their own ‘fossilised’ errors – those long-standing mistakes that have become a habitual part of their language use. 

6. Creativity and imagination

When students feel like they’ve hit a language learning plateau, they can feel bored and discouraged in lessons. Try to introduce new activities or ways of learning to remedy this.  

For example:  

  • Include interactive games, debates on current issues or explore unusual topics  
  • Using authentic YouTube videos, memes or viral TikTok videos as discussion points or the basis of a lesson  
  • Have students decide on the topic of the lesson 
  • Have students bring in items or design activities related to the topic of the lesson, to personalise the class and encourage peer learning  

Creative learning strategies not only make the process more enjoyable but can also introduce new language contexts, helping to address persistent errors. 

Remember, overcoming the language learning plateau is not just about students moving forward but also about appreciating how far they’ve already come. As teachers, your role in guiding learners through this phase is crucial – offering not just knowledge but also inspiration and encouragement. 

Share ideas on how you can help students overcome the language learning plateau.

Find out more about Teaching Advanced Learners here


  1. This is a great article with some actionable tips for advanced learners! The idea of recognizing “fossilized errors” from authentic materials is particularly insightful. I’d also love to hear more about strategies for staying motivated during a plateau.

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