5 Questions To Ask Yourself When You’re Feeling Stuck [Intermediate Or Advanced-Level Plateau]

Feeling stuck or stagnant in your language journey? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself before you strategize to overcome an intermediate or advanced-level plateau.

  1. Can I describe my weekly activities in detail, including their purpose?

Assuming that you’re reading, writing, and listening skills are at a satisfactory level (for you), you should now be focused on your ability to describe your day-to-day environment. What do you do in a day, from waking, to going to bed? What routines do you follow and why?

  1. Can I read at least 2,000 kanji characters (both おんよみ and くんよみ)?

How many kanji characters can you recognize? (By “recognize”, I mean you know the sound that the characters make, not their meaning.) Have you learned how to distinguish similar-appearing characters apart by their strokes and radicals? Kanji is often described like a boss-level threat in a video game, and by no means am I suggesting that learning them is easy, but it ultimately comes down to a well-rounded memorization technique. 

As there are thousands of kanji characters, I think that 2,000 is a good quantity to get yourself moving up the learning-ladder. Just make sure that you’re learning both おんよみ and くんよみ readings, which means that you know the individual readings and the readings when the characters are grouped with others. Bonus points if you can also memorize the meanings as well! 

Personally, I prefer to study the readings and the meanings separately.

  1. Can I describe the kind of job I have, my title, my duties, and the skills that make me good at my job?

This is a big one and I intentionally didn’t lump it in with question 1 because this point should include many technical terms. Do you know the Japanese word for the devices and strategies that you use at work? Can you describe the systems that improve or hinder your workflow? If you were to be interviewed for a similar position at a Japanese company, could you complete an entire 20-35 minute interview about why you’re the right candidate. 

  1. Can I describe my hobbies, passions, and aspirations?

At this phase, you’re well beyond the days of saying phrases like 猫が好き or 宿題が嫌い to talk about your interests. Now is the time for you to tell me all of the reasons you like cats and whether you prefer them over dogs or other animals (as pets). You should be able to describe the way your passions make you feel. You should learn to describe your aspirations, using simple and complex vocabulary/grammar. 

  1. Can I have the same (daily) conversations in Japanese that I can in my mother tongue?

Firstly, do you know the topics that you talk about every day? For a while I didn’t, until the time came to chat with a friend or language partner. So I made a list. After each conversation I had, I’d note the topic or specific things we discussed and ask myself whether I could’ve had that same chat in Japanese. If the answer was no, I’d pick a place to start and begin learning words and set phrases, then practice with a language partner.

One last thing! The Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services published a can-do list of topics to gauge one’s proficiency level. Though it’s aimed at those who want to take the JLPT, I find it to be an excellent source of inspiration for intermediate or advanced learners who’ve hit a plateau. Check it out here!

Good luck to you all!

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