Learning curve, imagined versus actual (from Polygot Dream blog)
I’m going to keep this short, because I’d really prefer it to be a conversation. The question is: How do you bust through learning plateaus? Not how do you learn something as a beginner, but how do you keep learning when you’re fairly competent, are experiencing diminishing returns, and are finding it harder to find the tools and teachers who can guide you?
For context let me explain that this week I started my fourth round of in-country Spanish lessons in a year. I started out at a lower intermediate level. I’m now somewhere at the upper intermediate level, having logged 500 study hours in Spanish. (I no longer believe in "fluency" as a simple concept. If I've learned anything, it's that "proficiency" is relative, situational, and even controversial.) That last step, from upper intermediate to advanced is a tricky one, and once again, I’m finding that teachers at this level don’t always know what to do with students who aren’t beginners. Today, I spent two stimulating hours talking about everything from circus arts to minimalist decor with my Mexican teacher, and I could understand her perfectly. But could I express myself completely? Absolutely not.
Think of something you do well. Maybe you write seriously and have published and even garnered positive reviews in big places. Maybe you’ve taught for ten years and feel comfortable in the classroom. Maybe you’ve run a bunch of marathons, are fitter than 90% of people your age, and have a good idea of how to train. Maybe you cook meals that occasionally astound your family and friends.
I’ve been surfing the internet and reading, and come up with only a few answers.
Establish new goals: be specific.
Mix it up. Come at your subject/activity from a new direction.
Find a new source of motivation.
Find a new teacher.
Learn how to coach your own coach better.
Those tips are good, but a little colorless.
I’m asking you to think about what you used to do pretty well, and what you now do much better. How do you move from good to great, or from slightly frustrated to really excited and fulfilled? You may have answers from the world of writing, or from other places—sports, plant identification, you name it.
How did you break through a learning barrier? I'd love to hear your story.
Andromeda Romano-Lax is a co-founder of 49 Writers and the author of the forthcoming novel, Behave (March 2016), an Indie Next pick. She is also a book coach and teaches in the UAA MFA program