The 7 Stages of Learning a Language: Stage 3


Brief recap:

Stage 1, you get yourself 5 questions and answers.

Stage 2, you start listening to recordings of conversations using what you’ve learnt.

Now, Stage 3 is where people often first start to get a bit off track – or, in some cases, permanently adrift.  But I’m going to show you a way to make it all much easier to keep under control, so that you can revisit Stage 3 whenever you need to, without any risk of getting stuck there.

Stage 3

The meat of Stage 3 will seem, initially at least, very similar to Stage 1 – you’re going to be acquiring new words and phrases again.

It’s this process of acquiring new material that can leave you feeling a bit despairing – when does it ever end?! – and uncertain as to what exactly you’re meant to be doing next – just learning new material for ever?  Surely not?

Here’s how to solve that problem:

You make Stage 3 domain specific.

Here’s what I mean by that:

Each time you visit Stage 3, you choose one limited conversation.

Your conversation should be no more than five statements and questions and five responses – and it should focus on a specific theme (that’s what I mean by ‘domain’).

So, for example, you might have young children, and want to use your new language with their teacher.  Your first set of Stage 3 work might look like this:

How was she this morning? – She was fine, she seems happy.

Was she a good girl? – Yes, she plays really with with the others.

I hope he didn’t kick anybody again today. – No, he was much better.

Does he need anything for tomorrow?  – Yes, he needs to bring his book bag in.

Can we buy you a bottle of gin to say thank you for looking after them?  – Please do.  You can leave it in the staff room.

[I’m not trying to sustain any gender stereotypes here – these ‘imaginary’ sentences are all from the real life of my kids…;-)]

Maybe you don’t have young children, though.  Oh, happy, carefree days.  The joys of youth or old age.

I hope I don’t sound as though I hate you too much.

You might have time for actual, real interests in your life.  Your first set of Stage 3 work might look like this:

Are you doing anything tonight?  I haven’t got anything planned.

Shall we go and get a bite to eat somewhere?  Sounds like a good idea.

What do you feel like – Italian or something different?  Let’s go and see what we can find.

Maybe we can get a drink afterwards.  That sounds like a great idea – after all, we’ve got no pressing responsibilities.

And on the way home, we can laugh noisily outside the homes of young families.  Yes, that’s always fun.

Er, sorry if I started to sound a little on the bitter side there…;-)

Some things it’s worth noticing

In five interactions like that, you start to get the flow of a conversation.  You’ll pick up lots of little filler words that help you respond to other people, and you’ll find that you’ll develop a far greater width of ability than someone who is slogging their way through conjugating verbs or learning tedious lists of vocabulary.

Everything you do will fit together, belong together and be used (and useful!) together – and it’ll be easier to remember because of that.

Don’t be afraid of this kind of natural language.  There is NOTHING more difficult about it.  And don’t worry if anyone tells you you’re just learning phrases – you’re NOT.  You’re learning DIALOGUES.  And that makes it increasingly easy for you to start to mix up the bits and pieces you’ve learnt, and extrapolate from them to a far, far wider sea of communication.

And here’s a bonus – that kind of extrapolation comes naturally to you.  You won’t even need to work at it.  You’ll just find yourself thinking of ways to say stuff that you haven’t said before, using the building blocks that are coming more and more naturally to you.

Putting it all together

So, you choose a short exchange like that in a domain that you would find useful and relevant, you work through it until you’re confident that you can remember it all, and then you’ve finished this visit to Stage 3.

Yes, exactly.

You stop at this point.

That’s how you avoid getting stuck in the slough of despond.

It is time to move on to Stage 4 – and Stage 4 is where we get some magic starting to happen, and you realise (in full, glorious technicolor!) how much fun this all is.

More next week, unless Bootcamp gets too demanding, in which case it might end up being the week after next…;-)


Do you think this extra clarity might be helpful for some learners you know who are stuck conjugating and learning lists and feeling that it all goes on for ever?  If so, do please share it with them…:-)

And if you’d like to hear via email when I publish new posts, just use the ‘Follow blog via email’ link below.


The 7 Stages of Learning a Language:

Stage 1  |  Stage 2  |  Stage 3  |  Stage 4  |  Stage 5  |  Stage 6  |  Stage 7


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