Perception of "Advanced"

Footprints in the sand

Last week I posted some diagrams to help visualize different conceptions of the language learning process. Typically, the process is conceived as linear: one starts at a beginner level and progresses in a straight line through advanced language skills to fluency. This is not, however, how language learning works. The nature of language as an intricate system of patterns prohibits this kind of linear approach. The linear model can, on the other hand, be instrumental in illustrating another point about language learning that I hope to show here.

If you go to a bookstore or shop for materials online, you will often see language materials labelled as "beginner," "intermediate," and "advanced." There's a serious problem with these designations, however, because they are completely arbitrary and often very misleading. Because I start with the core of a language, I would consider topics like the "subjunctive" or "future perfect" to be beginner topics; but these are often presented as advanced. For the majority of commercial language resources, the most advanced is still pretty basic. The following diagram will illustrate what I mean:

Misconception of "Advanced"

When you finish something like Advanced Michel Thomas or an entire Rosetta Stone program, you might expect to be a lot further along than you actually are. You will almost certainly confront disappointment when you then go to try and use the language. Even learning everything in these resources will leave you far short of fluency because they do not contain the central core of the languages they teach in their entirety. Nor do they actually contain that much vocabulary, idiom, body language, or an understanding of register. They can facilitate entry to a language, but are far short of being complete solutions in themselves.

Be aware that using most of the resources out there on the market labelled as "advanced" does not mean that your ability level in the language will actually be advanced. Accept where you really are before getting to where you want to be.

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