Have you ever started learning a new language, made lots of exciting progress for a few weeks, and then suddenly… hit a wall? You feel like you’re doing everything right but for some reason, your hard work just isn’t getting results anymore.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve encountered the dreaded Intermediate Plateau.
Don’t worry — you’re not alone. You’re not “bad at languages” or doing anything wrong. Every language learner hits this point eventually. The difference between people who dabble in languages and serious learners who eventually become fluent is how well they push through this stage.
What Is the Intermediate Plateau?
Learning a new language is one of the hardest things you can do. You’re basically rewiring your brain to think in a completely different way — you’re bound to get stuck eventually.
The most common place to get stuck is right after you’ve mastered the basics. That’s because this is when everything changes. When you were a beginner, you saw quick results with each new word you learned; every day, more and more core elements of the language became clear. It’s really exciting to master the most important 200 or 300 words of the language and start forming your first sentences!
But once you’re beyond that, you’re confronted with the overwhelming gap between basic mastery and true fluency. Suddenly, there are thousands of words and phrases to learn (with diminishing returns) which is why it feels like instead of advancing quickly, you’re now on a seemingly endless plateau.
If you’ve reached this point in your Spanish learning journey, never fear! There is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m going to teach you how to get past the Intermediate Plateau.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that you have already mastered all the fundamentals of the Spanish language, particularly essential grammar. For example, you can use all the Spanish pronouns flawlessly, you’re adept at all the tenses and moods of the most common Spanish verbs, and even if your vocabulary is pretty limited right now, you have an easy time creating natural, idiomatic Spanish sentences with the parts of speech you do know.
If you aren’t at this point yet, you should focus on getting there before attempting to follow the advice I give in this post. Check out our free resources for help mastering the foundational elements of Spanish.
How to Overcome the Intermediate Plateau
At this stage, the worst possible thing you could do is give in to the feeling that you’re not getting any better and never will. The key to pushing through the Intermediate Plateau is maintaining and building your confidence.
Easier said than done, right? Actually, this is pretty straightforward. There are 2 basic things you need to do to get out of the Intermediate Plateau. (We’ll break these down into 5 actionable steps in a moment.)
Build Long-Term Momentum
Your first objective is to establish study habits for consistent, daily growth. When you know you’re getting better every day, you’ll never completely lose confidence in your abilities. Half the battle of pushing through the Intermediate Plateau comes down to momentum — the knowledge that you’re constantly improving and the motivation it gives you to keep going.
Speak As Much As Possible
This is absolutely critical at this point because you can’t simply jump from studying Spanish to speaking conversationally. If you’re like most Spanish learners, your goal is to be able to speak your thoughts aloud in Spanish as soon as they occur to you. That takes an enormous amount of confidence, and you’ll need to be in the habit of speaking Spanish unhesitatingly for several months before you reach that point. Practicing speaking out loud is crucial for bridging the gap between merely studying Spanish and actually using Spanish fluidly in conversation.
Together, these two objectives create a positive feedback loop. The more knowledge you gain every day, the more confident you’ll feel speaking Spanish out loud. And the more that happens, the more motivated you’ll be to learn more Spanish. This is the holy grail of learning: the more you learn, the more motivated you are to keep learning.
So how can you make this happen? There are 5 steps I recommend for building the confidence and momentum you need to push through the Intermediate Plateau and into advanced Spanish. This might sound like a lot, but each of these steps is fairly easy to implement, and they all build on each other. So even if you just start with Step 1, you’ll have an easy time adding Step 2, then Step 3, and so on. Eventually you’ll be doing all 5 of these things on a regular basis.
5 Steps for Getting Past Intermediate Spanish
Step 1: Establish a Daily Routine
Contrary to popular belief, becoming fluent in Spanish isn’t all about how much you study — it’s more about how well you study. And a huge part of that is consistency.
Dedicate a little time each day to reviewing the fundamentals and pushing yourself forward. This could even be just 20 minutes every morning. Believe it or not, the amount of time you spend doing this is less important than the consistency, for 3 reasons:
- Studies show that our learning efforts pay off much more when we periodically revisit material over time instead of trying to cram it into fewer, longer study sessions. For example, if you study Spanish for 5 hours once a week, the information won’t stick nearly as well as it would if you spent 30 minutes studying every day.
- Shorter, more consistent study sessions are a much more efficient use of your time. 30 minutes a day adds up to only 3.5 hours, whereas cramming 5 hours of study into 1 day means you’re actually spending more time to get worse results.
- Daily review has a compounding effect. When you make a habit of practicing a little every day, your mind will eventually start working on Spanish in the background — even when you’re not studying. While you go about your day, and even while you sleep, your brain will continue processing Spanish. Eventually, you may even start dreaming in Spanish.
Of course, this habit of studying every day is only useful if you’re using your time well. I recommend having a set routine. That way, each day when you sit down to work on Spanish, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel — you’ll already know what you’re going to do. This will make it easier for you to get started and find a good groove.
There are 3 things that you should do every day during your routine study time:
- Review fundamental Spanish out loud.
- Memorize the new Spanish words and phrases you’re working on.
- Write in Spanish.
Keep in mind, this is the bare minimum you’ll need to do each day. Ideally, you’ll add more study habits to this list once you build a good routine.
Let’s talk about each one of these in a little more detail.
Phase 1: Review Fundamental Spanish Out Loud
This will probably be the easiest part of your daily routine. Find some Spanish audio materials that you’ve studied before, and review them for a few minutes. I recommend using the Accelerated Spanish dialogues (which cover all essential Spanish grammar and the most common 500 words in the language) or the audio quizzes from Volume 2 of the Accelerated Spanish course. Whatever you use, make sure to speak out loud to train your brain to form essential sentence structures in Spanish until they become second nature. This is a great warmup exercise that will get you into the right mindset to learn new material.
Phase 2: Memorize New Spanish Words and Phrases
Study some words and phrases that go beyond the fundamentals that you’ve just practiced in Phase 1. I recommend using digital flashcards with a spaced-repetition system (SRS) to streamline your study efforts. If you don’t know how to set up a system like this, check out our video Learn Spanish Permanently.
I suggest using Anki. Create a flashcard deck for all the Spanish words and phrases you need to learn. Whenever you encounter a new Spanish word or phrase (as you go about your day or when you’re studying Spanish), simply add it to your flashcard deck, and you’ll be able to review it regularly.
For Phase 2 of your daily study routine, log in to Anki and review your flashcard deck. In your settings, make sure you enable spaced repetition and select the option to start with the English word and guess the Spanish translation. Anki will automatically quiz you on the words and phrases you most need to study that day.
Phase 3: Write in Spanish
In addition to memorizing Spanish words and phrases, you should also practice creating Spanish sentences of your own. Sitting down with a blank piece of paper and being told to write in Spanish may sound like a lot of pressure, but there’s a simple hack for getting the ball rolling: start by write a few sentences using the random words and phrases you just practiced in Phase 2.
To make it a bit more challenging, see if you can incorporate the words and phrases that you found the most difficult today. Write a few short sentences, or try creating a dialogue between two people speaking Spanish. If possible, send your sentences to a native speaker you trust to give you honest feedback on your writing. (If you have a Spanish coach or tutor who can critique your writing, even better!)
So there you have it: your daily study routine! Remember, consistency is the key to making progress. Even if you have a bad day and only have 10 minutes to practice Spanish, you can zip through a shortened version of your routine and successfully maintain your Spanish study streak. Think of your Spanish progress as a heartbeat. By being consistent with this daily routine, you establish a steady pulse that will keep your Spanish alive and well.
Now that you have an established study routine, let’s talk about the next 4 steps that build on it.
Step 2: Turn Your Weaknesses into Strengths
The Intermediate Plateau is the point where all of your weaknesses start to feel insurmountable. (“I have how many words left to learn??”)
So let’s flip the script. Instead of viewing your weaknesses as roadblocks — which can be incredibly discouraging — embrace them as opportunities to grow.
To explain how this works, let’s use an analogy. Imagine you’re building a shelter out of sticks, and your structure has some gaps. Fortunately, you have a patching kit that contains a type of clay that hardens into a strong mortar wherever you apply it. Now imagine that you find a gaping hole in your shelter. After you patch it, the spot that used to be the weakest part of your structure is now one of the strongest.
This is exactly what you’ll be doing with Step 2 — identifying your weakest areas in Spanish so that you can patch them up and turn them into your strengths.
This might sound too good to be true, but it’s actually pretty simple.
It starts with a lot of honesty and humility. You have to be able to admit to yourself that, currently, your structure is full of holes that need to be patched. And although it’s natural to try to cover up and hide our weaknesses, the best language learners are the ones who actively look for their weaknesses and put them on display. So you need to commit to poking holes in your Spanish abilities. It might feel a bit painful, but the more you do this, the faster you’ll grow into a strong, fluent Spanish speaker.
There are two things you need to look for: output weaknesses and input weaknesses.
An output weakness happens when you try to say or write something in Spanish but you’re not sure how. An input weakness is when you can’t understand something you read or hear in Spanish. When either of these happens, make a note of what you had trouble with (in English if you need to), and remember it to work on later.
Let’s talk about this in a little more detail. Any time you have trouble saying something, admit to yourself, “I didn’t know how to say that,” and physically write it down. I recommend keeping a small journal or notebook so you can store all your notes in one place and easily refer back to them when you study.
You should also make a habit of doing this when you’re listening to other people speak. In any Spanish conversation, be willing to speak up and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that one phrase.” It might sound embarrassing — trust me, this is hard for me, too — but this is actually a positive thing. If you’re upfront and specific about what you’re having trouble with in Spanish, you can turn those weaknesses into strengths faster.
Of course, in-person conversations aren’t the only place that you can do this. I’ve found that one of the best ways to find weaknesses in my Spanish is through text conversations. When you’re texting, it’s really easy to pause mid-conversation and make a note of a word or phrase you’re unsure of. If you don’t have friends that you text with in Spanish, I recommend HelloTalk or Tandem — free language exchange platforms that can connect you with native speakers around the world.
Whether you’re identifying your weaknesses via text or in face-to-face conversations, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help! In my experience, native Spanish speakers will actually respect you more for making the effort to improve your conversational Spanish.
Now, what should you do with all these notes about your weaknesses? As often as possible (at least a couple of times per week but ideally every day), go through all your notes and create flashcards for them in your Anki system. Let’s say one of your notes says something like, “I didn’t know the Spanish word for ‘digest’ yesterday.” At a minimum, look it up on SpanishDict.com and put the English word on one side of a new flashcard and the Spanish translation on the other side. When you have time, I recommend translating an entire phrase containing the word — Linguee.com is a good resource for finding example sentences. Whatever you do, commit to going through all of your notes regularly and making them into flashcards so you can turn the weaknesses that you’ve identified into strengths.
Step 3: Level Up Your Listening Practice
The third step is to turn Spanish media (books, videos, songs, etc.) into a means of practice for you. Again, this builds on the previous two steps. Assuming that you’ve established a daily study routine and are systematically capturing your weaknesses and turning them into strengths, you can now be confident that whatever you add to your flashcards will turn into long-term Spanish skills. Now it’s time to find some Spanish audio sources for practicing your listening comprehension.
Let’s break that down.
First of all, you should find audio resources that are just outside your comfort zone in Spanish. If your current reading level in Spanish is closer to Eric Carle, you shouldn’t jump straight from there to Tolstoy. Don’t go so far beyond your current comfort zone that you get completely lost and discouraged. What you’re looking for are resources that would take only a little extra study for you to understand.
The best resources for listening practice are forms of media that include both audio and a transcript. Songs are great because you can almost always find accurate lyrics online. Videos and movies can work, but only if there are accurate subtitles (which is unfortunately rare). Personally, I prefer books — I recommend picking up both a physical copy and the audiobook. That way you can read and listen at the same time, and you can choose a subject that’s interesting to you.
It’s important to note that this is not for passive entertainment. In fact, if you’re studying Spanish media effectively, it will unfortunately probably not be very entertaining for a while. It’s a lot of hard work, but it will pay off in a big way later.
To practice your listening comprehension, start by reading roughly one paragraph (or one verse of a song) and look up any words or phrases that you’re not familiar with. When you’ve learned all the new words and phrases, read through the passage again, this time with the audio playing. If your comprehension isn’t at 100% yet, study a little bit more. Once you’re able to easily understand the passage while reading and listening simultaneously, try listening without reading along. When you get to 100% comprehension, you’re ready to move on to the next section!
As you study, don’t just “notice” when you come across a new word or phrase you don’t understand. Physically write it down and add it to your flashcard set.
When making new flashcards, include entire phrases of up to 10 words. But be strategic about it. If a phrase you come across contains only one word you don’t know, that makes a good single flashcard. But let’s say you’re reading something fairly dense that contains two terms that are very unfamiliar to you. Personally, I think this merits two or three flashcards, perhaps one for each of the new words and then one for the entire phrase. For example, I was recently reading the first chapter of Sapiens in Spanish and encountered the phrase “proportional to their wingspan”, which translates to “proporcional a su envergadura alar” in Spanish. Since “envergadura alar” is a mouthful, I decided to make this its own flashcard; then I made a separate flashcard with the entire phrase so I could practice it in context too.
Listening to Spanish media is a great way to learn new phrases in Spanish. When I was listening to Sapiens, I kept randomly remembering phrases from the first chapter — even when I wasn’t studying Spanish — for weeks afterwards. Spanish songs are even better because the music is catchy and can get stuck in your head, which becomes an automatic form of review!
For more tips and tricks on this step, check out our article How to Improve Your Spanish Listening Comprehension.
Step 4: Practice Conversation with a Native Speaker You Trust
This step is about getting productive conversation practice that’s focused on improving your Spanish capabilities right at the edge of your comfort zone.
There are two things to remember about this kind of conversation practice:
- This is serious practice time — you should be 100% focused on poking holes in your current speaking and comprehension skills in order to improve your ability to hold a conversation in Spanish. There are many ways to practice conversational Spanish, and you should take advantage of as many of them as you reasonably can, including normal conversation with the native speakers in your life. But if you’re serious about getting to the next level, it’s important to spend at least some time working on conversation practice that is specifically aimed at sharpening your skills. This means working with someone who’s truly dedicated to speaking roughly at your level and working on your problem areas to help you get to the next level. If you’re not sure where to find native speakers to practice with, the Accelerated Spanish coaches are some of the best in the world.
- During your practice time, make sure to capture your weaknesses, including anything you have trouble saying and anything you have trouble understanding. Remember the analogy we made earlier about building a flimsy shelter: at this point in your Spanish journey, you should be turning all of your weaknesses into strengths. Conversation practice is perhaps the best way to identify your weaknesses. And if you have a high level of trust with the person you’re practicing with, they’ll be supportive of you making notes during your practice sessions so that you can identify the specific things you need to work on.
Have you ever heard the expression, “Practice does not make perfect — only perfect practice makes perfect”?
This is absolutely true for practicing conversation in Spanish. Your speaking practice won’t do you much good if you’re using incorrect words, phrases, or conjugations. You need to commit to speaking only correct Spanish, like a native speaker would.
This isn’t like a regular conversation where you say something wrong but your Spanish-speaking friend understands your meaning and lets the error slide. Your conversation partner should ruthlessly point out every mistake you make. Let’s say you’re conversing and accidentally say “He visto el persona” instead of “He visto a la persona.” Your conversation partner should stop you, point out your mistake, and tell you the right way to say it. Then you’ll repeat the sentence, this time using the correct phrase.
Committing to effective conversation practice will save you a lot of time and frustration in the long run. I had a student once who had been practicing Spanish on her own for years before she joined our program, and she was in the unfortunate habit of using the verb ser instead of estar all the time. She had been saying the incorrect phrase “Dónde es?” instead of “Dónde está?” for years without anyone telling her it was wrong, so it became deeply ingrained in her Spanish voice. Unfortunately, this made it very difficult for her to communicate well with native speakers, and the habit took a long time for her to break. If she had been corrected early on, this bad habit would not have become so deeply ingrained.
When you make a habit of practicing conversation like this, you’ll correct your mistakes before they become bad habits and get more and more comfortable holding real-world conversations with native speakers.
Step 5: Practice Language Switching
Step 5 is about getting used to switching between English and Spanish. To explain why this is important, I’m going to describe a very common scenario.
Imagine that you’ve been learning Spanish for 6 months, and you have a 2-hour daily study routine that you do every morning. During that time, you’re completely in the zone working on Spanish — your time is always productive and you’re making great progress. But one day, while you’re at a party, a friend introduces you to someone, tells her that you’re learning Spanish, and says, “You guys should speak Spanish!” Suddenly, your new acquaintance starts talking to you in rapid Spanish. You weren’t expecting to speak Spanish this evening, and you quickly get lost trying to understand what she’s saying to you. When you try to reply to her in Spanish, you flounder.
What went wrong?
Until now, you’ve been practicing Spanish in a familiar little bubble. And that’s been very good for you! But being able to understand and speak Spanish in the context of a study session isn’t the same as being able to speak it in the real world. If you’re going to become fluent in Spanish, you have to learn to spontaneously switch to Spanish whenever the situation calls for it.
This step is a bit trickier than the other four because it’s not something you’ll do at a set time every day or every week. Instead, this is about finding creative ways to introduce Spanish spontaneously — maybe even randomly — into your life in various contexts. The goal is to become adept at quickly switching to Spanish any time you need to.
Let’s talk about some strategies for doing this.
First of all, don’t wear yourself out by trying to practice Spanish at every moment of the day — we don’t want Spanish to become a source of nonstop stress. Instead, try to think of a few ways to make Spanish come up somewhat randomly a few times a day.
One idea is to set a timer on your phone to go off every 1 hour and 10 minutes (adding those extra 10 minutes shifts the interval each hour to make it less predictable). Every time it goes off, see if you can translate whatever you’re doing into a few sentences in Spanish. Then put it away and spend the next hour and 10 minutes not thinking about Spanish at all. This simulates what it’s like to have to use Spanish unexpectedly and helps you get used to switching between English and Spanish on the fly. The nice thing about this strategy is that it’s totally automated — when the timer goes off, see if you can gently switch to Spanish for a minute or two. Then go back to whatever you were doing and don’t worry about it any more.
Another way to add language switching to your day is to follow Accelerated Spanish on Instagram. If you spend some of your time on social media anyway… why not make the most of it?
Every day when you watch your friends’ Instagram stories, you’ll spontaneously be interrupted by Accelerated Spanish asking you to complete a short Spanish quiz. An English sentence will appear (usually a pretty off-the-wall one, to keep you on your toes!), and your task is to see how quickly you can come up with the Spanish equivalent. The next screen will give the sentence in Spanish so you can see if you were right. And we publish new sentences every day, so it will always be a fresh challenge for you.
If you practice spontaneous switching like this, you’ll get more and more comfortable switching to Spanish during random encounters with native speakers in real life. This is a huge step toward true bilingualism.
If you follow these 5 steps faithfully, you’ll never have to worry about whether or not you’re making progress toward Spanish fluency again. The Intermediate Plateau will no longer be a plateau for you — you’ll put yourself on a steady upward trajectory toward advanced Spanish. Your daily routine will strengthen and expand your Spanish knowledge, and you’ll feel your confidence growing every day. This combination of steadily increasing knowledge and confidence will create a snowball effect of momentum that will propel you to fluency.
To sum up, I recommend that you make yourself a promise: You’re going to make daily Spanish progress no matter what. Every morning, you’ll spend at least 20 minutes doing the daily study routine we outlined above — no matter how busy or crazy your day is. Even if you only follow this step, as long as you’re consistent, you will keep moving forward! To help you hold yourself accountable, download this free daily habit tracker.
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