We’ve all heard of the Intermediate Plateau. That stage in language learning where you’ve mastered enough grammar and everyday vocabulary that textbooks alone are no longer enough to keep you engaged, yet you feel like you’re never making enough progress. You understand so much more than you used to, but at the same time, there’s still so much you don’t understand. You want to spice things up by switching to a more content-based routine (which is actually a great idea), but so much of the native content out there is too difficult for intermediate learners that you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, not knowing where to start.
This article is a compilation of the things that I’m currently doing to keep French fun for myself, as well as methods or activities that I found helpful when I was an intermediate learner in Korean, either for taking my skills to the next level, or for breathing new life into a tired routine.
#1: Watch Native Content Subtitled in Your Target Language
Good for: Listening & Vocabulary
It’s quite easy to find Korean Youtube channels that offer both Korean and English subtitles these days. If you’d like some recommendations, here‘s an article on that (I update it regularly, too). If you can, try to watch with only subtitles in your target language, since you’re at that stage where you’re supposed to be building up a certain level of skills in listening comprehension.
This is especially true if you’ve been working with a more reading-heavy routine. You’ll find that you struggle to understand spoken language, even if you actually know all the words that are being said and can recognise them comfortably in writing. This is because you aren’t used to hearing those words spoken out loud, so your brain may not be able to make the connection (between what is said and the words you already know) right away.
To bridge this gap between reading and listening, all you need is repeated exposure. Try watching the same video a few times – the first two times with subtitles, so you can try to match what you hear to what you’re reading – and then a couple more times without subtitles. You’ll notice that the more you do this, the faster you become at parsing and making sense of what is being said.
There’s a Chrome extension called Language Reactor (formerly called Language Learning with Netflix) that allows you to display subtitles in two languages on Youtube videos and Netflix. This is great for the first two viewings because you won’t have to keep pausing the video to look up words. You can also choose to blur out the English translations and have them show up only on hover, like this:
You can even do shadowing exercises – where you pause after every line (there’s an option in the settings that will help pause the video automatically at the end of every line, which saves you the hassle of wrestling with the progress bar) and try to repeat what is said while mimicking the intonation of the speaker. It’s great for improving pronunciation and intonation in general, but it’s quite time-consuming so I would suggest starting with shorter scenes or clips. That being said, I’ve always found it a very fun way to practice speaking and have studied whole movies with this method. It was very helpful for improving my speaking skills before I managed to find someone I could talk to regularly in my target languages.
#2: Join Book Clubs (Or Make Your Own)
Good for: Reading, Writing & Vocabulary
I’ve written about my experience of joining a Korean book club before. Looking back now, it was probably one of the best decisions I’d made as an intermediate Korean learner. I’d been feeling stuck. I wanted to improve my reading and writing skills in Korean, but I didn’t know where to start. I was tired of writing in my journal everyday (because as it turned out, my life wasn’t that interesting so I was always writing about more or less the same stuff every time), and Korean novels were a bit too hard for me.
And then I found an online community. It was a naver cafe (kinda like a subreddit) where people would gather and do online book clubs. It was perfect because they were reading English books. I wasn’t really at a level where I could comfortably read Korean novels. I would take hours to get through just a couple of pages, so there was no way I could have kept up with an actual Korean book club even if I tried.
It turned out to be the perfect exercise because I got to practice my writing skills in a way I never could before. I had to sum up every chapter in Korean, and discuss the plot with my fellow book club members. I also got to see how they did it – how they described the plot, and how they expressed their opinions on it. It was amazing because there are so many different ways you can describe the same events and characters, and I was able to learn all that just by reading their posts.
I also ended up reading a lot of book reviews on naver blog while doing this, because I would look up the book whenever I struggled to express my own thoughts on the book in Korean. Reading what other people had to say gave me inspiration and taught me a lot of useful words and expressions I can use when talking about books and sometimes, movies.
#3: Play the Sims in Your Target Language
Good for: Vocabulary
This is something that I’ve recently started doing in French and I honestly I wish I thought of this when I was still intermediate in Korean. I’m not sure why I didn’t – the game’s been sitting in my steam library forever.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Sims series – it’s a life simulation game where you get to create characters and help them lead their lives. Get a job, go on a vacation, start a family, or launch a career as a magician who raids tombs in their free time – the possibilities are endless. The game is available in many different languages and you can easily change the language in the settings.
The reason why this game is great for language learning is the sheer amount of diversity it offers when it comes to vocabulary. It attempts to simulate every aspect of life, so on one hand, you’ll learn words related to activities that we do everyday, like sleeping, cooking, taking out the trash, or texting a friend. On the other hand, it also teaches you words that you won’t necessarily come across everyday but aren’t exactly that uncommon – toddler, cemetery, martial arts, electrocution… If you get the expansion packs, you’ll be dealing with stuff like werewolves, vampires and fairies, too. It’s the perfect blend of mundane and fantasy.
Another great thing about using this game to learn vocabulary is that you get to learn them in context. You don’t necessarily need a dictionary, either. If you see a word you don’t know – click it, and see what your Sim does. One way or another, you’ll figure it out as you play. I remember learning so many English words from this game as a teen – there’s no reason why the same can’t happen again with French, or maybe in your case, Korean.
If you want to make the most of it, you can also take screenshots while playing and then write a simple essay describing what happened during your playthrough afterwards, using the screenshots. You can even turn it into a story!
#4: Read Webtoons/Comics
Good for: Reading & Vocabulary
Comics make for great reading practice because they’re usually more accessible than novels, and the majority of the text is dialogue, which is great for learning colloquial vocabulary that you don’t really get from textbooks. They’re also a lot easier to understand compared to other types of literature because the illustrations help provide contextual clues that you can use to work out the meaning of words you’re unfamiliar with without having to look them up.
If you’d like some recommendations on where to start, here‘s my recently updated article on some of the best webtoons for Korean learners. I’ve also been reading a lot of webtoons here, where you can find French translations of some of the most popular Korean webtoon titles. I like reading webtoons that I have already read once in Korean because it makes reading comprehension a lot easier than if I were to just go in cold (plus I can always refer to the Korean version if I find myself struggling to understand what’s going on), considering this is my first time reading anything in French (aside from Le Petit Prince).
#5: Read Reviews in Your Target Language
Good for: Reading & Vocabulary (potentially Writing)
If you’ve ever tried describing your favourite movie in your target language, you’d realise that it’s a lot harder than it seems. Reading reviews of the things you enjoy is a good fix for this. Just finished a Netflix show? Go on naver and read a couple of reviews on the show to see what Koreans think about it. Thought the book you just finished was rubbish? Look up a review en français to see if the French agree with you.
I started doing this a few years ago to improve my Korean language skills. This was before I found the book club. I had gotten tired of keeping a journal in Korean, and had decided to start writing about things that interested me more – mostly books, movies and TV shows that I enjoyed. I soon realised that I didn’t know enough words or vocabulary to really express what I wanted to say, so I started looking up reviews (후기) in Korean.
This helped a lot because not only was I able to see my favourite books and movies analysed from a Korean perspective, I also discovered new ways to talk about them. I would write down expressions or whole sentences that I could see myself using, and work them into my own reviews, which I would then upload to lang-8 for correction (a task my language exchange partner eventually took over).
#6: Get a Pen-Pal
Good for: Writing, Reading & Vocabulary
I have a whole article dedicated to how I went about this, but my favourite thing about this is that it challenges you to write regularly, in addition to being a great way to learn new vocabulary, expressions and just practice reading comprehension. It also challenges you write in a way you usually wouldn’t when you’re practicing on your own. When we write without reference, we tend to stick to stuff we already know – that includes not only words and expressions, but also topics.
But with letters, you control only one side of the exchange, much like a real-life conversation. You cannot always anticipate what the other person might say. You’re free to talk about what you want, but you’re also expected to keep the other person engaged by taking part in the discussions they have initiated. This can force you out of your comfort zone and get you to do research (like looking up certain topics in your target language so you know the right words to use) that you otherwise wouldn’t.
Another great thing about this is that unlike a real-time conversation, you get to take all the time you need to formulate your response. This gives you the opportunity to approach every letter you write as if it were a writing assignment, and you stand to gain all the more from it.
The most important thing, of course, is to have fun. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re bored, and at the end of the day, at least for me, it’s always about finding ways to do the things I enjoy the most (whether it’s reading, writing or playing the Sims) in my target language. In doing so, I’m able to make that language an integral, yet natural part of my life. Personally, my end goal has always been to get to the point where I no longer notice myself using the language. It’s where I am with English right now, and I look forward to the day where that’s the case for Korean (I’m halfway there though – I can feel it!) and French, too.
I hope you found this article helpful. As always, happy learning!