Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about progress in language learning and how it is hard to be objective or to even “measure” progress at all.
Sometimes progress is not quantifiable. In immersion situations, the brain is constantly working to process the input heard and seen every day. There may be knowledge we don’t even realize we have, like knowing words without having remembered learning them. Or perhaps we understand different words, even without being able to spell them or repeat them on our own. Context is a great interpreter.
Today marks three months since I arrived in Switzerland to study French. While I don’t have any official tests or benchmarks to boast of, I can say that I’ve improved.
The first way I know is through comparison. When I think about what I can accomplish now versus my abilities in September, the change is drastic. When I first arrived, I was barely able to hold a conversation, and any discourse that took place was laden with awkward pauses, searching for words, and asking for repetition. Now I can understand almost everything spoken directly to me and can make myself understood without having to search for too many words. I still make mistakes, but they don’t usually cause communication to break down.
The second indicator is my own expectations. I used to be pleasantly surprised when I was able to hold a conversation without stumbling over my words. Now I expect it. The same for comprehension. Talking one-on-one has become easier, so I’ve turned my attention to understanding group conversations between native speakers (much faster and harder to follow). My expectations may be high, but this will help in the long run for learning well.
Still, it’s important to celebrate the little victories along the way. I may not always realize it, but I am learning more every day.