What to learn at the intermediate level.
Half full: Image: SFBNess via FlickrPart 38 of the Poligo Guide to Learning a Language.
SECTION 4: This section explains how to divide the language into smaller parts and how to learn each part.
We talked in the last three parts about the beginner level. We divided the language into two main parts: the verb system and the noun system. You should take the time you need to cover these parts of the language. You should master each point (we'll talk about what that means below), but don't expect everything to be perfect. Remember that at the beginner level, you should be only looking at single sentences and examples. When you have a solid foundation, you are ready for the intermediate level.
To be sure you are ready for the intermediate level you should have a general idea of how the language works. You should have an idea of the important things about the language. As you continue and get more experience, you will know what to pay attention to. Every time you hear, read or use the language, you will build on the foundation you now have. With a good idea of what you need to cover, you can co-ordinate the many materials you have to help you learn (we talked about using many different kinds of materials in part 31). You should have a clear map of the language in your mind. (We are building a map of English grammar — check it out!)
Mastering a Rule
Before we talk about the intermediate level, let's talk about what you need to do to master a rule — an important part of learning a language. There are three steps:
- Understanding the rule — this means that you can remember the rule and what it means. You can understand it if you hear it or read it, but cannot use it yourself;
- Remembering many, many examples of the rule — this means you focus on memorising examples you have found when you are learning; and
- Using the rule smoothly in real life — this means you can use the right language at the right time, without preparation!.
Before you continue, you should read more about the three steps to mastery.
It is important to know three things about these three rules:
- Most people stop after step 1. They know something if they hear it, but they do not remember it perfectly (they have not remembered enough examples) and cannot call it to mind when they need it (they have not programmed themselves to respond to cues). Don't stop at 1.
- When you are in class or practice something, it is not like real life. Imagine your teacher introduces the topic, or you decide that you will practice a grammar point. Already, you have loaded up some of the information in your brain. You have given yourself a little boost. When you practice, it is easier than real life. It is not a natural language situation. You need to work on remembering things cold (without preparation).
- Step 3 is really part of the intermediate level: when you are using the language in real life. You are using the language in real time. You can prepare for this by programming yourself to react. We will talk about this later.
When you have a foundation and you have covered all the parts of the grammar, you are ready for the intermediate level. That means these three things are true:
- You have learned the basic grammar of the language;
- You know the verb and noun systems;
- You are now focussing on idiom, vocabulary and using what you know in real life.
The Three Parts of the Intermediate Level
There are three parts to the intermediate level. We will talk about each separately. They are these:
- Pragmatics and idiom — "Pragmatics" is what we call how language is used in different environments. It is how meaning can change because of the situation, place or time. "Idiom" is the unique way that native speakers use words to create meaning (which often cannot be understood from the meanings of each word). We talk more about these in part 39.
- Vocabulary building — The intermediate stage is when you need to focus on building your vocabulary as much and as fast as possible. You will also find it easier to remember new words at this stage, because you have a foundation of experience with the language. This is part 40.
- Real-life usage — At the beginner level, you will struggle to use the language in real life, but you should try! At the intermediate level, you will know all the parts of the language, and with a dictionary or other help, you will be able to work through most things you meet. Now is when you really start to shift from work to interaction and fun! This will be part 41.
NEXT: Part 39 — Pragmatics and idiom.