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The Plateau

By: Ruth Morrongiello

By Ally
The graph I copied from my teacher on the first day. The X-axis is time, while the Y is language progress. My beloved plateau sits in the center.

February marks my fifth month here in Spain. By this time, I’ve settled into a routine—living with my host family no longer feels like a stranger’s home, and I think I could navigate the streets of Málaga with my eyes closed. However, while it feels like life has been relatively consistent recently, I’m still progressing language-wise.

Before arriving here, I expected learning a language to be just like any other subject: easier the more you practice. I had taken a few Spanish classes in high school and expected the route to fluency to be linear. However, on the first day of class back in September, my teacher drew us a graph of Spanish proficiency we would go through until fluency. It started low, with little to no knowledge of the language, and then quickly shot up. This initial increase was followed by a flat portion before gradually increasing again with time.

A page from our current chapter in the Spanish book. I’m currently at language level B1, and expected to finish with a level of B2.

For the first 3 or 4 months living here, I lived happily in the initial “upshoot.” I learned so much and could see progression in my Spanish skills—it was naturally motivating and exciting to see myself improve so much. My host parents frequently complimented my progression, and it was fun to be able to understand the conversations I overheard on the streets.

However, this past month, I’ve entered the next stage with my Spanish progression—the plateau.

The IKEA stuffed animal mysteriously appeared one day in class. He quickly became our emotional support animal.

As my teacher puts it, I’m at a delicate level of Spanish: I know enough to get by in any situation necessary, but I’m still not completely fluent. The“plateau stage.” My brain feels completely saturated with Spanish, and I simply don’t feel like I can possibly learn more. This stage is normal, but it’s bland and hard to find motivation. To make matters worse, we’re learning the “Subjunctive” tense of Spanish right now in class, and it’s rather difficult.

I tend to lack patience with myself, so this past month has tested my ability to slow down and really appreciate the process of learning. I make mistakes and am not a perfect Spanish speaker, and I’ve learned to become comfortable with that. Learning Spanish has pushed me out of my comfort zone every day, and it’s allowed for lots of self-growth as a student and individual. Looking back, I’m proud of how far I’ve come with the language, and I look forward to continuing my journey to fluency.