Patting yourself on the back: noticing language-learning milestones

During the long haul of language study, it’s common sense that celebrating your successes en route can help keep you motivated.

When I’m just starting a language, this is pretty obvious: I notice my reading comprehension has gone up simply because I can recognize more words, or connect phrases into a sentence, even if I can’t parse much more than that: oh, this article is about a car accident or the stock market or the weather in Berlin.

But now, I’m struggling against that intermediate slump: I can read things and understand a lot of them, but fine-tuning grammar and comprehension takes more and more effort. So to get myself back in gear, I thought I’d take a bit of time to note a few German milestones.

Firstly: I’m getting better at discerning viewpoints. That is, not only can I identify the subject of a news article or blog post, I’m more able to tell what opinion the writer might have.

This can be tricky, especially with sarcasm! For example: A while ago, Lutz Bachmann, the founder of Islamophobic, xenophobic far-right movement Pegida in Germany, went and stuck his own Pegida “theses” to the door of a church. (Yes, like Martin Luther.) When I read about this, I thought it had to be a joke (did I accidentally click on the German version of the Onion?). My confusion was compounded because the article contained a bit of dialogue between Bachmann and his advisors about why this would be a good next step for Pegida. It took a while before I was able to figure out that the dialogue was indeed mockery, but the church door action was real (I went googling to find out if other German newspapers were covering it, and then I found a link to a video on YouTube of Bachmann actually doing the deed). Triumph!

On another note: the other day, I was reading a blog in which the blogger explained why she preferred das Vegan Magazin over other German vegan magazines, including Kochen ohne Knochen. The former is basically Corporate Vegan (slick photos, ads for 500€ blenders on the back cover, you know what I mean). The latter is smart, critical, and overall pretty nifty (at least as far as I can tell at this point…). I was outraged! But then, of course, quite smug that I could understand enough to be outraged.

Coming up with ten or fifteen new tabs’ worth of links to investigate from an article also feels like progress to me: not only have I been able to identify that the original article has a viewpoint that’s of interest, I’ve determined that their links are well-curated, relevant, and of a format/reading level that’s accessible to me (in other words, not links to academic articles or legal decisions).

This is another argument for learning languages through things you’re interested in: the vocabulary’s more likely to stick. Especially because you’ll keep hearing a lot of the same words over and over if you read about related topics. So then when you do open every link in a blog post in a new tab, your super-specific vocabulary set helps you decide more quickly which of those new tabs you want to slow down and investigate further, and which aren’t worth pursuing.

I try to cleave to the principle of abundance when going through links like this, and my daily news emails, by the way: I don’t have to feel guilty if I skim things or close tabs without reading them, or mark a source in my RSS feed reader as read when I haven’t read the articles there. What I don’t have time or focus to read today will be replaced tomorrow by new things. (I realize with rarer languages this may not be true, alas.) I don’t need to cling to everything that sounds remotely interesting and feel guilty or overwhelmed by having dozens of things waiting for me to read them. Easy come, easy go. Less stress makes me a happier language learner! Which also keeps me learning languages.

What milestones have you reached recently? Which ones are you proudest of? Are there other ones looming on the horizon that you’re inching towards?



  1. “What I don’t have time or focus to read today will be replaced tomorrow by new things.”

    This is so true! I tend to keep a dozen tabs open with articles to read in my target language, telling myself that I’ll get to them eventually. Sometimes I decide I have too many tabs open and bookmark those articles in a “to read” folder with a 99% chance that I’ll eventually delete the folder without having read any of its content.

    There’s always something newer, something more interesting, something that can be read faster, and we turn our back on what we thought interested us, but it’s OK to do so as long as we have other things to read in our target languages! First thing tomorrow I’m going to sort through those tabs and bookmarks and delete anything left unread. Easy come, easy go, just like you wrote 🙂


    1. Very well put, Lueur! Did you end up going through your tabs and bookmarks? (…I have so many tabs open, eek! For some reason it’s more difficult for me to close them than it is to just skip through a blog post or an article. I wish there was some kind of browser extension that would make tabs different colors depending on how long you’d had them open — that might prod me into closing some of them!)


      1. I did! Right now I only have 8 tabs open in addition to this page – 4 pinned tabs with my email inboxes and Tweetdeck, and 4 pages I need for an ongoing project. Nothing unnecessary. I wonder how long it will last!

        I like your idea regarding colored tabs, that could be quite useful. I hope you’ll find something similar before you get overrun by tabs 🙂

        Do you think we should give this a try?


        1. Thank you for that link, Lueur, I’m going to use that technique and see how it helps me! I think it may be quite a challenge at first.


  2. It’s definitely a good thing for someone to appreciate their progress they have made with a language (particularly when they approach an agonising intermediate language learning plateau!). I also find it can be good to revisit old exercises from textbooks and learning materials which at one point were really hard… and now they seem easy.


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