The 3 Stages of Language Learning Progress

There are two keys factors that influence language learning:

  • Time
  • Method

Acquiring a language takes time and a flexible learning method.

Flexibility at the various stages of your language acquisition is essential to developing a solid “linguistic core”. My method enables your brain to acquire effectively the language in a progressive manner over time.

Language learning is not merely a matter of learning words and phrases.  You also need to develop other language skills with them.

Language manuals, courses and tests divide languages into levels of linguistic abilities. The Common European Framework explains these distinctions here. They are used throughout the EU.

Language levels are generally divided into three main stages:

  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

My method shows the learners how to adapt their learning styles to overcome the different issues at each level of the language acquisition process.

Here is a brief summary of the situation for the learner at each stage of the language learning process:

Stage 1. Beginner

Stage 1 is the most delicate phase because everything is new.

The sounds of the language can seem almost indistinguishable to our ears.  Vocabulary and grammar can also be completely new to us and unlike anything we know in our mother tongue.

It takes time for the brain to get used to the sounds, patterns, grammatical structures, vocabulary and rhythms of the new language.

It takes time for the brain to process the huge quantity of information it is being exposed to.  These pieces of information are stored in specific locations in the brain.

Further time is then needed to “network” this new information in the brain to join up the words to the sounds. At an even higher level, an overall and superior networking is required to put together everything.

 This whole process makes up the “linguistic core”.

Stage 2. Intermediate

The language no longer sounds so foreign now.  It is possible to recognize the rhythm of the language and pick out its sounds.  When a native talks about familiar topics, the learner can understand the bigger picture of what’s being said and can identify speech patterns in the language.

Acquiring sounds, words and structures becomes quicker and easier. The brain is putting together the pieces of the language absorbed through listening and reading, writing and listening practice.

At this stage, things are getting easier, but you still have the feeling that you are not yet fully functional in the language in a wide variety of situations.

Stage 3. Advanced

During the transition period from the intermediate stage to the advanced stage, something clicks. Suddenly everything that had been difficult so far (in terms of comprehension and oral skills) becomes easy.  Understanding native speakers, following a TV show and reading newspapers are possible. Building sentences is done effortlessly.  We call this the Epiphany point (E point).

After the E point language learning continues without so much effort on the learner’s part.  You can use the language in real life situations to increase your knowledge and ability, often without the help of a course or textbooks.

At this stage in the learning process you can begin to explore the rich tapestry of the language and gain a deeper understanding of the workings of the language.

The rate of one’s learning must be adapted to the specific features of each stage. Getting to grips with the challenges of each language is key.  Then it is a question of tackling the challenges presented at each stage of learning.

Language Learning Stages - Final Thoughts

Most often people give up on language learning because everything is too new and they feel too uncomfortable outside their comfort zone. 

When we were kids, we didn't care about this because we were curious and eager to learn through experimentation and play. 

However, now that you understand that language learning develops in stages, you have a new point of reference in your language learning journey. 

I would be glad to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so let me know in the comments!

Written by Luca Lampariello in collaboration with Richard Simcott

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  • Hello Luca,

    I hope this is the right place to ask some questions that you could perhaps respond to (if/when you have some time)?

    I’m wondering how long it took you to learn German and Dutch. I’m very, very passionate about learning these languages (well, particularly those two) and I would really appreciate some insight from you as to which one you found easier to learn, specific strategies you found helpful during your studies and .. well, any other relevant information you can offer.

    I’d also really be interested in knowing how you find the time daily to practice/make progress (assuming your profession isn’t linguistics-based). I find I’m still having difficulty dedicating enough time to practicing so that my progress is slightly expedited. Any tips?

    And lastly: My ultimate goal is to move back to Europe in 4 years and to apply to medical school in Vienna, Amsterdam and Brussels. (So of course I need to know both German and Dutch to apply!) And although I know learning a language certainly takes time, it seems that life has inadvertently given me a ‘deadline’ as to when I need to have mastered Dutch and German – 4 years, no more or less.

    And thus my last question to you is: do you think that the above is a feasible goal, to learn both languages in that time frame?

    (Just some additional information, in case it is useful:

    Besides English, I am also fluent in Serbian (and Croatian.. they are similar, but there are still distinct differences, especially their respective alphabets) and French. Also, I have already started learning German (about a year ago) and have a relatively firm grasp of what I suppose are the basics.)

  • Dear friend,

    I started learning German at the age of 15. I mainly used DE AGOSTINI IL TEDESCO PER TE to reach an upper intermediate-basic fluent level within a year and a half. Some time later, I met native speakers and this contact caused my German to take off very quickly: after 2 years I was fluent in German.

    As for Dutch, I started in 2000 with ASSIMIL (I always suggest one use ASSIMIL to get started, at least as far as European languages are concerned. It adapts perfectly to my method and it is in general an excellent course). I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to practice this beautiful language but it “stuck” to my brain due to fact that I often read German.

    When I first approached German, I mainly relied on grammar to get acquainted with the language: this grammar-based study proved to be very inefficient very quickly and I finally came up with my back-and-forth translation method. German was difficult because of the cases, and I dealt with that by simply translating texts. That way, I gave my brain the possibility to form patterns without relying on any sort of boring declension table (the majority of the nouns that end by – indung (like “Verbindung”) are feminine and have the die-der-der-die pattern, to name an example. You “acquire” and grasp this fact by exposure, not by learning the cases by heart).

    I found Dutch much easier because 1) I knew how to learn it and 2) it is very similar to German

    Their similarity is an advantage in the long run, but it can be a problem if you start learning one amd already know/speak the other. The similarity of their structure can be confusing at times. I experienced this confusion in the very early stages of my learning Dutch, and it disappeared as long as I made progress in the language. This is why I always suggest one learn them separately.

    So my advice to you is:

    Start learning German and try to get fluent in 2 years
    After 2 years, start learning Dutch WHILE perfecting your German

    As for the final question, I practice a lot of languages every day because I have a lot of foreign friends. My strategy is always to learn a language “deliberately” on books, CDs etc and then expand it with “real sources”, such as TV, music, native speakers. In other words, I build an environment around me and I “breath”, “live”, “use” the language.

    If you have any more question, I am here

    Good luck with your studies!


  • Hello Luca! I´m from El Salvador and I´m really interested in languages, I’m currently learning Dutch and I don’t know if I look a little smug, but I really find it easy!, I’ve being following your method and I’m definitily surprised, I always thought that languages couldn’t be learned, unless by a teacher, well, I think teachers are useful but only if you know the basics of a language. well, I’ve got a question for you: is skype useful to improve one’s skills? because I´d like to chat with people via skype, and once I learn the bases of Dutch I want to improve it, I´ve being practicing and I think I’m picking up very quikcly, and one more question: do you know tips to learn faster? because when I learned English i learned it in one year, so how could I learn Dutch so I’m able to speak fluently and be understood within one year?, I hope you answer me when you have time, thank you! bye!

  • Luca-
    I am learning Brazilian Portuguese and using Teach Yourself with your translation method. I really like it, it works for me. My questions: how many times do you listen to the dialogue or how do you know when your are finished with it? What level

  • Luca-
    I am learning Brazilian Portuguese and using Teach Yourself with your translation method. I really like it, it works for me. My questions: how many times do you listen to the dialogue or how do you know when your are finished with it? What level will Teach Yourself take you to? What are good resources to use afterward? And how should I start speaking since I don’t live in Brazil?

    • Dear Bryce, I am glad you like my method, a lot of people are using it these days, and reporting excellent results 🙂 I listen and read the dialogue at least 5-10 times before definitely putting it behind me and move on. By “moving on” I mean that I have read, written (in both languages), analyzed-synthesized, “absorbed” the dialogue.

      One crucial thing is not only how many times you listen to a dialogue, but HOW you listen to it. I will explain this in more detail in the next videos, which I am postponing right now because I am REALLY busy these days, but let me give you a “preview” in this regard: you can listen to dialogue in Brazilian Portuguese while: reading the corresponding text in the same language, and later 2)while reading the corresponding text in your native one (that is why ASSIMIL is great with its bilingual text). To make a long story short: a good thing to do is to VARY your activities: just listening and reading all the time and always the same way can be boring in the long run. Hope this short piece of advice will be of help 🙂 Luca

  • Hi Luca,
    I like your video. I have a friend who also likes the video. He is currently learning English, and he requested me to transcribe the text for me. I am doing that for his personal use.
    With your permission, I wonder if I can share the transcription and an audio version of this video in the LingQ Library. There will be a link pointing back to this post and the YouTube Video.


  • Ciao Luca,
    ho trovato per caso curiosando su internet i tuoi video su you tube e sono rimasta impressionata dalla tua capacitá di parlare cosí tante lingue e per di piú con un accento da madrelingua.
    Io ho studiato per anni inglese e tedesco, ma non credo di aver mai raggiunto un livello come il tuo. Mi accorgo soprattutto quando parlo con dei madrelingua di dimenticare le parole piú semplici che s’imparano, per cosí dire, nelle prime unitá. Cosa mi consigli di fare per rimediare a questi “buchi”?
    Al momento cerco di esercitare il mio tedesco parlando via skype con una madrelingua. Mentre l’inglese ammetto di averlo un pó abbandonato.
    Ora peraltro abito in Grecia da 7 mesi e sto piano piano imparando il greco, ma voglio adottare subito il tuo metodo cosí potró ottenere maggiori risultati e soprattutto duratori nel tempo.
    Secondo te quanto e come dovrei impiegare il mio tempo nell’apprendimento della nuova lingua (greco) e il “recupero” del tedesco e dell’inglese?

    • Ciao Erika. Perdona il ritardo della risposta ma ero in vacanza e non sono stato molto davanti al computer. Per rispondere alla tua domanda..dipende solo da te. Dipende quanto è importante in questo momento lo studio del greco rispetto al “recupero” di inglese e tedesco, e naturalmente dipende da quanto tempo hai a disposizione e come intendi organizzare la tua “schedule”. Se hai un livello decente in Inglese e tedesco ti consiglio di utilizzare siti come BBC o ARD ( e, oltre che il mitico Scarica testo e audio di argomenti che ti interessano e lavoraci ogni giorno. Per quanto riguarda l’output una bella conversazione su skype (a meno che tu non abbia amici anglo o tedesco parlanti lì in Grecia) con un taccuino accanto in cui “notare” i buchi è la soluzione più rapida che tu abbia a dispozione per acquisire scioltezza in una conversazione. Luca

  • Hello Lucas! Thank you very much for your posts which describe quite precisely the whole process of mastering a foreign language through your method.
    I’ve been passionate about languages for quite a while, as well, but I’ve got still some concerning on my mind..
    Do you reckon one could actually master a foreign language up to a native-like level if he had not any previous contact with that language during his childhood?
    I’m also curious about your own experiences, like, have you managed to master any other language as well as your native Italian?
    Hope you don’t mind answering these few questions and keep it up buddy!!

    • Hi Patrcik. Thank you for the nice words 🙂

      I don’t like the word “master” because it is not appropriate in language learning. We are finite in space and time, and languages are constantly evolving creatures, they are lively tools that human beings use to communicate. We don’t even master our own native language. We happen to find it out when we are faced with very technical terminology. The truth is that what we don’t know is always more than what we actually know.

      That said, it is surely possible to speak a language at a native-like level.


  • Tjenare Luca,

    I just re-discovered you and your method. I have a quick question about the translation method.

    Right now, I’m studying Dutch and I find that I can translate a dialogue into my native language easily, but when it comes to translating it back to Dutch, I’m stumped and have to look at the original dialogue in Dutch, which kind of ruins the translation process from native to target language (or does it?)

    How do you avoid this problem when you’re in the beginning stages and translating back to the target language? Is it just a matter of immersing yourself in the dialogue you’re studying?

    Ha det bra 🙂

    • Tjenare Henri.

      Very ineresting question.

      First of all, before you translate L2 into your own L1, you need to read and listen to the same lesson a few times and for a few days. No rote-memorization, that is, you don’t have to learn things by heart, but absorb it through repetitve listening and reading. So, once again, just read and listen to the lesson and then review it the following days while working on the others. Then, when you feel ready, you can translate into L2. Keep in mind the following: when you do it, not remembering things, having gaps in words or structure is actually a good sign. If you remember everything, it means that you did it too early. If you don’t remember anything, too much time has passed since the last time that you have reviewed a lesson. There is a time window that you have to figure out where you can carry out the L1–>L2 passage. This is extremely important for the method to work.

      Ha det bra!


      • Mästerligt!

        Is the time window highly individual or have you noticed some similarities between people?

        In essence, I’m looking for a starting point from where I can start tweaking it to myself.

        Thanks again for the help 🙂

        • It is individual. Once you have spent a few days reviewing a lesson and find yourself at day x, you can wait for 3-4-5 days, even a week. I normally do it 4-5 days later, but you have to give it a try and see what time distance fits your learning strategy the best. L

  • Hi Luca, I see that it has been awhile since anybody has posted a question, but I have one. Do you know how to speak, or know how I can learn, Popiamentu?

  • Hi! I was hoping you could answer one question of mine?
    What kind of technique do you use when learning a language on a daily basis? Do you have a special routine or resources that you like to use?

  • Salut Luca!

    Je suis d’accord avec tout ce que vous avez dit sur l’apprentissage d’une langue. Cependant, j’ai des questions pour vous concernant les étapes d’apprendre une langue.

    Je suis en train d’apprendre l’italien, et j’ai besoin de conseils. Devrais-je lire toujours pour m’adapter mes oreilles a les sons de cette langue? Quand devrais-je commencer a lire/parler.

    Si vous pouvez repondre a mon post, ca serait bien.

    Merci Luca, et j’aime beaucoup ton site 🙂

    a bientot

  • Cześć. I was wandering if I use assimil to leran language I should translate target language(L2) to my native language(L1) first and then translate L1 to L2 or only L1 to L2 because assilmil have already translation.
    Pozdrawiam Dawid 🙂

  • Ciao Luca, I’ve been learning italian now for about 2 years and i’m very comfortable reading the majority of italian, and understanding basic conversations. I can form simple sentences and just ” get around” in the language. At the end of the summer i am moving to Rome for 1 year, and will live only with an italian family, and also study at a liceo. No contact to any native english speakers. My goal is to be able to speak italian as fluent as a native. I was wondering if you could give me advice on, things to study, how to advance my learning, tips on understanding spoken italian, and how well my level of italian should be at the end of the year in rome.

  • En primer lugar, enhorabuena por tu “don de lenguas” (otra forma de decir políglota, palabra que nunca había oído en mi lengua materna hasta conoceros en youtube). Pareces español cuando lo hablas.

    En segundo lugar, gracias porque tu blog y videos es una toda una investigación científica de alto nivel sobre las reglas universales para el aprendizaje efectivo de una lengua extranjera. Eres el primero que ha conseguido responder a las preguntas que me estaba haciendo (me llevas muchos años de ventaja, jaja). Por esa razón no tengo nada que preguntarte, sólo poner en práctica tus consejos.

    Bueno sólo una. ¿Se puede saber lo que se siente cuando alcanzas el Epiphany point? Supongo que es un momento parecido a cuando aprendes a andar en bici por primera vez o cuando los pilotos de avión aprenden a volar por primera vez.

    Gracias de todo corazón por compartir todos tus consejos llenos de sentido y sensatez, y por tu humildad por compartirlos con todo el mundo.
    ¡¡Qué grande eres!! ¡¡Sigue así!!

  • I just wanted to say i really enjoyed reading your posts. I am leaning German at the moment and my learning methods are very similar to yours. For awhile i tried the grammatic approach and had slow progress but ive found that simply listening, reading, speaking as well as writing as much as you can and finding these patterns you can excell pretty quickly in the target language.

  • […] the path to fluency. Benny famously does this in three months and plans it out in detail. Luca plays the longer game. Richard has approached this by joining online courses or university […]

  • I am very happy, thatt I’ve found your site! I always learned my English generally on grammar and It was very frustrating, because I couldn’t speak! I had some kind of blokade. Now, I’m trying to win with this fear and simply speak and write in English.

  • Thanks for your website! I am interested in sharing visual spatial technique to help memorize the spelling of words in any language. I’d love to discuss this idea with you.

  • d.p.,you mean German? haha ~r,Is that ur bro learnt Spanish at scoohl?Mandarin may not be that difficult to you as you can recognize quite a number of Chinese characters, plus the phonetic transcription is easy to pick up ~

  • I’ve been studying Portuguese for 4 years and 10 months and I’ve been to Brasil 15 times but I cant understand what people say and I can’t read yet. I study every day and practice every day with my girlfriend that only speaks Portuguese and have for 22 months now. I have to translate the words that I understand in my head and use a translator for the words I don’t know. When reading I don’t know which meanings to use because many words have multiple meanings. How do I learn? What I’ve been doing isn’t working. I’ve never had problems learning before. Thanks. Patrick

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