UCT English Language Centre | Performance Plateau
How to beat the English Intermediate Level Plateau

Do you know what a plateau is? It is literally an area of fairly level high ground (very much like our Table Mountain in Cape Town) but figuratively we also use it to describe a state of little or no change following a period of great progress. As a teacher at UCT’s English Language Centre, I often see students fighting with this very real ‘plateau,’ especially at the English intermediate level.

What is it? When you start studying English, you usually progress quite quickly through the lower levels (Beginner, Elementary and Pre-Intermediate). And then you hit Intermediate. BOOM. Here the amount of vocabulary increases, the grammar becomes more difficult and more complicated and progress is more difficult. Because of this, it can take a LONG TIME to go from Intermediate to Upper-Intermediate.


This is COMPLETELY NORMAL. I understand that it is frustrating but be patient and just keep working. 3 tips to help you:

  1. Increase your vocabulary. Focus on word-building (for example, from one word you can make many e.g. happy – unhappy – unhappily – happiness – unhappiness). Focus on USING the vocabulary you learn. Read some tips here.
  2. Focus on your weakest skill. For example, if writing is your weakest skill, WRITE. The only way to get better at it, is to practice it – A LOT! You can see one of our tips for improving your writing ( through free writing) here.
  3. READ AND LISTEN to authentic English materials as much as possible. Just be persistent – KEEP focused on that goal! This will help the language feel natural to you. Sometimes it’s not about rules, but about how it feels.
Finally, know that you are NOT alone. Thousands of students have conquered the INTERMEDIATE plateau and you can too!

We offer general English courses at various levels at the the UCT English Language Centre. It is our mission to assist students to reach their English goals. Our experienced, highly qualified teachers are best placed to help students achieve this, but remember that the hard work must be done by the student. Learning English in Cape Town also comes with the perks of being immersed in an English speaking environment, that offers foreign students excellent value for money and is a stunningly beautiful city too!

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