Getting off the Vocab Plateau

(Inspired by my friend Ryan, aka Mr Vig)

Composing my yesterday’s blog post, I was missing a word in English.

I wanted to express that sometimes I have to put my phone against a glass in a way that the phone was supported by a glass. I just wanted to express it in a slightly more elegant way (let’s say using up to 3 words instead of the 17 above).

I did not know the word – but interestingly, in that moment, I felt a terrible reluctance to do anything about it. “I don’t know how to say this – maybe I should write about something else!”


In a conversation, vocab gaps like this one go unnoticed. I work around them with “you know what I mean”, “that thing” or even worse, replace them by half-obscure words that in fact have a different meaning.

In a conversation, I can get away with it. As English is my second language, in such moments, it’s simply acceptable to compromise. The alternative – taking a phone out of my pocket to check Google Translate’s best recommendation – is absurd (at least looks absurd to me).

The problem here is that at some point I stop being comfortable with admitting that there are some words I don’t know – and instead of following-up later and filling my vocab gaps, I simply settle on “you know what I mean” forever.

But in writing?

“You know what I mean” would sound kind of awkward, don’t you think? In writing, there is no escape. Feel the pain, baby!

I had no other choice than to admit defeat (“there’s something I don’t know how to express!”), go to Google and search. 20 seconds later (is wasn’t that painful after all), I found out that the phrase I was looking for was “lean it against”, finished the sentence and became a better (and more knowledgeable) person.


If you feel like you’ve reached your vocab plateau – or a plateau in any skill for that matter – it’s simply because you can get away with it. The only way to get off the plateau is to get yourself into a situation where you won’t be able to (get away with it).

In other words: A situation when you’re up against a wall.

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