The Four Stages of Competence model, also called the Conscious Competence learning model, relates to the process of learning new skills. It is therefore particularly relevant for expats, for whom each day is a learning experience.
- Stage 1
Letâ€™s take learning Hungarian as an example. And letâ€™s imagine that you are a British expat living in New Zealand. You cannot speak a word of Hungarian and you never even think about it because you do not need it in your daily life. The thought of learning the language does not even cross your mind- what use would it be to you?
This is the Unconscious Incompetence stage.
- Stage 2
Surprise! Your next posting is in Budapest. You realise that you have to learn at least some Hungarian if you want to make the most of your time there. And since the Hungarian language does not have Indo-European roots, forget about trying to guess the meaning of words. You suddenly feel like you know very little and the task appears a bit daunting.
This is the Conscious Incompetence stage.
- Stage 3
You have been hard at work learning the language for several months and you can now carry a simple dialogue in Hungarian. Your grammar is fairly good and you are picking up new words on a daily basis, even though every conversation still requires a great deal of concentration on your part.
This is the Conscious Competence stage.
- Stage 4
Congratulations! Your hard work has finally paid off. You are now fluent and speaking Hungarian has become second nature. You keep learning by osmosis, but it feels effortless and you do not have to think about it anymore.
This is the Unconscious Competence stage.
Stage 2, Conscious Incompetence, may well be the trickiest one for expats.
Some may simply resist entering this stage at all. This is usually when they start finding excuses and â€śgoodâ€ť reasons not to learn: â€śI can get by with Englishâ€ť, â€śWhy spend so much time learning a language I will never use again?â€ť, â€śI am not good at learning languagesâ€ť.
To avoid this trap, it is crucial to be honest with oneself: is the new skill to be learned truly irrelevant? Or is there something else that is not being acknowledged, such as laziness, fear or low self-esteem?
Similarly, the transition between stage 2 and 3 can be uneasy.
A lot of negative self-talk may arise. Expats may start beating themselves up for not picking up the language faster. They may become very self-conscious about their accent and not dare open their mouth in front of native speakers.
However, if they push past this awkward transition, expats will eventually be rewarded with a greater sense of ease and mastery once they achieve a degree of competence, in stage 3 and 4.
Some authors have suggested adding a fifth stage to this model, which will be the subject of a future post.
In the meantime, try and identify the stage you are in with regard to the various skills you are picking up at the moment. If you find yourself in the â€śdanger zoneâ€ť around stage 2, you know what to do: persevere but learn at your own pace and remember to cut yourself some slack!