Learning English can take as short or long time as you want or need. However the actual time it will take is going to be dependent on a whole host of variables. Your starting level of English, your age, the level of English you want to achieve. Lets look at these in more detail.
It is possible to learn English to an intermediate functional level in about a year. Children, due to developmental reasons, are generally able to learn English quicker than this. Adults starting as a beginner and studying for approximately 5 to 6 hours a day can achieve working level skills in about a year.
As mentioned this is dependent on a huge range of factors and influences.
These factors can include:
All of these factors will influence how long it will take to learn English, but perhaps the most important one is what level of English you are aiming to achieve.
It is important to know what level Of English you, your children or your student currently has and in 1990 there was a standardization developed from the Common European Framework for Languages. ( Lets call that CEFR for short!!) The link takes you to Wikipedia to learn more as the actual website for the Framework requires a login! We will highlight the 6 Levels of English Proficiency from the framework below as well.
|CEFR English Level||Description of Level||Average Study time (hours)|
|A1 (Breakthrough)||Learners can introduce themselves and ask, provide and understand personal information. Age, where they live etc.|
Can communicate in very basic structures when language is slowed down
Can use very common and high frequency phrases and expressions. Greetings, requests, likes etc.
|A2 (Elementary)||Can communicate in simple and routine tasks. With practice to build familiarity. Please write this, open the door, for example. |
Uses simple terms, structures and language to explain their personal details and circumstances. I want, I am , i can etc.
Can communicate about areas relevant to their situation. Shopping, living, work using simple sentences
|B1 (Threshold – Intermediate)||Can cope with support and time situations that may occur in English Speaking areas.|
Can start to introduce simple elements of fluency to familiar topics for them.
Can understand the main ideas in their daily lives, if not the nuances or finer details. For example in work, school life.
Can start to provide reasons for their thoughts and plans. Still in simple forms. Why I want this, why I want to go here etc.
|B2 (Vantage – Upper Intermediate)||Are able to understand more complex reading texts, particularly in their area of expertise|
Are able to interact with native speakers without major problems.
Are able to write and interact at a higher level on unfamiliar topics, or new topics offering opinions and values.
|C1 (Operational Proficiency)||recognizes implicit as well as explicit meaning|
Can use language well in work, learning and social environments
Bordering on fluency
|C2 (Mastery or Proficiency)||Fluent or near fluent and operating at a native level. |
Can deal with complex language situations and interact with speed and accuracy.
Understands complex conversations and texts with ease.
This framework was written for all languages, but it gives a good outline for starting points which will always impact how long it takes to learn English, as well as any other language.
As you can see learning English to the top levels can take upwards to 2500 hours of study to go from A1 to C2 English Proficiency Levels , if you wanted to try to do learn English to that level in a year it would be the equivalent of a full time job. The time commitment would be over 7 hours a day every day for the whole year. This is highly unlikely and certainly not advised.
If you are looking to progress to an English level where you can interact socially and work effectively in English Speaking countries then aiming for level B2 would cover most situations, if you are looking for work as an English Teacher though you may need to progress up to levels C1.
As you can see from the table above, each level of English in the framework takes an increasing about of study /practice to achieve on average. It is fairly quick to achieve A1 to A2, about 80 hours of study. However from B1 to C2 could take more than 1300 hours. The higher the level the more it takes to progress. That does not mean you should be discouraged though, even day you study and learn you are making that progress, and if you start with a basic or intermediate level of English you already have had the motivation to do the difficult part. Now you are able to communicate and use English, it is all about fine tuning it to your needs and requirements.
Yes, many MANY studies have shown that from about the age of 2 to puberty it is easier to acquire language, both first and second languages. Our brains lose plasticity (the ability to reorganize information) as we get older. this means for children language is stored more effectivity than for adults. However, there is some good news this does not mean we should throw those text books away as we hit 18 as we are all too old. We can not write off the ”oldies” as a lost cause just yet. Older learners have advantages in different areas when learning English, and other languages. We have cognitive maturity, experience and the ability to contrast and compare language structures, rules and grammar with our own first language.
Adult English language learners are likely to be able to understand these rules and structures more effectively. they also have experience and can draw on that to decide which approach of tuition or learning works best for them, something children can not do and are mostly unaware of.
The difference between learning English in an academic setting, and having the opportunity to practice in real world environments can be large. The opportunity to be able to learn a language and then instantly go out and practice, use and adapt its use it a very valuable resource in acquiring any language. Using English in your daily life adds relevancy and motivation as you see it have a very real impact on your quality of life.
What if you can’t experience this level of immersion? There are other ways to recreate this and interact with both native speakers and use English Settings. A subscription to Netflix, or even using Free YouTube resources allows you to watch and listen to spoken English programs, joining forums, Facebook or discussion groups, both about the actual learning of English and about subjects that interest you will help you use the language in meaningful ways.
If you are not living in an English Speaking country then please read the topic above to help with ideas on how to practice more. However with regard to actual tuition time you can see from the table above that there are serious time considerations required to learn English to a certain level. If you learn at an average of 2 hours a week to get to level C1 from beginner is going to take about 1800 hours, if you have 2 hours a week of instruction that is 905 weeks, or more than 17 years!! Where ever you can try to practice outside of your learning centre or classroom, and that number will come down dramatically. If you can join immersion weeks, it will cut this down even more.
There are many motivators for learning a second language, and all of them will impact the effort you are willing to put in.
It entirely depends what your motivation is to how much it can affect the time it takes to learn English, however the stronger the motivation the more effort people are willing to put in and, of course, the better the results.
Learners backgroudns can make a difference to how quickly they can learn a language. If you already have a second langauge, then it can be easier to learn a thrird as you have already gone through the process for your second langague. These skills can be then reused on a third langage.
If you have gone through higher education it will help for similar reasons, you have developed study and research skills that can be used in language acquisition as well.
It also matters what your first language is. Asian and Arabic first language learners may have to be prepared to take a little more time to learn English. Their first language follows an entirely different alphabet system than English and will require more time to learn and come to terms with that. Learners with a similar alphabet structure will be able to compare and contrast heir own language with English earlier on in the learning process.
So there you have it, the answer in a nut shell to the question ”how long does it take to learn English” is..
Hopefully we have explained why that is the case and given you some idea of how long it may take you, or your students to jump through these levels, and some ideas on how you can speed that process up. We would offer two pieces of advice before we sign off.
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, mostly English but dabbled in outdoor pursuits and media. Thought is was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children. Feel free to take a look at our resources, email us on email@example.com, or jump on the Facebook group to ask questions. Happy learning, teaching or playing!