The Big Question: How long does it take to learn English?
People ask us all the time, “how long does it take to learn English?” And there is no simple answer – there are certain factors that can speed up or slow down how quickly English sticks in your brain!
We’re going to take a look at which factors affect how long it takes to learn English, including: the moments when language learning can either be gained or lost, whether or not English takes longer to learn than other languages, and the questions to ask yourself to help define what “language learned” means to you!
Whether you’re asking so you can figure out how long to study English, or just out of sheer curiosity, let’s take a look at some of these factors to help you understand just how long it will take you to learn the English language.
Some Languages Take Longer to Learn
While the level of effort and your surroundings can undoubtedly affect how long it takes for you to pick up a language like English, some languages just take longer to learn than others. How long though?
Let’s assume that you can dedicate 2 hours every day to studying English. This means each week you will spend 14 hours learning the language. Now, let’s look at how long experts have estimated it should take certain home language groups to learn English up to a Proficient Level (CEFR Level C1):
What level of fluency are you trying to achieve?
This is an important question to ask yourself. Are you trying to reach near-native fluency like we looked at above? Do you need English for a job abroad? Or are you just trying to get fluent enough to order meals out without embarrassing yourself… and perhaps make some small talk?
Obviously, the lower the level you’re trying to achieve, the less time it will take for you to reach there. As we mentioned before, the above estimates are for getting really, really, darn good at a language. Like, work at an embassy abroad type good.
If you’re just trying to be conversational, estimate about half of that allotted time. Meaning – if you speak a Category 1 language, after 21 weeks of constant English study in an immersion environment, you’ll be confident enough to get by, order meals, ask for a hotel room, directions, and even make a friend or two – all without any prior knowledge of English.
Many people are thrilled simply to be able to converse in a foreign language, and to do so in a foreign country! To these people I say: you’ll feel the pride of having learned English faster than you expected!
What speeds up learning: Immersion and Necessity
Whether you’re taking classes, interning, working, or just living abroad, the moments when English will stick the most in your brain are those “Oh sh*t!” moments of panic. Is your bus to work cancelled? Do you need to ask someone for directions? Is the waiter at your cafe yelling at you for some unknown reason??
These moments, when your brain is panicking and desperately searching for some English to spout out to save itself, is when it is most important to condition your brain to look down the new language pathways you’ve created, and solidify them as legitimate.
Furthermore, by being forced to use English while abroad, and not being able to fall back on your native language, you keep yourself from saying stuff like “Can I have a…. copo de cerveja?” and instead you’re forced to work around these language gaps – things you don’t yet know. It builds your confidence, flow, and sometimes, whomever you’re talking with will give you the word you were looking for, and you’ll learn a new way of saying something in the process.
Studying English in a place where many people speak your native language, and you can fall back on it, could slow down the language learning process if you don’t fight it. Conversely, a full immersion environment could help you speed up how many days or weeks it takes for you to learn a language.
How much free time will you spend solidifying your learnings?
By continuing to remain in language-learning mode, even when relaxing/resting, your familiarity with and ease of recall of English are increased and reinforced, and this ease of use is what makes us feel like we know a language.
Learning a language takes work, and you’ll have to keep your brain in “English mode” even when you’re at home doing nothing. It’s not just about how many hours of class you take – watching movies, listening to music, speaking with friends, reading books, and making an effort to look up words you don’t understand are all part of the overall input that’s essential to really learning a language.
Don’t expect 20 hours of English classes while living in London to be enough to get you fluent. You need to do some self studying too!
Language isn’t just an active, focused activity. It is also the most passive thing in the world for the human brain; we cannot help but think, help but speak, help but identify things by name. It is in these “passive” moments that your language brain needs to be trained to passively select English, and not casually default to your first language.
How much time do you have?
Not everyone has the opportunity to spend 6 months or longer learning English overseas! How much time you’re able to invest in your language learning abroad obviously depends on how much free time you have to spare.
One way to make the most of your time is to ensure that you’re getting the best help possible from a team of teachers that know what they’re doing. At English One you’re going to get the expertise and attention that you need to make sure that your time is well spent. Take a look at our English courses to see how we can help you.
Hopefully though, you’ll be able to work something out that works with your schedule – and don’t discount the importance of working on your language retention once you’re back home.
This article was adapted from here, by Jason Rogers.