How Long Does It Take to Learn English?

I’ve been teaching English online to non-native students for over two and a half years now, and one of the most common questions I get asked is, “How long does it take to learn English?” It’s understandable that this topic is on my student’s minds because they are studying English and usually have been doing so for years by the time they take classes with me. Some students start to feel frustrated and wonder why they are still struggling with the language after spending so much time studying it. So let’s try to answer this question and see how long it really takes before someone “learns” English.

Let’s start with some basic knowledge. Firstly, every time you want to reach another level of English, it takes significantly more time than it did to reach the previous level. Therefore, it is easier to reach a beginner level of the language than it is to reach an intermediate level, and it is easier to reach an intermediate level than it is to reach an advanced one. We can correlate this levels to the Common European Framework and say that a beginner is at A1 and A2, an intermediate leaner is a B1 and B2, and an advanced learner is at C1 and C2. We can say then that it will take a significant amount of time to reach the highest levels of English proficiency.

Certain factors can further influence how long it will take to learn English. These factors are:

  1. Previous Language Experience: If you already have some background in English or another language that is closely related, it might be easier for you to progress. For example, speakers of Germanic or Romantic languages will need less time than speakers of Asian languages because Germanic and Romanic languages are more similar to English.
  2. Regular Practice: Consistent and regular practice is key. How much are you spending each day studying and using the language will help you progress faster than sporadic study. Do you have a study plan that let’s you get contact time with English everyday?
  3. Language Learning Resources: High-quality language learning resources, such as textbooks, language courses, and language learning apps, can accelerate your learning. Input is the best method for learning a language and having resources that are slightly above your current level are best. That way you can challenge yourself while still understanding most of the material.
  4. Language Immersion: If you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in an English-speaking environment, such as living in an English-speaking country, it will likely accelerate your progress.
  5. Natural Language Aptitude: Some people have a natural aptitude for language learning, which can speed up their progress. However, anyone can learn a language if given enough time and contact with the language.

Learning basic conversational English can take a few months of dedicated effort. To achieve intermediate proficiency (B1 or B2), it might take around 6 months to 2 years, depending on your circumstances. Becoming fluent or reaching an advanced level (C1 or C2) can take several years of consistent study and practice. If you want a more detailed estimate for how long it will take you, you can look at the U.S. State Department’s estimate of how long it takes to learn a foreign language. The State Department is in charge of teaching diplomats a foreign language and they have a guide based on how long it takes depending on how similar or dissimilar the language is to English. One thing to know about their guide however is that it is for classroom time, but they expect that a student will also have private study time. Therefore, if the estimate states 1100 classroom hours, that does not account for private study time so the estimate should be doubled to approximately 2000-2200 hours. Also know that this is only a rough estimate and different individuals may need more or less time.

Considering these factors and the amount of time it takes to learn English, it’s important to set realistic goals and expectations. When you are studying and trying to reach the higher levels of English, set small, measurable goals for yourself so you can accurately keep track of your progress. Instead of setting a big goal like “get fluent”, pick a goal that you can measure like “have a 10 minute conversation”.

Remember that language learning is a journey, and the key is persistence and consistent effort. Additionally, C1 level proficiency is quite advanced and may not be necessary for all learners. The level of proficiency you aim for should be based on your personal goals and needs. If you would like to learn more about this topic, you can watch or listen to the episode I did about how long it takes to learn English.

Until next time, keep learning English!

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