How Long does it Take to Learn English?

How long does it take to learn English? As an English teacher, this is a question I get asked over and over. My answer is always the same: It depends.

More specifically, it depends on these four main factors:

  1. How often (how many times a week and how long each time) you study or practice English; the frequency, basically.
  2. How familiar English is (how close English is to your native language)
  3. Your motivation (your need and desire) to learn English
  4. Quality of study and practice; how deliberate your study and practice of English is

1) Frequency

If you only study once a week, you’ll barely get anywhere. You need to give your brain a chance to absorb (get in) the material by frequently thinking in the language and thinking about the language. More frequent and more consistent study means faster learning.

2) Familiarity

A language that’s closely related to your native language (or mother tongue) or to other languages you already know will be easier and therefore faster to learn. Also, if a language you already know shares a lot of the same vocabulary, the words will fit easier in your brain because you can guess how to apply your previous knowledge.

3) Motivation

If you’re fascinated by the language (meaning if you’re really interested in it), and you’re also interested in the people who speak it, any language becomes easier to learn, because you’re intrinsically (naturally) motivated to understand and communicate using it.

4) Deliberateness

If you are deliberate, it means you plan, give careful consideration or thought to what you’re doing, and are organized. You may not have control over the familiarity of the language you are studying, and motivation can be a challenge sometimes. However, you do have a lot of control over the frequency of study and practice. In addition, you also have control over how deliberate you are. If you’re not deliberate in your learning, you’ll probably face problems at some point. By being deliberate and structuring your learning, you’ll stay focused. Language classes, apps, and guides will help you do this. Check this post on deliberate practice (“How to be Great”) for more information.

As an example…

A dedicated, motivated beginner learner of English who studies and practices using a well-planned program should be able to achieve a comfortable intermediate level of English in about 300~500 hours of study and practice time. This might take about one year – maybe more if English is very different from the language or languages you already know. This means you have to practice and study about 1 hour in total EVERY DAY. Note that this does NOT include your language class time. It’s hard for most people to set aside that much time each day, but if you cut that into 3 chunks of 20 minutes, it looks more possible.

There are many ways to study and practice – you could listen to a podcast, audio course, or audiobook on the train, read a book on the bus, or watch a video before going to bed. These are ways to put in language learning into your busy schedule.  You’ll need to make it a habit – like brushing your teeth! But don’t give up – you can do it!

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