The most common questions people ask when planning to study English as a foreign language are about the time required. Here we will talk about some of the factors that need to be considered when estimating how long it will take to become fluent in English. We will also give the potential student some tips for progressing as quickly as possible:
Factors Influencing Learning Speed
Linguistic Background: The impact of one’s native language on other languages spoken.
The student’s native language can somewhat delay their progress if it comes from a different “language family” than English. If it’s written in a different script, this may also require some extra time in the beginning levels of study.
On the other hand, the student who has already learned a language other than their native tongue will have an advantage. They will have a better understanding of the process and will understand how to use linguistic concepts and grammatical terms to organize their learning for quicker results. Also, they will have tested various learning methods and strategies so they will know what works best for them.
Does the age of the student affect how quickly they learn new languages?
We learn our first, or native language, when we are a child. The process seems to be automatic and it doesn’t feel as though we are making a conscious effort. Adult learners often will ask their teachers something like “Can’t I learn this new language as though I were two years old again?” The best answer is: “You don’t want to!” This is because the adult learner has some significant advantages over the younger learner. The adult’s awareness of the process can be used to accelerate learning in ways a child can’t. Adults can identify patterns and consciously apply them to new structures and vocabulary for more efficient learning. They are also more conscious of their own learning process and time management skills, both of which can be effectively used to speed the process of learning English.
Importance of the Learning Environment: Immersive vs. non-immersive settings:
In an immersive setting, English is the language of instruction. Use of the student’s native language is minimized to provide maximum exposure to English. An immersive environment has been shown to significantly speed up the process of acquiring a new language. Courses at Language On follow the immersive method so students can maximize their progress at each level.
Time Commitment: Part-time learning vs. intensive courses:
Prospective English students often ask: “Is three months enough to learn English?” For a reliable answer to this question, consider the findings of authorities at a leading international academic publisher who have reviewed the research on time requirements to effectively learn English. They have concluded that claims of super-speed learning for short-term programs lack supporting evidence. In their expert opinion, each of the six levels of English proficiency (see below for information on these levels) requires an estimated average of about 240 hours of guided learning per level. Both Language On’s intensive courses and semi-intensive courses will provide a similar time commitment over a three-month session for each level.
Learning Style and Motivation: Personal commitment, reasons for learning, and individual learning strategies.
Highly motivated students will learn quicker than unmotivated students. Some students will have very specific motivators already in mind, such as future employment or attending an English speaking university. If you don’t have a specific reason for studying English, consider the following benefits of learning another language:
- Increased income potential, both for current income flow and for building assets for the future.
- Positive effects on overall brain power.
- Cultural exploration and discovery.
- Increased dating opportunities.
More information about these benefits and others of learning a second language can be found here.
General Timeframes for English Proficiency
Many schools and experts around the world use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to measure English proficiency. The CEFR has six levels from beginner (A1) to very advanced (C2). This system is used all around the world as a practical tool to organize study content in classes, curriculum, and exams. By using the CEFR, a school can be sure that the material it uses is suitable, meaning it’s not too easy and not too difficult for students at each level. Language On’s intensive and semi-intensive courses follow this six-level program, ensuring that appropriate materials are used and that the student’s progress can be objectively measured. Here is a summary of the various levels of achievement:
Beginner – Estimated time and what to expect
There are two sub-levels in the Beginner range. When the student has completed both sub-levels, they can:
- Understand, write, and read basic phrases and sentences concerning areas of immediate interest and basic needs.
- At the beginner levels, slower speaking, repetition, and re-reading may be required to capture meaning.
- Language On Schools provides intensive courses and semi-intensive courses for each of the beginning sub-levels.
- Students should be able to progress through each beginner level with 13 weeks of instruction.
Intermediate – Challenges and estimated duration
There is a low and high sub-level within the intermediate level. A student who has successfully completed both of these levels can:
- Understand straight-forward information about everyday, study, or work-related topics.
- Start, maintain, and close conversations on topics of familiar or personal interest. They are able to keep a conversation going by expressing opinions, attitudes and feelings.
- Read with a large degree of independence. They can discuss texts of personal or professional interest after reading them.
- Write about a variety of familiar subjects well enough for others to follow the story or argument.
- A particular challenge at this level is the “plateau” effect, where the learner feels they are no longer making the progress they used to make at the lower levels. This is because at lower levels it requires less of an improvement to make an impact on communicative ability. Intermediate level courses are designed to help the student conquer this plateau effect and move forward.
- Each of the intermediate levels requires 13 weeks to complete.
Advanced – Time to polish skills and achieve fluency
The advanced level consists of a low and high sub-level. When this level is completed, the student will be able to:
- Understand extended speech and lectures, including those of a complex nature.
- Use English fluently to discuss a variety of both familiar and unfamiliar topics.
- Read a wide range of texts.
- Write clear, detailed texts, using good structure and organization.
- Be able to understand implicit as well as explicit meaning.
- Progressing through the two advanced levels at Language On takes 13 weeks each.
Notes on Proficiency Tests: Estimated preparation time for proficiency tests (IELTS and TOEFL)
Many students of English will take one of the standardized tests of English proficiency, such as the IELTS, TOEFL, or another. These tests may be required for admission to a university, for immigration, or for employment. Other students will schedule one of these tests as a motivational goal even if they don’t require it for any of these purposes. Preparing for these tests is a great way for the intermediate to advanced level student to structure their study and improve focus. Taking a test preparation course at Language On will maximize the overall learning benefits of getting ready to take one of these exams. A test preparation course is also a great investment in the long-run as it will maximize your score, so you may not need to pay for an expensive re-taking of the exam.
Specialized English Courses: Business English and Accent Reduction
Students who are learning English to increase their business opportunities should consider taking a specialized Business English course. The specific goals of being able to network and to better conduct business in English are great motivators to accelerate English learning. For students who need to speak in English with individuals in a professional setting, or in front of groups, an accent reduction course is a good way to increase confidence. An accent reduction course is also an awesome way for students who have completed the advanced levels to keep their English active.
Strategies for Faster Learning
Immersion: Living in an English-speaking country or surrounding oneself with the language
Research has shown that an English rich environment, when combined with a concentrated course of study, will result in quicker progress as demonstrated by standardized test scores. One study found that students who had between 200-240 hours of instruction while living in an English speaking country moved steadily upwards in level with each term, as measured by the IELTS exam. Language On’s intensive and semi-intensive courses provide classroom instruction in this proven range of hours. You can also choose from school locations in different parts of the USA to get the immersive experience. Each of these locations is convenient to locations for shopping, attractions, and transportation. When living in the United States, you’ll need to speak English while you go about your daily routines. This daily practice in real-life situations will keep you moving forward in fluency.
Consistent Practice: Regular speaking, listening, reading, and writing
Most people are familiar with the concept of the “learning curve”, or the idea that increased time spent learning something will result in a corresponding increase in ability. However, researchers have also discovered that there is a “forgetting curve”, or an accelerating decline in ability when the skill is not used. In language learning, this means that courses that have long breaks between terms will be less effective than those with shorter breaks. Language On’s intensive courses and semi-intensive courses are designed to avoid the kind of long pause that can activate this “forgetting curve.” When you enroll in one of these courses, you’ll be keeping your English active and maintain forward momentum.
Use of Technology: Apps, online courses, and other digital tools
Today’s technological advances provide many easily accessed tools to boost English language learning. The downside to the proliferation of online resources is that they are often poorly designed, or may provide incorrect information to the student. One of the benefits of taking courses at an accredited school like Language On is that their teachers keep up-to-date on the various apps and channels available, and can recommend those that are truly effective and accurate.
Online courses can be a solution for individuals who can’t easily attend in-person classes, such as working professionals, parents with younger children or other at-home obligations. If you need this option, look for a school that shows the same commitment to online students as to in-person students. Check out the “English for Life” program, which offers a quality online experience for anyone requiring the online format.
Regular Feedback: Importance of getting feedback from teachers or native speakers
One of the most important reasons for taking a formal course in English is to get consistent feedback from teachers, as well as other students. Even students at higher levels can benefit from taking formal courses and you’ll also benefit from interacting with and getting feedback from native speakers in your daily routine outside of classes.
Just as athletes, both amateur and professional, at any skill level can benefit from the feedback of a coach, the English learner can benefit from continuous feedback from a teacher and other sources.
While there is no exact answer to the question: “How long does it take to become fluent in English?”, the student can make a useful estimate based on the information given above. For steady progress, it’s important to choose a course that follows the immersive method, and has well-defined goals for each level. English classes in the United States will also propel your progress by providing opportunities for daily practice, feedback, and reinforcement of what’s been learned in the classroom. We look forward to welcoming you for your English learning journey!