How long does it take to learn English?

Pearson Languages
A group of young people sat together smiling

“How long will it take me to learn English?” This is a question we often hear, especially with summer intensive courses just around the corner. Students all over the world want to know how much time and effort it will take them to master a new language.

Teachers know the answer isn’t as simple as it seems. It depends on many things, such as; how different the second language is from their mother tongue, how old they are, whether they can speak other languages, how much time they will have to study outside the classroom, their motivation and ability to practice.

The truth is, it takes A LOT of work to become proficient in a new language – and students need to be aware that they need to study independently if they want to progress rapidly.

Explaining student responsibility

Becoming truly proficient in a language can take many years. In a study carried out by Pearson they found that even for fast learners, it can take as much as 760 hours to enter the B2 CEFR level from <A1.

Also, most year-round courses are around 100-120 hours per level, (not including homework). So the reality is that it should take approximately 1000 hours to go from A1 to C2.

However, one of the biggest misconceptions students have is that there is a “fixed route” to language learning and that this is linear – and that time spent studying in class is all that’s required to make the progress they expect. This mistakenly puts the onus on the teacher, rather than the student, which means they may not take responsibility for their own learning.

While most language learners need great course materials, instruction, correction, and mentorship from their teachers, it’s key that they are motivated to become independent learners. Progress and success comes down to regular practice, feedback and the confidence to make and learn from mistakes. Students must understand this from the outset – so make sure this is a conversation you have with your classes from the very first day.

Understanding language goals

It’s also extremely important to understand your students’ language learning goals right away. Some, for example, will want to learn a language for travel purposes and may be happy to reach an elementary or pre-intermediate level of English. Others will want to learn it for work or study purposes and will need to reach a more advanced level. By definition, “learning a new language” will be very different for those two groups of students – and this will affect how you design and deliver your course.

Therefore, it’s key that you discuss individual learning objectives and then form a plan of how students will meet them. You should also explain that not everyone progresses at the same rate, but that is normal and should not be a cause for frustration.

In private language schools (PLSs), which offer English for specific purposes (ESP), business English, CLIL, English for Academic Purposes, intensive summer classes, and a range of other courses, it’s even more important to do this well. Correctly managed expectations, well-selected materials, and tailored courses will keep students motivated and help the business thrive.

Setting and meeting targets

At an institutional level, schools, PLS’s and even government agencies also need to be aware of the pitfalls of rigid target setting.

Not only can mishandled targets directly affect learner motivation when they are held back or moved up too quickly, but they also can force educators to “teach to the test”, rather than planning classes and designing courses that meet their students’ needs.

On the other hand, standardized testing systems help place learners at the right level, set benchmarks and show student progression. Examinations also give students firm objectives to work towards.

So, at the very least, management and governing authorities should consult with educators before setting broad targets.

Handling feedback and adapting to individual needs

Honesty is essential when talking to individual students about their progress (good or bad). It’s hard telling someone that they haven’t achieved the grades they need to move on to the next level, but it’s the right thing to do. Putting a person in a higher level to save their feelings only leads to frustration, demotivation, and self-doubt. Likewise, when a student has done well, praise is good, but you should still be honest about the areas in which they need to improve.

This is what happens at a successful PLS in Japan who run 1000-hour year-round intensive courses. They get results because they consult their learners in order to understand their goals and focus their courses on developing key communicative skills for professionals. At the same time, they track motivation levels and adjust their courses to ensure the student’s progress is on track to meet their expectations. Of course, this is quite a unique setting, with a very intensive, highly personalized approach, and the school has the advantage of tailor-making courses.

Using tools to help

They also used the Global Scale of English (GSE) to help design their curriculum and use the ‘can do’ descriptors to set goals. They then selected Versant assessments (which are mapped to scoring against the GSE) to measure student progress on a monthly basis.

Educators can emulate their approach. By using tools like these, as well as others, such as the GSE Teacher Toolkit, you can design syllabi, plan classes, place students at the right level and measure individual progress, helping you meet your institution’s targets while supporting your learners to achieve their goals.

An additional benefit from using the GSE, is that this granular framework breaks down what needs to be learned within a CEFR level. Our courseware, Placement, Progress and high-stakes assessments, like PTE Academic, are already aligned to the GSE. To help accelerate the learner journey, our courseware now features three new levels – A2+, B1+ and B2+. By moving to eight-level courses, it ensures students are able to master the content at a more achievable rate.

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    The benefits of taking part in foreign exchange programs

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    If you are a student or one considering a gap year, the option of foreign exchange programs may have crossed your mind or been mentioned to you. More and more young people are taking advantage of exchange programs and reaping the transformative benefits that come with it.

    Let's have a look at some of the reasons why taking part in an exchange program can be a life-changing experience and how it can help you more than you think.

    What is a foreign exchange program?

    A foreign exchange program is an educational initiative where students have the opportunity to study abroad and immerse themselves in a different culture for a specified period, typically ranging from a few weeks to an entire academic year. These programs facilitate cultural exchange by allowing students to attend foreign schools or universities, live with host families or in dormitories, and engage in activities that foster intercultural understanding and personal growth.

    The primary aim of a foreign exchange program is to provide students with a global perspective, enhance their language skills, and expose them to different educational systems and cultural practices. By stepping out of their comfort zones, students can develop independence, adaptability and a deeper appreciation for diversity.

    What are the benefits of a foreign exchange program?

    1. Cultural immersion and global perspective

    Embracing diversity

    One of the most immediate benefits of an exchange program is the opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture. Experiencing new customs, traditions and ways of life firsthand fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of global diversity. This cultural immersion helps break down stereotypes and broadens your worldview, making you more open-minded and adaptable.

    Develop cultural understanding

    Living in a foreign country teaches you how to navigate and respect different cultural norms and practices. This cultural competence is increasingly valued in our interconnected world, enhancing your ability to work effectively in diverse environments and making you a more attractive candidate in the global job market.

    2. Language proficiency

    Enhanced language skills

    For language learners, an exchange program is an opportunity to achieve fluency. Experiencing a language firsthand is one of the best ways to learn a new language. Being surrounded by fluent speakers provides constant practice and exposure, accelerating your language acquisition in ways that classroom learning alone cannot match. You'll develop better pronunciation, expand your vocabulary and gain confidence in your speaking abilities.

    Real-world communication

    Using a new language in everyday situations—whether it's ordering food, asking for directions, or making new friends—helps solidify your language skills in a practical context. This real-world communication practice is invaluable, ensuring that your language proficiency extends beyond textbooks and exams to actual, meaningful interactions.

    3. Academic and professional growth

    Academic enrichment

    Exchange programs often provide access to unique academic resources and teaching methods that differ from those in your home country. Exposure to new perspectives and approaches can deepen your understanding of your field of study and inspire new areas of interest. Additionally, studying abroad can enhance your academic credentials, making your CV stand out to future employers or academic institutions.

    Career opportunities

    Experience abroad signals to employers that you possess qualities like independence, adaptability and cross-cultural communication skills. These attributes are highly sought after in today’s job market. Moreover, the networking opportunities during your exchange can open doors to international internships, job placements and collaborations that might not have been available otherwise.

    4. Personal development

    Building independence and resilience

    Living away from home in a completely new environment challenges you to become more self-reliant and adaptable. You'll develop problem-solving skills, resilience and the ability to thrive outside of your comfort zone. These experiences build character and prepare you for future challenges, both personally and professionally.

    Forming lifelong connections

    The friendships and connections you make during your exchange program can last a lifetime. You'll meet people from various backgrounds, creating a global network of peers and mentors. These relationships can provide support, inspiration and opportunities long after your exchange program ends.

    Boosting confidence

    Successfully navigating life in a foreign country, mastering a new language, and achieving academic success abroad can significantly boost your confidence. This newfound self-assurance can positively impact all areas of your life, giving you the courage to pursue further opportunities and take on new challenges.

    5. Engaging with the local community

    Volunteer and community projects

    Many exchange programs encourage participants to engage with their host communities through volunteer work or community projects. This engagement allows you to give back to your host country, gain a deeper understanding of local issues, and develop a sense of global citizenship. It's a rewarding experience that fosters empathy and reinforces the importance of contributing to the wider world.

    Gaining valuable work experience

    Participating in volunteer and community projects during your exchange program can provide significant work experience that is highly attractive to future employers. These projects often involve teamwork, problem-solving and project management, all of which are essential skills in any professional setting.

    By contributing to local initiatives, you can demonstrate your ability to adapt to new environments, work with diverse teams, and handle responsibility. Furthermore, these experiences can fill gaps in your CV, showcasing your proactive approach to skill-building and community involvement. Engaging in meaningful projects not only supports your personal growth but also highlights your commitment to making a positive impact, a quality greatly valued in any career field.

    Where can I sign up for exchange programs?

    There are many organizations and programs that offer exchange opportunities for students and language learners. Some popular options include:

    • Study abroad programs through universities or colleges, which often have partnerships with foreign institutions. Check with your institution.
    • Government-sponsored programs such as Fulbright or Erasmus, (depending on your location).
    • Check non-profit organizations in your country, they may also offer exchange programs.

    Conclusion

    Taking part in an exchange program is a life-changing adventure that offers myriad benefits for students and language learners alike. From enhancing language proficiency and cultural awareness to boosting academic and career prospects, the experiences gained through an exchange program are invaluable. By stepping out of your comfort zone and into a new world, you open yourself up to endless possibilities, personal growth and a broader, more inclusive perspective on life.

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    8 things you should try to avoid when learning English

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    Learning a new language is an exciting and rewarding journey, but it can also come with its fair share of challenges. As English learners, it's important to recognize and overcome the common pitfalls that could hinder your progress. Here, we provide advice and guidance on what not to do to make your English learning experience as smooth and successful as possible.

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    Why don’t my students speak English in class?

    By Silvia Minardi
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    Last year, I contributed to a national research project with an article titled “My Students Don’t Speak English in Class: Why?”. The title originated from a concern expressed by a language teacher involved in the project, highlighting a common challenge faced by numerous language teachers. The difficulty of developing learners’ production and interaction skills is a well-known issue in language education.

    Large and increasingly diverse classes, limited time, and learners’ reluctance to speak in class are significant hurdles. During pair and group work, students often revert to their first language (L1), they lack confidence in speaking activities and end up avoiding all interaction in English. These observations are consistent with recent Global Scale of English (GSE) research findings, which indicate that 52% of English learners leave formal education without confidence in their speaking skills.

    Factors contributing to learners’ reluctance

    Several factors contribute to students’ reluctance to speak English in class. Psychological barriers such as lack of motivation, shyness, low self-confidence, fear of making mistakes, anxiety and concerns about negative evaluation play a crucial role. Linguistic challenges, including limited vocabulary, poor pronunciation, and insufficient grammatical skills, further exacerbate the problem.

    Task-related issues can also hinder speaking, especially when tasks are not well-matched to the learner’s proficiency level or focus more on accuracy than communication. Additionally, the classroom environment may not always be conducive to speaking, particularly for learners who need more time to formulate their thoughts before speaking.

    Positive teacher impact

    Fortunately, teachers can positively influence these intertwined factors. By creating a supportive classroom atmosphere and implementing well-designed tasks that prioritize communication over perfection, teachers can encourage reluctant students to participate more actively in speaking activities.

    Leveraging technology: Mondly by Pearson

    One effective tool that can help address these challenges is Mondly by Pearson. This learning companion is especially beneficial for learners who are hesitant to speak in class. Mondly by Pearson offers over 500 minutes of speaking practice, encouraging learners to use English in real-life situations and tasks that prioritize action and communication over accuracy. This approach allows for mistakes - they are part of the game - thus fostering a positive mindset, which is essential if we want to enhance our learners’ speaking skills.

    AI-powered conversations

    A standout feature of Mondly by Pearson is its AI-powered conversation capability, thanks to advanced speech recognition software. Learners can engage in interactive role plays and conversations on topics of their choice, at their own pace, both in class and outside school. This flexibility helps build self-confidence and allows students to experiment with various production and interaction strategies. The instant feedback provided by Luna, the incorporated AI friend, is highly motivating and can significantly enhance the learning experience.

    Comprehensive skill development

    Mondly by Pearson is designed not only for speaking but also to develop all four language skills—listening, reading, writing and speaking—and is aligned with the Global Scale of English. The vocabulary for each topic is selected from the GSE vocabulary database, ensuring that learners are exposed to level-appropriate words and phrases.

    Integration into classroom teaching

    To facilitate the integration of Mondly by Pearson into classroom teaching, three GSE mapping booklets have recently been published. These booklets cater to different proficiency levels:

    • Beginner (GSE range: 10-42 / CEFR level: A1-A2+)
    • Intermediate (GSE range: 43-58 / CEFR level: B1-B1+)
    • Advanced (GSE range: 59-75 / CEFR level: B2-B2+)

    These resources provide practical guidance on how to incorporate Mondly by Pearson into lesson plans effectively, ensuring that the tool complements classroom activities and enhances overall language learning.

    Conclusion

    Encouraging students to speak English in class is a multifaceted challenge, but it is not insurmountable. By understanding the various factors that contribute to learners’ reluctance and leveraging innovative tools like Mondly by Pearson, teachers can create a more engaging and supportive learning environment. This approach not only boosts students’ confidence in their speaking abilities but also fosters a more inclusive and interactive classroom atmosphere.

    Embracing technology and aligning teaching practices with modern educational standards, such as the Global Scale of English, can lead to significant improvements in language proficiency and student engagement.