How long does it take to learn a second language?

This is the million-dollar question! How long does it take to learn a second language and above all English?  I’m sure every one would love for me to give a set time frame, study for 1000 hours and you’ll be fluent, but that’s not possible. Some can spend a lifetime and never really learn their own mother tongue (Just look at some of the mistakes some celebs make when speaking their own language, a future blog post beckons! yet alone another language. However, there are some things that can help you to learn a lot quicker and there are some numbers for the length of time that some individuals have given, we can look at those too, but ultimately second language acquisition is hard, complex and only for masochists (only kidding!!).

So what can you do to learn a second language as quickly as possible? Well the first thing is to sign up to somewhere where you can be taught that language with great teachers. (Such as at where else? ;-). Now with that out of the way we can begin to look at some of the variables that make it extremely complicated to give an exact figure.

Firstly, your age plays a crucial factor, and the younger you start the better, it’s what is known as the “critical period hypothesis” meaning that you learn the language in a different way and ultimately reach a higher level.[1] For those that haven’t started at a young age don’t despair, it’s still attainable; it’s just going to take a bit more sweat to get there (remember the masochist remark???).

The second variable is“ How quickly will I learn if I live in the country of my chosen language (majority language)? Or “How quickly will I learn if I learn the language in my home country (minority language)?[2]  It goes without saying that if you are in a majority language situation you should learn a lot quicker than in a minority language situation as you come in contact with the given language during a great deal of time, unless you’re locked up at home, as you are immersed in the language. However, if you can’t manage or permit yourself to move to the U.K to learn the language you can still do lots of things to help you move along at a good pace. For example: watch things in original version as much as you can, and as soon as possible wean yourself off subtitles, it will be hard at first, but after a while you’ll realise that each time you understand more and more! Read the news every day online in English, a great source of vocab and current affairs, and of course, have lots of English lessons.

How many hours I hear you ask? Well…. this all depends on what method you are being sold. Some will tell you for our course you need X amount of hours and others will tell you that you need Y amount of hours.  However, the only concrete thing that can be said is that practice makes perfect, and that means a lot of hours. An article in the Harvard Business review concluded that to reach expertise in something, and not just language training you need to practise for 10,000 hours!!![3] That works out at roughly 416 days without sleep! So when you’re worried that it’s taking you longer than expected to reach your desired goal, don’t worry, 10,000 hours are a lot of hours and at we will be more than happy to help you whittle down the hours and get you communicating effectively in English.




Whittle down: Phrasal verb: To reduce the number of people or things, or the size of something.

[1] Second Language Acquisition and the Critical Period Hypothesis. Birdsong, David (Ed.) (1999) Mahaw, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

[2] Archibald, J., Roy, S., Harmel, S., Jesney, K., Dewey, E., Moisik, S., et al. (2006). A review of the literature on second language learning.

[3] Ericsson, K. A., Prietula, M. J., & Cokely, E. T. (2007). The Making of an Expert. Harvard Business Review (July-August ).

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