How long does it take to learn a new language?

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learn new language GSE

“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’s dependent on lots of different 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 simply 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

When it comes to talking to individual students about their progress (good or bad), honesty is essential. It’s hard telling someone that they haven’t achieved the grades they need 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, and 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.

Check out the Global Scale of English now and discover exactly how you can help your students to progress and meet their learning objectives.

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