Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language and did not approach its study in the sense of “even a path can be a goal” have asked themselves the question of how long does it take to learn English. Even if it doesn’t feel like that and a lot of lecturers freak out about it, it’s not that hard to answer. The problem is not to reliably estimate the time intensity of the study, but to have clearly set and defined goals. It cannot be something like “I just want to know English”, because what it means to know the language is perceived differently by everyone.
What you need to know first
The problem is if you can’t say exactly what you want to achieve. If this is the case, think about your current or future needs and what you want or need to achieve. If this helps, a few good goals could be, for instance:
- arrange a holiday and everything you need without a dictionary,
- understand and converse on common aspects of everyday life,
- communicate confidently on any topic that interests you,
- to agree on work with colleagues and customers who are foreigners, in person, by phone or by email,
- speak fluently, understand native speakers, including dialects, have the ability to write personal and work emails,
- get to a professional level, from which you can work in qualified positions abroad, you have no problem agreeing on or arranging anything, writing emails, reports, articles, etc.
Ways of estimating the time needed for study
The more precisely you define the goal, the easier it will be to set the time frame of the study, which can be estimated in various ways. The lecturer can estimate the time required based on their own experience, but does not take into account many factors (e.g. your motivation or family life). In addition, their answer will probably be quite general. If you want the most accurate result, it is better to use the following method, which is more complex and requires knowledge of language standards and practical experience, but is relatively more reliable. The procedure is as follows:
- determine your current language level,
- analyse your objectives and find in the CEFR,
- compare your starting and target levels,
- refer to this table compiled by the Cambridge Assessment Center, to determine the time you will need to achieve your goals.
Table 1: Number of hours of effective study led by a lecturer to achieve individual levels according to CEFR
The table above shows the language levels from beginner to expert and the number of hours needed to progress between levels, including the cumulative total in the last column, where, for example, it would take 1030 to 1450 hours to get from beginner to proficient. If you are roughly at level B1 and aspiring to level C1, then you will simply calculate that you will need something between 380 and 560 hours of effective studies.
Counting hours in practice
If you are an adult beginner and your goal is to communicate in common life situations (on vacation, in a restaurant or when dealing with simple correspondence), then studying under the guidance of a lecturer will take you 350-500 hours. If you have one lesson and devote another two hours every week to effective learning, then you will achieve your goal in about 2-3.5 years, provided that you learn really honestly all the time.
If you have higher ambitions and are planning a life abroad and a successful career, and the last time you had English was in High School, then something between 840 – 1200 hours of study led by an expert awaits you, which is purposeful study in the form of 2 hours with a lecturer and 4 hours of self-study, corresponding to 2.6 – 3.8 years of weekly learning before reaching the required level.
So how long does it take to learn English?
It is important to explain the terms “lecturer/expert” and “effective study”. This means that there is no procrastination, no non-learning activity, and thinking about what you will actually learn. The time you spend in effective study counts, during which you really learn something new or repeat what you have learned so that you do not forget anything. If you want real results, look for someone who knows how to teach and will help you with the preparation, emphasis on individual competencies and of course motivation, which can fluctuate. There are few good teachers, but the results of working with them are worth it.