Updated: Feb 17
How long do you think it takes to learn and perfect another language? According to Cambridge English it takes approximately 600 hours of 'study' to progress from a beginner level to a upper intermediate (B2) level of fluency. However, as most of you reading this are probably aware, this 'magic number' of hours, is really pure fiction! The real answer to this question depends on so many factors, that it's incredibly difficult to answer. Let's take a look at a few of these factors in more detail:
A tangible need for the language
It's clear to anyone that if you have a short-term, tangible need for the language, such as for work or academic reasons, then you are more likely to learn faster. If you don't feel any urgency then you are far more likely to falter or lose motivation.
If you don't feel this need then perhaps you need to look around for a goal which will drive you forward with your English studies. An example of this could be that next promotion, or the possibility to live in an English speaking country.
A clear learning methodology and plan
In order to make progress you should have a clear idea of your objectives and how you're going to reach them. This could include things like: the amount of time each day you will devote to it, the different ways you will study and practice, how you will judge your progress (eg. exams or level tests), and who can help you along the way. Just attending regular classes might not be enough.
A good language trainer should be able to guide you along this path, and give you the advice you need.
A passive approach to language learning can prolong the process, and possibly result in a loss of motivation. Just showing up for training sessions, and then not doing anything outside of them makes for a long, slow process!
Those people who actively take an interest in the language, and start looking and listening for opportunities to learn at every corner, are far more likely to advance quicker.
Past learning experiences
Very often, the way you've learnt languages in the past will affect the speed you are able to improve in a language. If you've had bad past experiences, then it's likely to dramatically slow down your progress. Or perhaps you've developed poor learning habits, which don't help you get better.
One way to break this is to find a great instructor, who can help you change the way you view the learning process. It's also helpful to realise that there are many ways in which you can learn and practice a language, and that past experience was not the only way.
Aptitude for languages
I have no doubt that aptitude plays an important part in the time it takes to master a language. There are certainly some cases of people who are just 'better' at learning languages than others. They pick it up really quickly and become fluent in a shorter time. However, I would like to add that very often this 'aptitude' is not some special superpower which is inherent in these people. More often it just seems that way because these people make more effort, have a clear learning strategy and don't give up! Aptitude, or lack of it, is often used as an excuse for not learning. I'm constantly hearing "I'm just no good at languages", and of course if these people say it and think it often enough, it becomes true and they don't advance.
Age of student
Like it or not our age can affect our capacity to learn and remember a new language. Our brain cannot take in new things as well as when we are young, and perhaps we have picked up a few bad habits along the way. Of course older students often have some advantages on their side, such as more self-discipline, and a genuine interest in learning, which can really help. So don't let age put you off, but be aware that it can affect the length of the learning process.
In order for language to become assimilated into our brains we need constant learning and practice. I don't just mean turning up to class (although that's also important). I mean that we need to study and practice, and then repeat, and then repeat some more, day after day, year after year! Only with this type of constancy can we truly make progress.
The quality of instruction.
I've left this one until last but it's by no means the least important! Not all language trainers are the same! A good one should be able to help you with all of the factors mentioned previously, by being actively involved in helping you improve. They can design a clear plan for you, adapted to your situation and with achievable and measureable goals. They should also help to motivate you and stimulate you, not only with interesting language training sessions, but by giving you tasks and ideas for you to practice outside the classes.
So, what conclusions can we draw from all this? Should we all just give up learning languages as it's too long and complicated? NO! It can be long and difficult, but then anything worth doing usually is. It is also an enjoyable and highly rewarding process. So, don't give up! Keep going! and enjoy the experience!
If you are looking for someone to help teach and guide you throught this process then please get in touch.