Born and raised in Germany, Hannah started learning English as a Second Language in 5th grade and French in 7th grade. After completing her Master’s in Education, ESL, and History at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, she moved to the United States to become a teacher at the Milwaukee German Immersion School and a professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. She is now a content creator, blog author, and pedagogical mentor at Robotel.
English is the most popular language to be studied around the world. According to the British Council, there are about 1.5 billion English-language learners. It has evolved to be the world language thanks to Hollywood blockbusters, the business and financing sectors, literature, the music and travel industry and so much more. English is also said to be one of the simpler languages, while also being versatile and sophisticated. But how long does it take to learn English? When are you fluent or proficient enough to consider yourself an "English speaker"?
1. Factors involved in language learning
How long it will take you to learn English depends on many different factors:
- your current level of English
- your native language
- other languages you already speak
- the time you have available to learn English
- how much/often/hard you study
- whether or not you live in an English-speaking country
A recent study in Saudi Arabia suggests that one can improve their English skills by at least one level in a 4-month period if you practice consistently in a combined course of virtual learning and self-study. Let's take a closer look at this study.
2. How long does it take to learn English: Case Study in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi-Arabian Institute for Technical and Vocational Training Cooperation (TVTC) seeks to broaden the horizons of the Saudi community and foreign individuals within the country. They have made it their mission to foster positive language learning through differentiated activities and the employment of well-trained and skilled educators. TVTC's goal is to diversify the distribution of economic activity through the acquisition of English as a foreign language. In order to provide their students with the best possible setup for learning English in a relatively short amount of time, TVTC partnered with the Canadian company "Robotel", a digital publisher and expert in language teaching solutions.
The SmartClass HUB is a language teaching platform that allows teachers to assign activities to students instead of having students fill out worksheets or use multiple platforms to submit work. TVTC chose Robotel's comprehensive ESL curriculum (Let'sTalk! English) with over 2500 digital activities. While it is possible for teachers to create their own activities within the platform, TVTC chose only to use the already existing activities to guarantee the same learning experience for every student across the different classes and branches.
Student and teacher profile
The students were 20 years or older, with most of them having a technology background or technical majors. The primary motivation for students was to become equipped with adequate language skills to prosper in their working and social environment, both locally (Saudi-Arabia) and internationally.
Ninety-four teachers were responsible for the different groups of learners. Thanks to the SmartClass software, it was possible for them to hire native English speakers from all over the world.
Set up of placement, lessons, and expectations
After a 30-minute dynamic placement test, students were split into groups by level. Every teacher would spend about 4 hours per day (five days a week) in live sessions with their students, using Microsoft Teams. During those sessions, teachers would teach grammar and vocabulary, answer questions, and assign activities in the SmartClass HUB. Students were expected to spend an additional 3 hours per day working asynchronously in the SmartClass HUB. This system automatically graded fifty percent of all activities.
3. Looking at the results
786 students had completed both the pre- and post-assessment and had spent at least 5 hours working on the activities in the SmartClass HUB. Here is a summary of the most important results:
1. The average improvement was a 22.9- point increase between pre- and post-assessment. The standard deviation was 20, which means that 95% of the values are between 2.9 and 42.9. A 20-point increase is equal to one CEFR level. This means that the average student advanced by at least one CEFR level during this 4-month session. Proper use of the platform improved performance significantly (for comparison: students that spent 5 hours or less on the platform only improved by 13 points!)
"The average student advanced by at least one CEFR level during this 4-month session"
2. Looking at a level analysis, you can see that the average increase in the dynamic placement test (pre-assessment) score decreases as the starting level in the CEFR scale increases. The average improvement for students starting in A1 was 25.8 points, in A2 the improvement was 16.6 points, in B1 it was 14.5 points and in B2 it was 5.1 points.
Meaning: Students who start in a lower CEFR level are more likely to move up multiple levels, while students that had prior knowledge didn’t improve as much. Learning the language basics and going from no knowledge (A0) to basic knowledge (A1/A2) is easier than improving the fine details that differentiate elementary learners (A2) from advanced users of a language (B1/B2). It’s even harder to reach a proficient/native-like level (C level).
"Learning the language basics and going from no knowledge (A0) to basic knowledge (A1/A2) is easier than improving the fine details that differentiate elementary learners (A2) from advanced users of a language (B1/B2)"
3. In these two graphs, you can see a strong correlation (higher than 0.60) between the average score of a student and the score in speaking and reading activities. So students that did better in speaking and reading activities were more likely to have an overall better score than those that didn’t do as well in reading/speaking activities.
Students that did better in speaking and reading activities were more likely to have an overall better score
4. The graphic below shows the number of students for each interval of 20 points (1 CEFR level=20 points). For example, about 220 students (28%) improved by 1-2 levels, and about 100 students (13%) improved by 2-3 levels.
Not every student had the same teacher, and the remote-learning environment wasn’t as ideal as an in-person approach; however, the average student that participated in this 4-month session at TVTC made immense progress and advanced by more than one CEFR level in a short amount of time.
In addition, proper use of the SmartClass HUB platform resulted in a more than 22-point increase between pre- and post-test. While it was generally more challenging for students to increase their English proficiency level if they had prior knowledge, they still improved their skills significantly.
About 13% of all students even enhanced by 2-3 levels total during this 4-month session. Using the SmartClass HUB and the “Let’s Talk! English” curriculum helps students develop and enhance their language skills across all four language domains, preparing them for work, leisure, travel, and life in an English-speaking environment.
So, "How long does it take to learn English"? Well, that depends on your level of commitment and motivation, but it is possible to learn English within a 4-month intensive course.
My advice: Get started now, because the sooner you start, the sooner you finish!
Language Teacher, Textbook Co-Author, Pedagogical Mentor