Find the answer in hours.
How much time does it take to learn English? ⌚
How much time to learn English? FInd out how much time it takes to speak English fluently with statistics, in hours!
How much time does it take to learn English? Let's get one thing clear from the get-go–you never finish learning a language. There will always be new words and expressions to learn.
English is no exception. Firstly, because it's impossible to know everything about the language and, secondly, even if you knew everything, new expressions appear constantly. (If you like learning English, that's good news, you will have an endless source of pleasure!).
So, let's change the question a bit:
How much time do you need in order to learn to speak English fluently?
For example, how much time until you reach a level which is high enough to understand a phone conversation? Or, how long until you could watch movies without subtitles and understand them as well as you understand content in your native language? How much time do you need in order to reach each of the European levels?
Count in hours rather than years
I'm sure you've already spent "years" learning English, but this is not a correct estimate of your English level. Studying English for ten years at school without ever speaking doesn't count.
Here's a little comparison to illustrate why that's the case. Imagine you're learning to play the guitar–if you bought your instrument five years ago, but it spent four of them in the attic, it wouldn't be fair to say you've been learning to play for five years, would it?
A much more accurate estimation of our progress in English would be to count in hours.
That's a piece of luck, because that's how serious researchers go about the topic, too. Before talking about adults, keep in mind that a child spends between 12,000 and 15,000 hours learning her mother tongue [source - Diane Larsen-Freeman (1991)]. That's something you should keep in mind when you see that the numbers above are a bit higher.
American Estimates (FSI)
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is a branch of the State Department of the US with a reputation for teaching foreign languages. If a diplomate has to learn a language due to a change of their position, it's the FSI that will teach them. If James Bond were American, he would have probably educated himself there (or, if not, at the Defense Language Institute the military equivalent to the FSI, where he would have probably come across Jason Bourne !).
The FSI was founded in 1946 and educates more than 2.000 people each year, in more than 60 languages. The trainings last between 8 and 44 weeks, depending on the student's level and the goal they want to reach. The courses take place in the form of a collective course at an intensive rhythm (a minimum of four hours per day) and the student is expected to work on their language skills just as much in their personal time (a minimum of three hours per day). Yes, that does mean seven hours of practice per day! The goal is for the student to develop practical skills, since they will use the given language for work.
What's also interesting about the FSI is that a lot of their students know more than one language (on average, they know two or three). This means we're talking about experienced people, which makes the statistics even more reliable.
In one of their reports, the FSI give us the following estimations to reach a high enough level to work in a language (an S-3 level on the FSI scale, which would be a C1 or even just a B2 in the European system CEFR):
Source : *Lessons learned from fifty years of theory and practice in government language teaching*, Frederick H. Jackson & Marsha A. Kaplan
Meaning that if you already speak one of the languages in category I (French, German, Italian, etc.), you will have an easier time learning English, given the fact that these languages tend not to have a phonetic spelling and they share lots of vocabulary. You will need about 600 hours to speak English well enough to be able to work in it.
European estimates (ALTE)
But let's not stop there. You've all probably heard of the ^Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) ^.
So, how much time does it take to reach each one of the CEFR levels in English?
Source : *Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE)* quoted in *Introductory Guide to the CEFR for English Language Teachers*, Cambridge University Press
Here's the same table in a text format, how much time does it take to learn English:
|English level||Invested hours|
|C2||From 1.000 to 1.200 hours|
|C1||From 700 to 800 hours|
|B2||From 500 to 600 hours|
|B1||From 350 to 400 hours|
|A2||From 180 to 200 hours|
|A1||From 90 to 100 hours|
How much time to learn English? (in hours)
The values indicated in the table are cumulative. If you're already at a B2 level in English, you'll need between 100 and 300 hours to reach the C1 level. Guided Learning Hours means time spent in class or doing homework.
If you were wondering how many class hours you need in order to learn English, you finally have an answer!
In other words, according to these estimations, if you start from scratch, you'll need between 1.000 and 1.200 hours to learn English up to a C2 level.
What gets measured gets managed. (Peter Drucker)
I strongly believe that keeping a logbook of our activities allows us to improve. It allows us to put things into perspective. A good way to start is to measure what we have done. I've been taking notes of what I do in Russian and in Hungarian since 2013 and I could estimate what I had done before that.
Here are my estimations of the number of hours accumulated since I started these languages (on January 1st 2015):
|Language||Estimated level||Invested hours||FSI/CEFR Estimate|
|Hungarian||B1 (going towards B2)||646 hours||700-800 hours (B1)|
|Russian||A2 (on pause)||356 hours||360-400 hours (A2)|
How much time to learn a language?
If we look at the estimates given by the FSI, we can see that you'd need about twice as much time to learn Hungarian or Russian than to learn English or French. And if we double the estimates for English by the CEFR, it means 700-800 hours to reach B1 in Hungarian or 360-400 hours to reach A2 in Russian. That would mean I'm just a bit below the average number of hours. You would need to take one of the official tests to confirm that. But, overall, my experience confirms the FSI and ALTE estimates, I can say that they are reliable.
Do you want to test your own level on the CEFT scale, in order to know how much time you need in order to reach this or that level? You can use this document: Self-assessment-checklist.pdf.
Maintain your level
All of these estimates might seem discouraging, after all who wants to commit to a 1.000 hour-long challenge? Who's convinced that they will be able to stick to their goal long enough without getting too discouraged? In a time where everything seems to go too fast and our capacity to concentrate becomes weaker and weaker, it seems almost impossible.
The good news is that you don't need to master English in order to start enjoying it!
I used to practice written English for years before I could communicate with native speakers in real life. During that time, I could learn to create websites, use Photoshop, edit video games, and even read my first books in English. In short, I could enjoy a lot of enriching activities! I knew that my English wasn't perfect but I also knew I could do useful things with it. What's more, I wouldn't have been able to do all of that in French (the information I needed wasn't available in my native language yet).
If I go back to the example with Hungarian, with an A1-A2 level, I could meet dozens of people and experience some unforgettable adventures. It quickly allowed me to do everything in Hungarian. Sure, it was hard (sometimes, even very hard), but it was challenging in a truly exciting way. It helped me create memories which I will cherish throughout my whole life and it led me to move to the country of Hungary three years later— something I wasn't planning on at the time and which would have never happened had I felt too ashamed of my level of language skills.
One of the conclusions by the FSI is that:
There is no substitute for simply spending time using the language.
In any case, you'll need to spend time practicing English if you want to get results. Do you need 600 hours of practice to be able to work in English? Do you need 1.000 hours to master English? Less? More? The question is in fact, not that important.
You need to spend time using the language, and, on that note, the people who like doing that without counting the hours have an advantage. If you love something, don't think about the price.
Accept the investment in time and what that represents. It will help you work in a way that is more relaxed and to stop feeling guilty. You still haven't mastered English after graduating school? That's pretty common, almost the norm. It's not your fault. There's nothing wrong with you, it's just the way it is. Good things take time.
Once you accept that you have to spend a lot of time working on your English, it gets easier to choose how to invest your time.
Do you want to:
- spend your time in the classroom?
- Spend your time reading?
- Spend your time talking to native speakers?
- Spend your time watching TV shows?
...Whatever your preference might be, you have every right to indulge in it. The more you do something, the more you reinforce it and you start doing it easily. The biggest mistake you could make when you want to learn English is to not do anything.
How to learn faster?
The estimates we saw above are a good guide. They come from experienced organizations. The numbers might seem big, but it's always better to rely on the conservative estimates. This helps you avoid disappointment and helps you get organized.
That being said, how can you go faster?
The risk here is to spend your time looking for a magic formula, the thing, the product, the hack that will allow you to learn with a snap of your fingers, while everyone else is struggling. The idea might be seductive, but it's deceptive. You know what? I already wasted too much time looking for a miraculous solution and that was a big mistake! If such a trick to master English in five minutes per day really did exist, it would've been popular enough that everyone knew about it and talked about it for a long time.
To sum up: the time you spend looking for a magic recipe is time you waste by not practicing.
That being said...
Are there methods (which don't have anything magic about them) that allow you to learn English faster than others in a more intelligent and organized way?
For example, to reach the A1 level in 90 hours instead of 100 (saving 10% of your time) or the C2 level in 1.000 hours rather than 1.200 (saving 16% of your time)? You'll need more time to explore that subject, but here are some ideas to help you get organized:
- Learn how to learn. People who know how to learn have an advantage. Learn how to deconstruct a complicated topic into smaller parts which are simpler and more digest. This is called chunking in English. Learn how your memory works in order to memorize better.
- Certain technology. The efficiency of spaced repetition systems has been proven long ago and yet, is still underused. The capacity to bring our tools and our content everywhere with us is also a big plus, because it allows us to practice more, more frequently.
- Phonetics, particularly the International Phonetic Alphabet. English in not a language that is written the way it's pronounced; the written language almost invites verbal mistakes. How can you expect to memorize sounds that you can't distinguish? Knowing the English phonetic alphabet and the basics of phonetics allows to learn to distinguish things in the spoken language more easily and to speak more clearly.
- Favor spoken English. English is a living language. Learning through text alone is counterproductive. Working on your spoken language, spending time without text is a precious activity and there's no reason to wait a C1/ C2 level or for university to start.
So, are you still wondering how much time it takes to speak English fluently? It's up to you to show us! What are you waiting for–let's get to work!