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How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language?

Image representing students learning the essential house-hunting vocab guide for English learners

People can be very impatient. For many of us, as soon as we start doing something new, we want to be great at it. If we don’t get there fast enough, we say to ourselves, “I guess I’m not very good at XYZ” … and then we give up!

Learning a language is a great example of this, because to get better, you have “throw yourself in at the deep end” (put yourself in a difficult situation straight away) to improve.

Let me explain. Let’s imagine you want to learn to paint. Every day you practise painting, learning new techniques and improving your style. You don’t have to show anyone your work until you are ready – and you choose who you want to see your paintings. You don’t ask strangers in the street to watch you paint and tell you if you are doing it wrong!

Or let’s take another example: learning to ski. When you start, you have an instructor to guide you at every turn. You start on the easy slopes and slowly build up. More experienced people can go straight to the difficult slopes, but you don’t have to try until you’re confident that you know what you are doing.

Learning a language is completely different. While it’s important to have a good teacher and to study as much as you can, the main way that you improve your language skills is by talking to native speakers.

These native English speakers might be strangers. They don’t know exactly what level of English you are at, or which vocabulary you have learned so far. If they are not used to speaking to people from other countries, they won’t know which tenses are difficult for non-native English speakers to understand, and they might use slang words without realising that this makes it harder for you!

That means you have to learn “on the spot” (meaning you don’t have time to think about it beforehand). It can be scary and makes you feel as though you still have a lot to learn, even when you have made lots of progress.

For example, if you are someone who hates to be wrong, you might believe that your English is bad because you only understand 80% of what the other person is saying. However, if you can understand most of what the other person is saying after just a year or two of practice, you are doing well!

This takes us back to the question we started with: how long does it take to learn a language?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, because it depends what you mean by “learning a language”.

If you want to learn enough to visit a city, order food in a restaurant, find your way around on public transport, and have a basic conversation with people that you meet, you should be able to reach this level quite quickly.

However, if by “learning a language” you expect to understand every word and being able to have conversations about complex topics and ideas, this will take much longer.

Then there are other important considerations, for example:

        Is the language similar to your native tongue, or very different? A Japanese student will probably take much longer to become fluent in English than someone from Spain or Norway, because there are more similarities between English and other Norwegian languages.

        Do you write using the same letter system? Again, it will be easier to learn English if your native language uses a Romanised script. If you are used to writing in Chinese characters, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hindi, Thai, etc., you need to learn an entirely different writing style too, which takes more time.

Finally, be realistic about how much time you can spend learning. If you practise English every day, memorising some new vocabulary and talking to native English speakers as much as possible, you’ll improve very quickly. If you only have time to do an hour long lesson each week, it will take you much longer!

Do you want to speed up your English language learning? Take a look at our range of courses at www.Eurocentres.com



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