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How long does it take to learn English?

6621 a piece of rope isolated on a white background pvSomeone posted 'how long does it take to learn English?' in the TESOL group discussions on LinkedIn....a 'piece of string' question really and possibly a fun provocation (it was posted in lots of other ESL groups) but I liked it because it really drew some interesting responses. I posted 'about 18 hours!' and provided a link to the EOT case study with Jane as evidence in one group... and the moderator promptly removed it. This is my (possibly) second effort at debate in the TESOL group on LinkedIn...

From #TESOL group on LinkedIn 5th Jan 2011, Discussion question: 'How long does it take to learn English?'

Jason West •
Interesting discussion. I replied to it somewhere else and my entire comment got zapped but here goes...

Students of English need to be able to speak English. Speaking with and being understood by an English speaker is a reward that motivates. Most learners have not experienced courses that facilitate regular experiences of real communicative success. They find it difficult to connect the study and testing of English with anything pleasurable, like an interesting and socially rewarding experience.

Most educational systems teach language as something to store and recall from memory, not something that builds and gains meaning from associations. Hence with the Chinese examples above the kids have probably been conditioned to behave they way they do by the system and the modes of instruction they have been subjected to.

In China there is a phenomenon called 'mute English' where kids taught to tests that are primarily written get virtually no contextual relevant and personalized communication practice.

There are millions of English learners who have studied for years but are still unable to speak with any confidence and simply cannot see the point, other than to get a uni place and a job overseas.

Learners who are deemed hopeless cases after years of study can become motivated and improve extraordinarily quickly if they are helped to connect their study with small self-evident experiences of communicative success. Most people find the prospect of being able to speak a second language very desirable, its just their experience of being shown how to get there that has had the effect of turning them off.

This is a case study (every second of contact is recorded on this site) of a randomly chosen Chinese learner who had studied English formally for 16 years and still spoke like a beginner. Just six lessons later she could speak comfortably at intermediate level.


I hope you have a read and a listen (8 mins) and comment. And that the moderator leaves this post up, as I really hope you will all agree that it is a relevant contribution to the discussion.


P.s. If you want to start improving now and want me to help you personally visit the Learn to Speak English Fast page now!

(This was an old blog post but we think it is still relevant at the date of re-publication, December 2014).