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From Novice to Native: How Long Does it Take to Learn a Language?

Jun 21, 2023

Learning a new language may seem like a daunting task. Companies investing in English language training programs are faced with the question: How long does it take to learn a language? When considering the goal of ensuring their program is efficient and effective, it’s an important question. Learning a new language is challenging in any situation, but Business English students are learning for specific purposes, introducing even more factors into the equation. International Standards like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) provide rough estimates, but, in reality, every learner is different.

There are many factors that influence how long it takes to learn English. Consider these 10 factors when evaluating the time it takes for your language program learners to progress in their English language journey.

Learn about the benefits of English language learning for companies.

1. Prior language learning experience

If a person has previously learned a second language or has experience with language learning techniques, they may have an advantage in acquiring English skills more quickly.

For example, if a student in India has grown up speaking Hindi and also learning the local state language, then picking up English may prove easier. A student like this already knows to look for different sentence structures, verb conjugations, and correct spelling. Even though every language is different, they all have rules and exceptions to the rules, and having learned a language before can impact the amount of time it takes to learn English.

All Bridge teachers have native-level English proficiency, but many are non-native English speakers and understand the inherent challenges of learning another language. With this understanding, instructional support methods can be personalized for students based on their prior language learning experience, as well as other relevant factors.

2. Native language of the learner

Ever wonder why Germans tend to speak such good English? It’s because English and German share the same provenance. The native language or mother tongue of an individual can affect the learning speed of an additional language. Some languages share similarities with English, such as vocabulary or grammatical structures, which can facilitate the learning process.

Conversely, those who speak a Romance language like Spanish or Italian may find it harder to perfect their English.

two women sit at a table talking.
Working with a tutor or sponsor to clearly articulate language goals is an important step in ensuring consistent and measurable improvement.

3. Instructional methods

People have unique learning styles, such as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Tailoring the learning approach to match one’s preferred style can enhance comprehension and retention of English language skills. In fact, learning should be personalized for individual learner needs, as there is no one-size-fits-all method. Bridge has 30 years of experience training English teachers, providing a pool of expert Business English teachers, well-versed in today’s effective learning methodologies. The Bridge learning platform is also state-of-the-art, providing opportunities for students to learn through the teacher-centric program with the support of advanced technologies. This combination provides opportunities to personalize instruction and track learners’ progress. The programs include private, group, and immersion formats.

Specific students and company cohorts can customize their learning paths through needs analyses and consultations that identify individual goals and objectives. Personalized learning paths consider the working context of students by including a spectrum of topics, skills, and tasks.

Find out more about the BridgeEnglish teachers, their training, and access to continued professional development.

4. Use of authentic resources

This goes hand-in-hand with instructional methods as access to authentic resources that put language learning in the context of job-specific tasks can influence how long it takes to learn English. A task-based learning methodology, for example, may provide authentic resources for the learner to practice writing emails or reports, or a variety of other typical job-specific tasks. Combined with effective instructional techniques and support, such as using language learning apps, round table conversations, project-based tasks, and working with a tutor, task-based learning will optimize the learning experience.

Bridge’s detailed needs assessment and consultation process identifies the specific needs of all students, including the job-specific tasks of learners, providing opportunities to tailor instruction and utilize authentic resources for each learner.

Explore ways learning paths are customized with Bridge, with carefully designed syllabi and select course materials identified through needs analyses and consultations.

5. Age of learner

Generally, younger learners tend to acquire languages more easily than adults. Children have a higher degree of language plasticity and tend to pick up languages through immersion and natural exposure. However, this doesn’t mean that adults cannot learn English proficiently; it’s just that they may approach the learning process differently. An adult student may feel self-conscious speaking aloud or struggle to find time to practice the language, but with the right instructional methods, rapport with a teacher, and flexible course schedules, there are workarounds to address challenges for adult learners.

Bridge’s teacher-centric course structure supports adult learners well as they gain rapport with teachers and benefit from personalized instruction. Flexible course scheduling options also support the busy schedules of learners.

adult students studying together in a library.
Younger students tend to learn a new language more easily but there are methods of instruction that can support adult learners.

6. The learning environment

The learning environment, including access to resources, exposure to native English speakers, and immersion opportunities, can greatly impact learning speed. Living in an English-speaking country or regularly interacting with native speakers tends to accelerate fluency. For example, if somebody who only speaks Spanish moves to England, it’s likely that the natural exposure to English will accelerate language acquisition.

BridgeEnglish offers private, small group, and immersion options in their corporate training program in order to have regular opportunities to practice. And Bridge students also have access to regular round table workshops that provide opportunities to practice with other learners, which is particularly valuable to students who may be engaged in private courses.

Find out what some of the common challenges and solutions are for Business English language learners.

7. Motivation and dedication

How long does it take to learn English? A lot of that depends on the person. The level of motivation and dedication an individual brings to their language learning journey can significantly impact the time required. Consistent practice, a positive attitude, and a genuine desire to learn English can lead to faster progress.

While dedication mostly depends on the person, language programs can also build in motivators to courses to grow motivation. The Bridge program has many features to build the intrinsic motivation of its learners. The use of the Global Scale of English (GSE) by Pearson interprets language proficiency test scores, providing a nuanced assessment of language proficiency progress. Learners and program sponsors can track progress, even micro-progression to see short and long-term goals completion.

Teachers can also create opportunities for rewarding learning experiences. Bridge courses are competency-based, so learners are motivated by the knowledge that they can apply their learning in their profession. Companies can also improve the motivation of employees with supportive learning environments and a company culture that rewards a lifelong learner mentality.

8. Starting proficiency level

The initial level of English proficiency influences the learning timeline. Beginners may take more time to grasp the basics, while those with some prior knowledge may progress at a faster rate. Even a person who consumes more media in English will be at a better starting point than someone who does not.

The amount of time needed to learn English also depends on the goals each person has. Some people may want to be completely fluent, while others are satisfied with reaching the proficiency necessary to complete their specific job tasks.

class of adult learners working together.
English language learners come from an incredible variety of backgrounds, professions, cultures, and ages. It’s never too late to continue learning.

Bridge language training begins with needs assessment and consultation to identify learners’ current proficiency levels. Test results are interpreted using the GSE which aligns with the CEFR. Specific learning objectives are tied to GSE levels and then used to guide instructional methods and course resources, ensuring learners are working toward learner-specific short and long-term goals.

9. Cultural and social factors

Oftentimes, there are common misconceptions about learning a language. Some may believe that simply completing lessons and tests is the way to learn English. This is especially true in countries where second languages are not as common. For example, people in European countries who are exposed to various languages throughout schooling understand that learning English is a lifelong process. On the other hand, in a country like the United States where there is not a common culture of learning an additional language, there’s more often the misconception that it can be learned quickly.

The Bridge language programs combine a teacher-centric formula with a flexible learning platform that provides opportunities for discussion and conversation, written and oral language practice, and access to authentic resources that align language learning with job-specific tasks. Our network of teachers from around the world leverages their experience to personalize training and resources to each learner to maximize their learning potential.

Find out why your English language training program should align with your company culture.

10. Natural aptitude

Some learners have a natural talent for picking up a new language. These individuals with a natural aptitude for learning languages may progress more quickly.

Language aptitude encompasses factors such as memory, analytical skills, and the ability to recognize patterns. While some people may find it more difficult to learn English, it does not mean that it’s a farfetched goal. With proper instruction and individual attention, everyone can advance with language acquisition as long as there is some degree of motivation.

These 10 factors influence the amount of time it takes to learn English. Of course, individuals who start young and are in an environment that is immersed in the language will have an advantage; however, with the right language program partner, there are ways to increase the speed and efficiency of the learning process.

Learn more about the personalized, flexible, and relevant Bridge language programs.

Rashmi Chugani

Rashmi is a culture vulture who hopes to travel the world. News is her second love, after coffee.