How long does it take to learn a language?

Big journeys begin with small steps!

How long does it take to learn a language like English?  Answer: How long is a piece of string?

Learning a new language is very difficult for some and easy for others. Perhaps to explain this further, tell your students this story to encourage them.

How long does it take to learn?

Once a young man was walking to the beach in an unfamiliar town. He walked and walked until he saw a wise old man sitting near a hill.

“Excuse me,” he asked the wise man. “How long does it take to get to the beach.”

“Go on, go on, keep walking!” The old man grumbled.

The young man walked away confused, wondering if he had said anything offensive. When he reached the top of the hill, the old man called after him,

“About twenty minutes.”

“Uh…Thanks, but why didn’t you tell me that before?” The young man asked. “I thought you were mad at me.”

“Mad? No!” The old man said. “I just had to see how quickly you walk.”

And the moral of that story: It’s hard for a teacher to predict how long it will take an individual to learn. Depending on the student, they will have different backgrounds. While some will continue to take several language classes a week, and some will watch English movies and listen to English music to help further their grasp of the language, some won’t.

It’s a lifetime project

So, how long does it take to learn a language? Well, when learners feel too much pressure, they can become buried in lists of words and begin feeling overwhelmed and disheartened. Therefore, I think it is important to let students know that they will never stop learning English. It is a lifetime project. Even you, as their teacher, are still learning new words and phrases in your own language!

So, unfortunately, it’s hard to give students a definite answer. I can relate to that since I know what it’s like to be learning a language, and worry that I’ll never be fluent. However, if you work at it and you keep on walking like the young man, it won’t take forever! Even a big journey starts with small steps.

Further reading

You might want to share these tips on becoming bilingual with your students.

Check also this essential post on how to improve your English.

Teaching resources to help students learn

Help your students learn more effectively with my varied ESL activities for teens and adults for the classroom, or online classroom.

3 thoughts on “How long does it take to learn a language?”

  1. Thanks Shelley. I love this story and I will tell it to all my students at the beginning of our new academic year. I also agree with the idea that big journeys begin with small steps!

  2. That is exactly true. It depends how quickly you learn. Now in my class some students learn quickly what ı teach ıf they eager to learn they learn better

  3. It’s so true of my adult students. Perhaps now I can convince them that it all depends on them no matter how good a teacher is.

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