How long does it take to learn a language?

How long
18 Jan Shelley Vernon 3 Comments

 How long does it take to learn English?  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:


There was once a young man who was walking to the beach through an unfamiliar town. He walked and walked until he saw an old man sitting near a hill.

“Excuse me,” he asked the old 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.”

man walking on beach

And the moral of that story: It’s hard for a teacher to predict how long it will take each individual student to learn.

Depending on the student they will have different backgrounds and, whilst some will continue to take language classes a couple of times 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

When learners feel too much pressure, they can become buried in lists of words and begin feeling overwhelmed and disheartened. I think it is important to let students know that they will never stop learning English. It is a lifetime project and that you, as their teacher, are still learning new words and phrases.

becoming bilingual is a journey

So, unfortunately, it’s hard to give students the definite answer they’re looking for. I can relate… I know what it’s like to be learning a language and worried that you’ll be learning forever. I can assure you that if you work at it and, like the young man, you keep on walking, it won’t take forever! Even a big journey starts with small steps.


Help your students learn more effectively with my varied ESL activities for teens and adults.


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!
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
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. Thanks.

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