How quickly can we learn English: on the issue of time

Let’s talk about time in ELT: How much time do you need to learn English?

Let’s talk about time in ELT: How much time do you need to learn English?


  • Cambridge English
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

I’m sure every teacher has met a beginner student who wants to study English one hour per week and reach B2 in six months. 

But of course, the reality differs from such expectations, so a real professional won’t hesitate to inform the notorious students about that. 

However, with the growth of the online teaching industry and an increasing amount of breathtaking offers from various tutors and schools to “teach you THE WHOLE English only in six months or less”, it’s getting more and more important to be able to explain why such promises sound simply impossible and why giving such a promise is likely to end up with disappointment and (hopefully) not too much wasted money. 

Here are some of the proofs to give if you find yourself talking to such students again. 

Motivate your students with ease!

What is CERF?

First of all, teachers are not the people who decide how much time students are supposed to spend to get from A1 to B2+. Naturally, there are certain requirements to follow.

It is impossible to discuss levels without bringing up CERF classification, a set of standards that a student of a foreign language must meet to demonstrate their ability to use language within a certain level.

Implementing such a system has helped to:

  •  encourage innovative ideas;
  • improve teaching techniques;
  • create new programs;
  • make competency assessments simpler.

How can you improve your teaching skills?

Six levels of language proficiency are categorized by the CEFR. Depending on the “can-do” list of the student there are the following levels one can reach:

  • Basic User (A1, A2);
  • Independent User (B1, B2);
  • Proficient User (C1, C2). 

Since 2001, when the system was introduced, it has been used to assess students’ knowledge and, in a nutshell, define how proficient they are. 

Students may be surprised that CERF even defines the amount of time they spend working on a certain level.

Before getting into the details we can state that the general view is that learning conversational English normally requires between 70 and more than 1100 hours.

The level one wishes to attain will determine how long it will take. 

Naturally, the range is so vast because there are many variables that might affect the answer to the hard question of how lengthy something should be. 

However, knowing CERF requirements is not only useful in terms of spotting fraudsters in ELT but also to build realistic expectations, to better prepare for the trip ahead and to have a more detailed grasp of the time and work required to achieve a goal like learning a language. 

The beginning of the journey: reaching A1–A2

Reaching the A1 level requires around 70 hours of regular study time, according to the CEFR.

Students learn how to welcome people, introduce themselves and others, and comprehend simple expressions and phrases at this level. 

Students also get the idea of how to effectively converse with others when they speak slowly and clearly.

To get the A2 level, a consistent study time of 180–200 hours is required. 

Students should be able to understand common expressions at the end of this level, communicate basic pieces of information, and be able to contribute to basic conversations by expressing their opinion on the most common topics.

Tips to teach English to beginners

Somewhere in the middle: B1–B2

A typical study schedule of 350–400 hours is needed to get the B1 level.

Having reached this level, students are able to comprehend the main ideas about well-known subjects, have the necessary travel vocabulary, compose brief and straightforward prose.

500–600 hours must be dedicated to studying for B2.

After working for this amount of time, students will be able to comprehend texts that are more complex, whether they are abstract, concrete, or technical. Students will also find themselves participating in discussions more easily, coming up with understandable language outside of the classroom, defending their points of view, and writing in a variety of genres.

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Too good to be true: C1–C2

Level C1 requires a consistent study program of 700–800 hours.

Students should be able to communicate freely and spontaneously with others at this level, and understand longer and more complex texts as well as their implicit meanings. 

Students are also supposed to have the ability to express themselves and apply English in a variety of ways. 

Additionally, students should be able to write with clarity, precision, and a thorough grasp of all grammatical concepts. 

Moreover, any communication with international clients, customers, or business partners is effortless at this stage.

A consistent study schedule of 1000–1200 hours is needed to get the C2 level. 

At this level, students have to understand most of what they consume in English, sum up discussions and papers, recall the arguments made, and effortlessly integrate linguistic nuance into everyday speech.

CERF Table

Presenting a CERF table itself is a great way to sum up all the information mentioned above. So, here it is:

DifficultyLevelTimeLearned Abilities
BeginnerA170 hoursgreetings, introductions, and fundamental phrases
A2180–200 hoursunderstanding common terms, exchanging basic ideas, and discussing basic critical issues
IntermediateB1350–400 hoursunderstanding the travel-related vocabulary, communicating aims, goals, timetables, and activities briefly and accurately
B2500–600 hourstaking part in discussions with ease, producing coherent sentences, supporting an argument, reading much more difficult and different texts, writing in a range of genres, and having an outstanding reading ability
AdvancedC1700–800 hourscan communicate freely and spontaneously with others, comprehend even lengthier and more complex texts and subtext, and apply English in a variety of ways
C21000–1200 hoursunderstand the vast majority of what one reads and hears in English, be able to clearly articulate documents and conversations, recall the main points of debates, and effectively use linguistic nuance in everyday discussion

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What can negatively affect students’ progress?

Naturally, the CERF requirements are just a theory and a lot of real-life factors influence students’ progress. 

Their previous exposure to the language, their motivation, their knowledge of other languages, their ability to study, and the amount of time they spend studying without you — all of that matter. 

Therefore, we may divide the progress factors into two categories:

Internal factorsThe similarity of student’s native language to English
Their experience with learning languages
The effort they put into studying
External factorsWhether the student takes classes as it takes an enormous amount of motivation to spend so much time alone trying to understand all the peculiarities of English (the motivation which most people don’t have)
Whether a student knows their goal and informs about it their teacher, so he/she can manage the studying process effectively
How immersed the student is in an English-speaking environment

As we can see, there are a lot of things that actually influence progress and either make it faster or slow it down.

What is C2 language exam like?

How can students learn English faster?

Consider some things you can advise your students to do if they want to progress faster.

Build the greatest level of exposure that is possible

An exposure to the language is crucial, and to move from one level to the next quicker it’s better to develop a habit of using the language somehow regularly.

Also, advise your students to find a niche that is interesting for them because forcing yourself to watch boring documentaries where everybody speaks a language you don’t fully understand has never helped anyone. 

What about looking for English-speaking content that students are excited to watch/read and would choose to read or watch even without having a goal to learn English? 

I clearly remember my teenage craze about “The Vampire Diaries” which I loved so much and followed so hard that I wasn’t just able to wait for the translation to come out. 

My point is that this kind of thing will help to build a consistent habit and will definitely increase a student’s exposure and therefore the level of understanding English.

Wondering how to spark students' motivation?

Set goals

The fear of tests, exams or front answers doesn’t work. 

o stay motivated over a long period of time students have to obtain a real goal which is much more important than any marks. 

So, before the start of the course ask your students why they want to study English.

I bet people who decide to study “for fun” won’t last as long as those who “dream about that promotion”.

Use additional materials

Your student’s phone is an ideal study tool (even if they don’t know it) since they almost always have it with them. 

Mobile apps are convenient, fun, and quick. 

Ask your students what they do on the subway, during their lunch break, or after work when they are tired and unmotivated. Of course, they kill time with different games and videos. 

However, the thing is that when they want to kill time or are bored, they may use some helpful studying software or English-speaking games

The amount of opportunities on the Apple Store and Play Market are numerous, so motivate your students to research the best options for them.


To sum up, the real professional will never lie about the hardships and struggles of learning a language and especially about the level of commitment which is waiting for every student once they have decided to start learning a language. 

The real professional should explain an actual situation without creating false expectations about “learning English in three months”. 

Well, if your students really want to learn English in three months, start with solving a little Math problem. Are they ready to study that much? If they are, well, let the journey begin!

A great level of exposure to English increases the chances of learning English quicker.

There are no special requirements that control how soon the student can move from level to level.

The prior experience in language learning is:

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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