How many hours does it take to learn English?
You want to learn English fast, right? We all want to cross the finish line sooner than later, whether training for marathons or sprints.
Time is money, and you have to meet the necessities of life, like bills and bosses, while maintaining your quality of life with family and friends.
If you study 5 hours a day in an intensive English Program and live in an English-speaking country, you can go from beginner to intermediate in a year. Or intermediate to advanced (but not totally fluent and accurate–that’s a longer haul.)
Think in the neighborhood of 1,000 hours of guided study in an intensive English course.
But everybody’s different. It depends on your past experience, native language, and attitude.
- Past experience: What kind of English study have you already done? Have you worked hard at formal grammar but rarely practiced conversation? In that case, you need lots of speaking practice in an intensive English Program. Plus, you should take advantage of conversation circles and social events offered by English language schools or local libraries.
Or maybe you’re not a bookworm but a tech junkie. Your passions and pursuits matter.
If you do online gaming in English or watch tons of U.S. Netflix shows, you may be comfortable chatting, using slang, and following natural speech. But you need an intensive English program to provide error correction and training in reading and writing.
- Native language: Is your mother tongue Spanish or German, which are similar to English and thus give you an advantage? Or is your native language Arabic or Chinese, whose differences from English present big challenges?
- Attitude: Another huge factor is your attitude. Are you active (good) or passive (bad)?
Active learning means you engage with English through discussions, role plays, problem solving, case studies, group projects, peer teaching, debates, self-reflection, and other methods that get you thinking, writing, and speaking.
Active learning also means things like this: when you watch a movie in English, don’t just munch popcorn. Take vocabulary notes. Watch 2 or 3 times to follow the pronunciation and intonation. With a friend, role play the dialogue between the good guy and bad guy.
Learning English takes hard work and persistence over time, but it can be a fun adventure. A positive attitude can make the difference in how to learn English fast.
Where can you “activate” your learning so that you learn English fast as possible? An intensive English program.
What is an intensive English program?
You don’t build muscles by reading books about weight lifters. You go to the gym to lift weights, swim, and join yoga classes.
An intensive English course is like an all-day gym where you work out your brain. The mental exercise consists of speaking, writing, reading, and listening in English.
Intensive English courses immerse you in the language. Immersion is how you learn English fast, by using and practicing the language every day.
The best intensive English programs in the USA provide between 18 to 21 hours of class time at school per week.
Language is a social activity. In an intensive English course you join a community of fellow English learners with whom you communicate, cooperate, and connect on a daily basis.
The best English classes get you discussing, collaborating, and sharing with partners in communicative activities on a daily basis. It’s tough to maintain that kind of experience outside of a school.
Plus, the best intensive English courses give the chance to live with a host family. Staying with a host family opens up exciting worlds of English learning and cultural exchange in the evenings and on weekends.
To learn English fast, what you do outside of class is just as important as what you do in class. At museums or outdoor markets, you can speak, listen, read, and broaden your horizons. You can encounter English in context when you live and study in the USA.
Living with a host family in a welcoming community in Massachusetts like Northampton, you experience social and cultural events that help you learn English fast.
Not able or willing to travel? You can also study English online in an intensive English program.
Online intensive English courses may spend less daily time–say, 2-3 hours–in the virtual classroom in order to avoid Zoom fatigue.
The consistent structure of daily English practice in an intensive program is key to meaningful progress.
Online English classes should be supplemented by further online activities that extend the day’s lesson, prepare for tomorrow’s class, or connect the topics to your own life.
All the while, an instructor like a personal trainer supports you with guidance, feedback, and encouragement.
You don’t get in the best shape by exercising for many hours once a week, but by exercising a few hours most days a week.
If you’re wondering how to learn English fast, consider an online English course or in-person. Communicative language practice speeds up your progress.
Intensive English Grammar learning tips
Raise your hands if you’re scared of grammar.
Ok, you can put your hands down.
English grammar may send a chill down your spine. But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare.
Learning English grammar doesn’t have to be about cracking open books in a library alone to memorize rules.
Here are six ways to learn grammar while attending an intensive English program.
- Talk actively: Learning grammar can also be about sipping a coffee while practicing natural conversation. Ask your partner what/who/when/where/how/why questions. Listen for verb forms to catch past, present, and future. After your partners speak, summarize what they said before you agree, disagree, or expand.
- Listen actively: Funny dialogue on a Netflix series or a heated debate on an Apple podcast will include grammar from your intensive English classes. Try to catch when the speakers use a phrasal verb, an “if” clause, or preposition + verb-ing–whatever grammar points have come up recently.
- Read actively: To learn English fast, you should read everything and anything you’re interested in: romance, self-help, fashion, history, humor, science fiction, or political books and articles–you name it. Reading is how you internalize sentence patterns, encounter word forms, and discover new vocabulary in context.
- Write actively: It’s about writing, editing, correcting your own work. After doing your best checking your own writing, you can get help from apps like Grammarly or Google docs, study partners, or instructors in an intensive English program.
- Vocabulary: Without grammar knowledge you may understand less, but without vocabulary you understand nothing. While reading or listening, write down words that you think are interesting or useful. Ignore the weird or useless words.
- Basic is best: It’s best to master a limited number of basic grammatical concepts, such as verb form and parts of speech, rather than obsessing over the fanciest grammar on the menu.
For example, it helps to learn English fast to become an expert at parts of speech:
- Verb: Where the action is. Know your verbs! They’re the beating hearts in every sentence in English.
- Noun: Person, place, or thing. If you can touch it, it’s a noun.
- Adjective: Describes a noun. A nice person, a lovely place, a good thing.
- Adverb: Describes a verb. It describes the verb accurately and precisely (those are both adverbs ending in -ly)
- Other stuff: prepositions (in, on, above), articles (the/a), conjunctions (and, or, but), and other words that do a job in the sentence but don’t do the heavy lifting of verbs, nouns, and adjectives.
Intensive English Vocabulary tips
The number one way to build vocabulary is by reading a little (or a lot) every day.
Vocabulary building works best when you encounter words in context. It’s also important to read about topics that interest and motivate you. Nobody learns English by getting bored.
Here are eight vocabulary learning tips to help you learn English fast.
- Get personal: Don’t try to learn EVERYTHING. Just learn the vocabulary that helps you talk about your hobbies, your job, or your major. Stick to your personal passions. Stick to nouns, verbs, and idioms related to banking, photography, veterinary science–whatever fires you up.
- Play Games: Use online flash cards and apps to test yourself. As literature, the dictionary isn’t exactly a page-turner. There are online games to drill, memorize, quiz, and test. If you join an intensive English program, you benefit from a social environment in which you can play games like charades, pictionary, taboo, and categories, which tests and reinforces knowledge.
- Pronounce loudly: Congrats, you memorized the definition. But you don’t know a word until you can use it. That means not only writing it in a meaningful sentence but also speaking it so that the listener understands.
So, clear your throat and pronounce your new vocabulary. Use your family voice, meaning the loud voice that you use when calling to somebody the other end of the house. Say it five times, counting with your fingers. Look at your mouth in the mirror. Put your hand on your chin to count the syllables. Got the pronunciation loud and clear?
- Spell correctly: Thanks to computer spell check, it’s easier than ever to fix misspellings, but you still need to write by hand with reasonable accuracy. Pay attention to common words you often misspell and focus on fixing one per week.
Classmates and instructors in an intensive English program can help you identify your “favorite” misspellings, and even suggest memory tricks.
For example, you can remember that the 2nd vowel in separate is an a, not an e, by remembering the simple sentence, “There is a rat in separate.”
- Keep a Notebook: While reading Harry Potter fan fiction or watching Hulu, take notes. Write down a couple cool idioms, or make a list of the five awesome words. After finishing a chapter or episode, write your opinion using three new words or idioms.
An intensive English program is a great place for you to get feedback from an instructor or peer about whether you’re using the vocabulary appropriately.
- Role plays: Express your inner Hollywood star by creating and acting out dialogues. For instance, pretend you’re the boss, your friend’s an employee, and together perform an office scenario with business idioms like “get the ball rolling” and “up to speed.” An intensive English program is a great place to have fun practicing role plays with different partners and getting feedback.
- Prioritize common words. For typical chats in the kitchen or at a party, do you draw from 50% of the words that you know? 40%? In fact, research suggests you likely use less than 30% of the words you know on a regular basis. You talk like a human, not a dictionary, right?
That means to learn English fast you should focus on the words that are most commonly used around the water cooler or in the lecture hall, depending on your destination.
A very approximate estimate would be that a typical educated English speaker knows around 20,000 words and regularly uses something like 6,000 or 8000 of those words.
So, to speak English fluently you need at least 2000 words. Good news: they’re not a secret.
The General Service List (GSL) identifies the 2,000 most important words for learners of English. The lists starts at #1 with the, passes #2000 with scenery, and concludes with plural at #2284.
If you’re headed for higher ed, the Academic Word List (AWL) does not duplicate the GSL, but rather identifies which words are mostly commonly used in academic writing. The 570-word list runs alphabetically from accommodation to variable.
Let’s do some math: The AWL gathers about 10% of all words employed in academic texts; add the GSL to the AWL, you’ve got 90% of the words in your university reading.
The best way to learn English fast is to build go from 200 to 2000 words by joining an intensive English program.
This way you can practice using scenery, plural, accommodation, and variables in conversation and writing among supportive peers with an experienced instructor.
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While you book your Intensive English course or other academic English or business English course, improve your language skills by reading our free English articles or watching our free English lesson videos.
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By Chris Elliott, IEP Academic Coordinator and ESOL Instructor