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How long does it take to learn English?

Posted by IH Aberdeen on 21st January 2016
How long does it take to learn English?

At IH Aberdeen, students often ask us this question: ‘How long will it take to learn English?’

The Answer? Hmm… It’s a question that is almost impossible to answer because it depends on so many different factors. Where are you starting from? And what do you need to improve?

If we look at official research into this question, even these studies give different answers to this question.

According to English UK, it takes about 120 hours to progress from one level to the next (e.g. from A2 to B1). Cambridge ESOL suggests slightly longer: 200 hours. Roughly, these are the official recommended hours of study needed to progress from one level to the next:

CEFR Level

Hours of study needed

to reach the level (from zero)

Elementary (A1)


Pre-Intermediate (A2)

180 - 200

Intermediate (B1)

350 - 400

Upper Intermediate (B2)

500 - 600

Advanced (C1)

700 - 800

Proficiency (C2)

1000 - 1200

That might seem like a lot of time! But it all depends on so many factors.

Of course, if you are starting with zero knowledge of English and you want to reach advanced level then you have a long (but achievable!) road ahead. But even just a 2 week course can make a huge difference to your English.

However, it’s not always easy to say how much progress you will make in a certain period of time period. It all depends on you! It’s useful to consider the following:

1. What are your goals?

Motivation is a big factor.  And possibly the biggest motivator for learning English is because you really need it! Do you have 3 months to get the IELTS score you need for university? Or maybe you want to improve your English for fun?

Both are good reasons to study English. But your motivation and goals might make a big difference to how hard you study.

Remember: Goals don’t have to be something huge like university study! You can choose something smaller like improving your speaking skills, expanding your vocabulary and idioms, or improving your knowledge of English tenses to keep you motivated and give you a sense of achievement.

2. How much time and budget do you have?

Wouldn’t it be lovely to take a year off work or uni, move to another country and do a 1 year language course? 

For sure! But not everybody has the time and money to do that. Maybe you only have 2 weeks of holiday a year to spend on a language course. Or maybe a 1 month English courses is all you can afford.

And that’s OK – everything counts! Whether it's 6 months studying English or a  2 week General English course, you can still make a lot of progress.

3. What languages do you speak already?

Most European languages share a lot of vocabulary, grammatical features with English, not to mention the same alphabet.

So, if your native language is closely related to English (like French, Spanish, German, Swedish etc) you will probably find English much easier than if your native language is, say, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic or Turkish.

4. Have you studied a language before?

If you’ve already studied another language then you’ll probably find it much easier to learn another one. First of all - you have done it before and you already know you can do it again!  And, you will be familiar with language learning techniques and grammar terminology. No doubt, this will help you when learning English.

5. How much exposure do you have to English?

Maybe you already live here in the UK and you are surrounded by English every day. Or maybe you use English in your job already or have English-speaking friends? If you hear, see and use English all the time, you will of course learn English much more quickly.

However, if you are here studying for just 2 weeks, you might not have the benefit of constant exposure to English in your everyday life. But you can try to maximise your exposure to English while you are here: interact with your host family, speak to your classmates in English at all times, watch local TV and read local magazines and newspapers. 

Whatever your budget or need, one thing is for sure - there's an English course option that will help you towards your goals. From a 2 week course to a year of intensive IELTS preparation, let's hear the IH Aberdeen student experience:


What I learned in... 2 weeks: Magdalena Simon, Poland (2 weeks Intensive English

What improvements have you noticed in just 2 weeks?

2 weeks is not a long time for learning English but still I can see lots of improvements! The Intensive course is a good way to improve communication skills and I have noticed exactly that in 2 weeks. 21 hours per week is enough to feel much more confident. 

What can you do now that you couldn’t 2 weeks ago?

Comprehension skills! We did a lot of reading and listening in the course and I notice that I am alreadyunderstanding much more than before. It’s a big advantage having classes with different teachers with different accents!

How do you think your course will help you in the future?

I have read that 14 days of doing something new is enough to build new habits in your life. I hope it will work in my case!

What do you think you can expect to improve in a 2 week course?

You won’t become fluent in English in 2 weeks! But it’s a step on the way to doing it. In just 2 weeks, 21 hours you get a lot of English input, and with a lot of hard work, you can improve step-by-step all English skills: writing, speaking, listening and reading.


What I learned in... the part-time Evening Class: Priscila Cruz, Brazil (12 weeks Evening Class)

What improvements in your English have you noticed from your Evening Class?

I've noticed a significant improvement in vocabulary, idioms, collocations and pronunciation. This allows me to speak more naturally about a wider range of subjects.  

What can you do now that you couldn’t do before?  

Before the English classes I could only guess some expressions in conversations based on peoples' intonation or on the context itself. Nowadays I am able not only to understand them but use some of those expressions myself!

How do you think your course will help you in the future?

This course was crucial for me to improve my confidence in speeches at work and client meetings. The Evening Class is  a brilliant option for those who are busy during the day, and also excellent for meeting new people and good fun! 


What I learned in... 4 months: Astrid Suniaga, Venezuela (16 weeks General English)

What improvements in your English have you noticed in 3 months?

I started in Intermediate General English class and now I’m in the Advanced class. I have noticed my progress in each different skill- speaking, listening and especially my vocabulary and grammar.

What can you do now that you couldn’t do 3 months ago?

I feel more comfortable talking even when I know that my English isn’t perfect! I feel much more independent when I’m out doing errands or my daily business and more confident about finding a job in my profession.

What do you think you can expect to improve in a 3 month course?

Everything – your vocabulary will increase a lot, your listening skills will be much better and you’ll be able to express yourself much better!


To find out more about English course options at IH Aberdeen, contact us, or call on +44 (0)1224 634006

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