This week my students are discussing what it takes to achieve a goal. In particular, we are discussing their common goal “of communicating better in English.“ Communication involves not only speech, but also reading, writing, and listening.
Every one of my students comes to me with the desire to “learn more English.” Some of my students have only been in the United States for a week, while others have been here 5, 7, 10, sometimes 20 years. Some of my students have university degrees and others never held a pencil until they came to America. Some of my students only speak one other language while others speak 5 to 8 different languages. Each student has a different story, but each one has the challenge of English language acquisition.
How long does it take to learn a second (or third or fourth or fifth…) language?
For a personal perspective on this question, I talked with my co-worker, Rihoko Colwill, about her experience with English language acquisition. She said, “After 3 years I managed very basic conversation, and probably after 6 years, I felt comfortable within the vocabulary that I knew.”
On average, it takes a child 7 years to master basic grammar and 7 to 15 years to master academic language.
Learning a language also requires integration into every aspect of life and a working vocabulary of 3000 words to effectively communicate.
An adult learner may experience many challenges such as a busy family life, demands of a job, poor health, interruption in English education, and/or lack of previous formal education.
What are the stages of language acquisition?
Students learning a second language move through five predictable stages:
- Preproduction (listening and understanding)
- Early Production (one to two word utterances)
- Speech Emergence (phrases)
- Intermediate Fluency (simple sentences, etc)
- Advanced Fluency (more complex English) (Krashen & Terrell, 1983).
How quickly students progress through the stages depends on many factors, including level of formal education, family background, and length of time spent in the country.