About Learning English - How long will it take?

Rather than look at what Thomas English has to say, let’s look first at what industry experts have to say.

Before we start, keep in mind that it is important to think in terms of in-class hours rather than days, weeks, months or years.

According to Cambridge English Language Assessment (CELA), it takes:

  • 500-600 in-class hours to acquire the level of English many employers like to see (Upper Intermediate - B2),
  • 700-800 in-class hours to acquire an advanced working knowledge of English (Advanced - C1)
  • and 1,000-1,200 total in-class hours to acquire perfect English (Proficiency - C2).

Should we trust CELA? They are part of the University of Cambridge. They have been creating examinations and qualifications for over 100 years. The first exam they created was the Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE). In 1913 three people took it and all failed.

Since then they have created many of the world’s most well-known international English language exams including PET, FCE, CAE, BEC, IELTS, ICFE and more.

They have also contributed to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) which is a levelling system used by nearly every single English language school in Europe (and Ukraine).

According to English as a Second Language textbook writers, such as those published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press, it takes 510-690 in-class hours to acquire an advanced working knowledge of English (Advanced - C1). Those hours can be divided up as follows:

  • Starter / Beginner (A1) - 60-90 in-class hours
  • Elementary (A2) - 90-120 hours in-class hours
  • Pre-Intermediate (B1.1) - 90-120 in-class hours
  • Intermediate (B1.2 and early B2) - 90-120 in-class hours
  • Upper Intermediate (B2) - 90-120 in-class hours
  • Advanced (C1) 90-120 in-class hours

Notice that that is less time than 700-800 that CELA states is necessary.

Stepping away from English for a moment, Alliance Francaise says it takes 810-950 in-class hours to master level C1 French.

Returning to English, let’s look at two popular English language schools in Kyiv.

According to Speak Up, it takes 300 in-class hours plus 300 computer laboratory hours to acquire an advanced working knowledge of English (Advanced - C1). Speak Up uses a system of 15 levels, each with 20 in-class hours and 20 computer laboratory hours.

According to American English Center, it takes 352 in-class hours to acquire an advanced working knowledge of English.

According to International House, it takes about 612 in-class hours, which puts their estimate right in line with the textbook writers and closer than any other school to CELA’s stated requirements.

According to Chris Lonsdale in his Tedx Talk entitled “How to Learn Any Language in Six Months” a person can learn a language in six months through comprehensible input, content that is relevant to you and a language partner who gives parent-like support. Read or watch Chris's talk.

Perhaps also important here is to notice that if a person were to spend 30 hours a week learning English, in six months they could have gone through the equivalent of 780 in-class hours.

As was mentioned at the start, it is important to focus on in-class hours, not days, weeks, months or years.

Sometimes students ask if there is an intensive or faster way? The answer yes: you can shorten the days, weeks, months and years by studying more hours in class per day, but no: the hours themselves cannot be shortened or intensified.

In fact, one of Chris Lonsdale’s keys to six-month language acquisition is that the learner be relaxed and happy. No one is relaxed when they feel like they are drowning, yet this is how they would feel if the in-class hours themselves were intensified.

At Thomas English, our experience is that schools and students who try to take shortcuts (in terms of number of in-class hours) to English proficiency end up speaking bad, weakened and broken English. In the worst of cases, the damage feels irreparable, although it actually isn’t.

At all levels and all stages of English acquisition, some time is needed for concepts to gel, be practiced and solidify. It is not possible to race through concepts, seeing them once, rarely or never or insufficiently practicing them.

At Thomas English our experience is in line with CELA standards. Our textbook courses are approximately 106 hours in length, which equals just under 600 total in-class hours of learning to acquire an advanced working knowledge of English (Advanced - C1) .

You will notice this is well above the number of in-class hours at Speak Up and American English Center and the same as at International House. You will also notice that, similarly to International House, it is about 100-200 less than is recommended by CELA.

What can we say? We are also bound by the pressures of the market. English learners want fast results. That is why products exist such as English in 30 days and Lose 10 Kilos in a Week.

It also falls 100-200 in-class hours short of the potential of Chris Lonsdale’s six-month intensive method.

Unfortunately, most of our students either work or are in school or university or have friends of families and a plethora of other interests. For 99.9% of them, 30 in-class hours a week is not possible.

Why should I choose your school? What makes your school different?

This is a nearly impossible question to answer. Usually people choose a school because...

  • it was recommended to them or
  • they like the teacher or
  • they like the students in the group or
  • they like the price they're getting or
  • the time of the lessons fits their schedule or
  • the location of the school is close to their home or
  • they get the feeling that a school knows what it's doing (reputation) and will give them results
  • the school sells them what they ask for, i.e. "8-minute abs"

The best way to find out if our school is the right fit for you is to try it. There is no risk to you when you come and try our school. You can take a spoken and written test. It's fast and free. Then we'll recommend one of our groups to you. You can try it. If you don't like it, it's free. You don't have to pay anything. You only pay for it if you like it and want to continue.

That said, here are some reasons why you might consider choosing our school.

  • We know how to assess your current level.
  • We listen to you when you talk about your language-learning goals.
  • We can give you a realistic estimate of how long it will take for you to improve to the point where you are satisfied with your knowledge and abilities.
  • We know what employers are looking for when it comes to your English.
  • We know what universities are looking for when it comes to English.
  • We know what immigration officials are looking for when it comes to English.
  • We have experience with numerous types of international exams such as IELTS, TOEFL, FCE and CAE.
  • We know there are different types of learning styles and work to meet yours.
  • We know how to select materials that drive your learning.
  • We know that content-driven lessons can be more engaging for students than other type of lessons.
  • Our courses included "elective" elements, where students are able to choose the things they want to read, listen to, learn about and talk about.
  • Our teachers are highly-qualified and personable.
  • We have been in business for six years and have a six year track record of success.
  • Our teachers have worked successfully with some of Ukraine's most successful companies such as SCM, DTEK, Metinvest, Altana Capital, Harveast, Kreston International, Siemens, Levi9, Sigma, Corum Group, SPS Commerce and AK Art-Stroi.
  • Our students have gone on to study at places like the London School of Economics in the UK and Brown University in the USA.

Should I learn slang?

First of all, we need to agree on what slang is. Slang comes in many varieties and gradations.

Let’s talk first about gradations. I would put forward that we can rate words on a slang scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most slangy, suspect, suspicious, rare, faddish, most-likely-to-die-next-week words and 1 being the ones you should definitely know because whether you like them or not, they are not going anywhere and are incredibly widespread, so widespread that you could come across them in almost any context, no matter how formal or informal.

COOL. Some people may consider the word “cool” slang. Do you? What about “kruto”? Sure, I may hear it here or there and not somewhere else. It may not be appropriate in some places, but should I make an active effort to avoid learning it? Could I consider myself a good speaker of English without knowing the word “cool”? A good speaker of Russian without knowing the word “kruto”? Or would it be more appropriate to know both and also to know what contexts they would be appropriate in?

Do you teach exam courses like IELTS, TOEFL, CAE, etc.?

Probably not this year. However, we do add materials from exams to all of our classes, especially if there is interest in these exams from the students in the groups.

We believe materials from these exams can be motivating and educational and fun as a supplement to the course, therefore we draw from exams such as KET, PET, FCE, CAE, BEC, IELTS and TOEFL as appropriate.

That said, we sometimes start specialized groups and / or exam groups when we can or when there is enough interest, so please do not hesitate to tell us what you would like. There is a chance we’ll start it just for you!

What books do you use? Do I have to buy a book?

We use English File Third Edition.

Yes, it is necessary to buy or otherwise obtain a full printed copy of the entire Student’s Book and Workbook.

Students must bring their Student’s Book to all lessons in order to be able to take part in the lesson and interact with other students as they do various practice exercises.

We understand that books are expensive but we also know that in order to be successful at English it is necessary to make a commitment of both time and money.

A coursebook greatly enhances lesson structure and ensures learning will take place in a systematic way.

It allows you to see where you started and to see how far you have progressed.

It is also based on international standards of English language learning, so that whether or not you are learning English for a job, travel, education, immigration or just plain fun, you know without doubt that you are making progress towards your goal.

The English File Third Edition Student’s Book and Workbook Set costs 599 UAH. It is available at all of our school locations.

When do your groups start?

This year our groups start at the beginning of September. However, you can join anytime.

You can always be added to an existing group if the group is at a stage that is appropriate to your level. Regardless of whether or not you start with the group or are added to the group, you will always be assigned to a group that is appropriate to your level.

(Because levels can be subdivided two or three times, sometimes it is even more appropriate to start in the middle or near the end rather than at the beginning. The best choice for you can be determined from your written and spoken test.)

Who are your teachers?

Our teachers are hired, chosen and tested by Colin Thomas.

Colin has 13 years of teaching experience and has been running schools for six years. He is a Cambridge CELTA qualified teacher (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) and a former IELTS speaking examiner (International English Language Testing System) for the British Council.

He knows how to choose teachers who have the right combination of teaching experience, language knowledge and character.

Thomas English teachers hired by Colin have worked successfully with hundreds of students as well as companies such as Metinvest, Levi9, SPS Commerce and many more.