How long does it take to learn English?
by Judie Haynes
The most frequently asked question of ESL professionals by mainstream teachers, administrators, and even politicians concerns how long it should take English language learners to acquire English.
How long does it take to learn English? How long should students receive support in language? These are the most frequently asked questions by administrators, school board members and classroom teachers. The most comprehensive work done in this field is the research conducted by Wayne Thomas & Virginia Collier. Thomas&Collier studied the language acquisition of 700,000 English language learners in a longitudinal study from 1982 to 1996. They wanted to find out how long it took students with no background in English to reach native speaker performance (50th percentile) on norm-referenced tests. In addition, they looked at variables such as socioeconomic status, first language, programs used to learn English, and number of years of primary language schooling. In their study, Thomas&Collier found that the most significant variable in how long it takes to learn English is the amount of formal schooling students have received in their first language.
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