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How Long Does it Take Students to Learn English?

How Long Does it Take Students to Learn English?

by Judie Haynes | Teaching.monster.com

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.

The Research

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.

In one study, Thomas & Collier researched a group of Asian and Hispanic students from an affluent suburban school district receiving 1-3 hours second language support per day in a well-regarded ESL program . These students were generally exited from ESL in the first two years. All of the students researched were at or above grade level in native language literacy. Here are the results for students in this study.

Those students who were between 8-11 years old and had 2-3 years of native language education took 5-7 years to test at grade level in English. These were the lucky ones.

Students with little or no formal schooling who arrived before the age of eight, took 7-10 years to reach grade level norms in English language literacy.

Students who were below grade level in native language literacy also took 7-10 years to reach the 50th percentile. Many of these students never reached grade level norms.

This data holds true regardless of the home language, country of origin, and socioeconomic status. (Thomas & Collier, 1997).

How do ELLs in ESL Programs Compare?

English language learners receiving ESL services do not make more rapid progress in English than students in other types of programs.

Continue reading on the next page.


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