How long does it take…to learn English

When I was teaching English to newcomer students at LCA, a private school I work at for the past two years, I often get this exact question from either my students or some concerned parents who like to waltz in and out of the school as they please.

How long did it take you to speak English so fluently?

Me: About 3 months

Concerned Parent/Student: Wow, tell me your secret. Maybe I can do what you did. 

That was usually my queue to tell the brief summary of my experiences during my first year in the U.S. But I never got to tell the whole thing before I was cut off like when someone yells cut in the middle of a scene and walks off the set and never comes back. Anyway, I want to take this chance to finally get all my words down in this one single uninterrupted article.

I came to the U.S. when I was 10, an age when it’s all about curiosity and learning. Moreover, I was prepared. In fact, I’ve been preparing for this trip ever since I was 7 and it did help that when I went to school in China, I was elected the class group leader for the English subject (英语科组长) two years in a row. 

When I landed that night at LAX, I was dove head first into a conundrum. My step-dad spoke nothing but English. I didn’t have a choice except learn the language. After a frustratingly difficult first Christmas, I was enrolled into the second semester of 5th grade even though I didn’t even finish the first semester of 4th grade.

Luckily, there was a Newcomer’s program. I was in a classroom 8 hours a day, 5 days a week learning the basics of the English language along with 15 or so other newcomers from other parts of the globe (mainly Mexico). 

Each afternoon, after getting home from school, I sat in front of the TV watching non-stop comedy and other shows. I wasn’t even allowed to turn to the Chinese channel. At first, I couldn’t understand a thing. It wasn’t until a couple months later that I finally managed to grasp the jokes and the funniness of the shows. 

That first summer, mom got a job at a tutoring center teaching newcomer kids English and dragged me along. By the time summer was over, I was as fluent as I could be after 9 months of constant learning. On the other hand, my Chinese went way down because of the lack of usage. I can still speak fluently but reading and writing, not so much. 

Most of the time, all they grasped was that watching TV can learn English and nothing else. I told them though, if you are willing to put in the effort, you can accomplish anything. 

2 thoughts on “How long does it take…to learn English

  1. This is a great story. I’ve read (and Ihappened to me) that if you start dreaming in the language you are learning and you’re immersed in that language, then dreams indicate you are on your way to fluency. It’s difficult to retrain your brain as you get older. Even being only 10 years old makes it harder than if you were 5 or 6 years. How nice that you teach English. That must be interesting. Anyway, very nicely told story. Well done. Lucy


    1. Yes, it was an interesting experience to teach English. 😀 I got to look inside the minds of teenagers anyway if you can call that interesting. But I think you’re right, if you start dreaming in the language you’re learning and immerse yourself in that language, then you’re on your way to fluency. Thanks for dropping by. Yinglan


Anything you want to ask? Want to know?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s