Learning The English Language Is A Marathon Not A Sprint Ep 418

A photograph of a ultramarathon runner in the mountains during a workout. As we talk about the time it takes to learn to speak English.

📝 Author: Hilary

📅 Published:

🎈 Updated On:

💬 2844 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 15 min

📥 Download 10.0 Mb

How Long To Learn To Speak The English Language?

So how long does it take to learn to speak English fluently? Learning to speak the English language is going to be a marathon, not a Sprint. Here at Adept English we help you get a great time for your marathon, but we cannot change the race into a sprint. Even when our brains were at peak language learning efficiency as very small children. Where our focus was totally on learning language and interacting with our parents, we still took many months to speak our first words.

Learning a language takes time. Children are often quicker at learning to listen, comprehend and speak, while adults are faster at picking up reading and writing. A child fully emersed in a new language might be fluent in speaking the language in 6 months, with a narrow vocabulary. An adult might take 2 or 3 times as long to reach the same proficiency.

The problem is we are all different, we all have different motivation and focus levels. We also all use different approaches to learning, some more traditional approaches are quite methodical and slow by design. I mean attending a language class twice a week for a few hours may mean you only actually focused on learning a language 4 hours a week plus a few more hours of working on your own outside the classroom.

You will hear lots of different estimates from language schools and language bodies of how many hours before you reach level X or how long it takes to move between levels, from beginner to intermediate, etc. If you take an average of English UK, Cambridge ESOL or the EU’s framework of guided learning for adults you get around 165 hours. So if you focused for 8 hours a day, in theory you will be speaking English in just 20 days!

Why say all this? Well, technically you can learn languages really quickly. Only a tiny number of people will have all the advantages. Like you already speak a language that is close to English. Maybe you learned some English long ago. Or you are someone who can spend all day every day doing nothing but learning English. Be lucky enough to have the money and time to invest in this. It is not just you, you will also need native speakers on hand to help you. You will also need the best language learning techniques. A lot of perfect conditions need to line up for success.

There is a moment in every race. A moment where you can either quit, fold, or say to yourself, 'I can do this.
⭐ Gatorade Ad

Ultimately, even if you learn to speak English in such a short time, you will still miss the depth and breadth of vocabulary and subtlety of language use. Our advice is to set your expectations realistically. Plan for a marathon and focus on getting a great marathon time. Spend as much of your days “dead time” listening and learning English. Don’t set yourself up to fail.

Most Unusual Words:


Most common 3 word phrases:

The Click That2
On A Link2
Appears To Be2

Listen To The Audio Lesson Now

The mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.

Transcript: Learning The English Language Is A Marathon Not A Sprint

Hi I’m Hilary and welcome to this podcast from Adept English which helps you learn English speaking at home.

So what makes the difference between someone who succeeds in learning a foreign language and someone who doesn’t? What helps someone learning English to speak fluently to actually arrive at their goal? Adept English is no stranger to giving tips on how to speak English fluently. But let’s have a look today at one aspect of language learning – something that makes a difference.

Language learning ‘is a marathon, not a sprint’

Well, in a phrase, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’. What’s the meaning of this phrase? Well, vocabulary first – ‘marathon’, MARATHON you probably know already as it’s the same word in many languages. A marathon is a run which is 26 miles long. And a ‘sprint’, SPRINT? Well that’s a fast run – say the 100 metres – that’s a sprint.

Another way of saying ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’ - ‘Great things take years to build’. So if you’re learning English to speak fluently and you want to be really successful – you’ve got to be in it for the long-term. You’ve got to be committed and make effort and sustain it. That means ‘keep doing it’. We’ve all seen those articles online which say ‘Learn fluent English in six weeks’ or ‘How to learn a language in 30 days’. And this is usually marketing rubbish, what we might call ‘clickbait’.

‘Clickbait’ is a compound word, CLICKBAIT. So it’s made up of ‘click’ – which can be ‘a click’ or ‘to click’ and the word ‘bait’, BAIT. So basically ‘a click’ is a noise – like the click that a light switch makes, when you turn it on or off. Or the click of a door, as it closes properly. And it also means the click that the noise of a computer keyboard or a mouse makes as you use it.

So the verb ‘to click’ and the noun ‘click’ has also come to mean ‘clicking on a link’ – it’s what we all do when we’re online. A link is blue and underlined and if you click on it, it takes you to a particular website. Even when we’re using a phone screen to click on a link and it doesn’t necessarily make a sound, it’s still call a ‘click’.

Most of us ‘click’ or ‘click on links’ many times in the average day. And ‘bait’, BAIT – is a noun. ‘Bait’ is what you put on the end of your fishing line, if you’re trying to catch fish. If you ‘bait’ something, you make it appear attractive to attract someone or something, to ‘lure them in’, if you like. ‘Bait’ has the sense that what appears to be on offer, is not really what you’re getting – something looked good, but it probably isn’t what it appears to be. So the word ‘clickbait’ refers to all of those things online, which are designed to hook you, like a fish on a fishing line, to make you click on them – because they make big promises, they look really interesting.

It might be ‘The Secret Technique for Making £10,000 in a week’, or ‘The Terrifying Truth about Cows’ or ‘Twelve Shocking Facts about your Lunch’. We all know that these hooks don’t deliver what’s promised, but sometimes they hook us in anyway.

’How to learn a language in 30 days’

And so it is with ‘How to learn a language in 30 days’ – that’s usually nothing more than clickbait. There isn’t a ‘quick fix’, there isn’t a magic solution to language learning. Most people are not going to learn a language in 30 days. Having said that, it’s interesting that there are intensive language courses.


A photograph of a military trainer giving training to military soldier. Special forces are taught languages in very short spaces of time.

©️ Adept English 2021

But you have to fully give your time and attention, perhaps 12 hours a day for an intense period of time – and it costs a lot of money and it has to be your only focus for that time. And these trainings, these courses do seem to work – but you’ve got to have a strong motivation and you’ve got to have a really powerful need to learn the language.

You’ve got to focus, and you’ve got ‘to have deep pockets’ (that means you’ve got to have money). And you’ve got to exclude everything else from your life, while you do it. So most of us can’t do that. We don’t have the time spare, we don’t have the money – or that level of focus. So most people are not going to learn a language in 30 days – it’s not practical. And without specialist in-depth, intensive training – it isn’t going to happen.

Language learning needs motivation

But what you do need in order to learn a language, is a solid reason for learning. A good motivation – which is going to endure for months, years even. It can’t just be ‘Oh, it’d be cool to learn Spanish’, or a passing fancy like ‘Wouldn’t it be great to be able to speak Korean?’.

That’s not going to be enough to sustain you, not going to be enough to keep you going, keep you motivated enough to achieve your goal. And you do need to have a clear set of goals in your head, which will mean that learning the language is something that’s on your agenda, something that’s in your schedule every week for the long-term, because you’ve ‘reasons to want it’.

Full language learning takes time

So ‘language learning is a marathon, not a sprint’. It’s also interesting to think about what it actually means to say ‘I’ve learned a language’.

What the clickbait ‘Learn a language in 30 days’ websites mean by ‘speaking fluently’, I’m not sure. But my guess is that they’re not meaning that wonderful, deep sense of a language, that appreciation of its subtleties, its nuances. Such that you might read a newspaper article, a review perhaps – and be able to understand something like that beyond the basic meanings of the words.

To be able to understand, to pick up the tone of an article – is it intended as humorous, serious, ironic or sarcastic? Even the military intense language training courses probably don’t enable this level of understanding. To be able to pick up these aspects of language learning – it takes a lot of time.

There’s huge amounts of information you need to take in – both consciously, consciously learned, but also unconsciously learned, through long exposure to that language. It’s a long process, not a short process. But your brain is absolutely equipped to do this. Your brain is expert in doing this. So ‘Learn a language in 30 days’ – it’s like trying to make a good whisky or a good wine or a good cheese perhaps, in 30 days.

It cannot be done. And the English we speak is always less developed that the level of English that we can understand. So we’re always playing catch up in that sense. But, as I say, our brains can do it. It’s not rocket science. We just need to provide ourselves with the right conditions.


Levels of language learning

And what does ‘learn a language’ mean anyway? What does it mean if someone says ‘I can speak English?’

Does it mean being able to order a coffee? Or does it mean being able to hold a conversation as you get your hair cut?

Does it mean being able to follow a film, a movie in that language? Does it mean being able to read that subtly nuanced newspaper article and appreciate the subtleties, the nuances and the references that the writer intended?

Or does it mean being able to live in a foreign country, being able to work and function well, in your everyday life, using that language? Well, I’d say the answer is all of these – it’s just they’re different levels of language learning.

So if you’re talking about being able to ‘order a coffee’, then of course you probably could learn that level of English for numerous situations in 30 days. And if that’s your purpose, that’s fine. You can speak basic English. But if you want the nuances, the subtleties and all of the rest, that’s going to take time and dedication.

Learning a language is a marathon, not a sprint – so you’ve got to have a motivation that carries you through, that matters to you long-term and that means that you sustain the habit of giving time to language learning, consistently, week by week, year by year. And once you’ve reached the level that you require – that may mean ‘being able to order a coffee’ – or may mean ‘being able to watch a film’ – there’s some effort required to maintain that level, keep it current, keep it current, keep it polished.

You may choose not to take it any further – because there’s another language you want to learn or there’s another project that you prefer to put your energy into. And that’s fine. But to really learn a language, to feel comfortable in it - it’s a long-term endeavour, a long-term project. But it’s also one that’s rewarding. It feels good to know that you’re making progress with your language learning. It’s gratifying – that means ‘it rewards you’.

Download The Podcast Audio & Transcript

It’s gratifying to be able to understand and know that your level is increasing. Sometimes, when I’m learning French, I enjoy the fact that my brain can do that – I can understand and to some degree, I can speak another language. I’m a bit ‘Wow! Ooh! I understood that! That made sense!’ It’s gratifying. So much so that there are people who so completely enjoy learning languages, they just seem to do it for pleasure.

They’re the polyglots, POLYGLOT - who perhaps speak five or six languages and are learning two more! So there are lots of levels of language learning. I think one measure, one way of knowing that you’ve really arrived in the upper level of language learning - when you can understand comedy in that language. That’s COMEDY...things, performances if you like, that are there to make people laugh – that’s comedy.

Understanding the stand-up comedian’s joke, which often depends also upon cultural references. If you can do that, you really have arrived with your language learning! For me, that’s on a par with being able to read say, the Financial Times in English – or a PhD Research Paper in English! Stand-up comedy – that’s high level.

’Little and often’ for language learning

So if you do have a full motivation to learn English and you’d like to get to a high level of English language fluency, just keep feeding your language learning habit – feed your brain little and often, little and often.

Just keep going, just keep listening and it will happen for you. It doesn’t take a superbrain to learn a language – most people speak their own language perfectly proficiently, perfectly well, without possessing a superbrain! It just takes feeding your brain, little and often, plus time and exposure to the language.

And don’t forget Course One, Activate Your Listening

Don’t forget to visit our website at adeptenglish.com and have a look at our Courses page. Course One Activate Your Listening builds on what what we offer in the podcasts.

Boost Your Learning With Adept English

The course takes three common themes, three subject areas – the UK, Food and Education and it gives you podcast-type articles, vocabulary explanations – like an English tutorial with your teacher – that’s me.

It gives you the chance also to work on your understanding of English conversations, with two speakers – that’s me and someone else. And it gives you pronunciation practice too. Anyway, language learning is a marathon, not a sprint.


Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.




The voice of Adeptenglish, loves English and wants to help people who want to speak English fluently.
🔺Top of page

TAWK is Disabled

Created with the help of Zola and Bulma