According to a recent study conducted with elementary school students in Washington, D.C. who speak English as a second language, it takes an average of three years and eight months for young children to become proficient in the language. However, this statistic only speaks to oral efficiency. This level of language is simply not enough to perform academically at age level. In fact, more than 20 percent of English Language Learners do not score high enough on state exams to achieve re-classification status.
The same study suggests that it takes four to seven years for English Language Learners to reach the same level as their peers in reading and writing as well as the ability to perform well on tests. Parents, educators, and the students themselves need to understand the difference between oral and academic efficiency when they ponder the question "How long does it take to learn English?" This question really has two different answers.
English Language Learners Require Stronger Academic Support
Because of the way the brain develops, children who must learn a new language do best when they are exposed to that language before the age of nine. While an admirable goal, this doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Many students come to the United States during their teenage years having had no previous exposure to the English language. For this reason, it’s crucial for educators to invest time and resources in helping these students reach proficiency as soon as possible.