Sunday, December 2, 2012

How long does it take to learn a language - if you already know something

An update on the first post How long does it take to learn a language? which was mostly about the FSI learning scale and learning a wide variety of languages from scratch.

Here are a couple of tables for French and German, which lets you estimate learning expectations for someone with previous knowledge of the language.

French is in the Group I (FSI scale) requiring approximately 575-600 hours of instruction to reach
proficiency in speaking (S3) and reading 3. A handy wiki here. ILR scale here.

The DELF and DALF are diplomas awarded by the French Ministry of Education to prove the French-language skills of non-French candidates.

Each DELF DALF language proficiency exam corresponds to the following hours of teaching :
DELF A1 : 60 hours from Beginner level
DELF A2 : 160 hours from Beginner level
(100 hours from DELF A1)
DELF B1 : 310 hours from Beginner level
(150 hours from DELF A2)
DELF B2 : 490 hours from Beginner level
(180 hours from DELF B1)
DALF C1 : 690 hours from Beginner level
(200 hours from DELF B2)
DALF C2 : 890 hours from Beginner level
(200 hours from DALF C1)

German requires 750 class hours according to FSI to reach proficiency level 3.

Below is a table of the basic Goethe-Institut exams as they fit into the scheme:

CEFL levelGoethe-Institut examInstructional hours needed
C2Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung, Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom750-900 (both)
C1Goethe-Zertifikat C1 - Zentrale Mittelstufenprüfung (neu), Prüfung Wirtschaftsdeutsch600-750 (both)
B2Zertifikat Deutsch für den Beruf, Goethe-Zertifikat B2375-540 (ZDfB), 450-600 (GZ B2)
B1Zertifikat Deutsch300-450
A2Start Deutsch 2128-255
A1Start Deutsch 164-128

The CEFR describes language ability in a scale of levels from A1 for beginners up to C2 for those who have mastered a language.

The Common European Framework for Languages (CEFL) as referred to here is identical to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

Cambridge ESOL is often asked about the number of study hours (or guided learning hours) required to reach a certain examination level. It is not possible to give a categorical answer to this, as hours of study required will vary depending upon several factors, such as the candidate’s language learning background, the intensity of the study, the inclinations and age of the individual, as well as the amount of study/exposure outside of lesson times. The following figures are, however, sometimes quoted as an approximate guideline:
CEFR Level
and Guided Learning Hours for English - Cambridge English exam
C2approximately 1,000–1,200
C1approximately 700–800
B2approximately 500–600

approximately 350–400
approximately 180–200

Excerpts and findings from the book "The CEFR in Practice" which I have parked here.

In practice, Eurocentres' findings suggest that to get from zero to B2 in English in an "intensive in-country environment", “900 hours was an ambitious but realistic goal for those speaking a European language”. From zero to B1 required 400 hours for Europeans. A study of native Finnish speakers confirmed this 400 hour figure. B1 is the average level reached by Finnish 15-16 year olds after 300 hour lessons of English plus c. 100 hours of homework. A separate study of Finnish speakers reconfirmed this number and also that Finns “typically reach B2 after about some 800-900 hours (Tuokko 2007 inTakala 2010a, Takala 2010b). However, “progress thereafter seems to require exponential increase in the time required, with 3,000 hours estimated for C1. In this case, the attainment of the C levels is in fact based on anecdotal evidence and conjecture rather than firm data.”

Data from a joint Eurocentres/Goethe Institute project…suggested that there was a correlation between proficiency level and time of extensive study at the Goethe overseas institutes in Europe and Latin America:  “There was a remarkably linear progress up to Eurocentres “Mastery” (equivalent to C2), with 1,000-1,200  hours required to reach it. This is considerably less than the 3,000 hours for the Finns! However, the learners who achieved C2 in these cases were the tiny number of survivors: the unusually talented, successful, tenacious, hardworking learners who had made it through the whole system over many years. Not anybody can get to C2 in German in 1,000, or 2,000 – or even 3,000 hours”.

According to Swiss data “after two years of English (=c.160 hours) a considerable majority of 15-16 year olds had reached A2, whilst half the Gymnasium students had achieved B1 after two years. The main point, however, was the wide range of difference in the proficiency achieved. After three years (=c 240 hours) this range of achievement was from A1 to B1 for both lower secondary school and Gymnasium; in Gymnasium after six years (=c.480-600 hours), the range was from B1 + to C1. In adult sector evening classes the ranges were even greater.”

“In an attempt to summarise all the information available, John De Jong (personal communication) recently presented ranges of time required to reach different levels. The 400 hours for B1 is optimistic according to his calculations, which suggests a range from 380 hours (fast learners) to 1386 (slow learners). For C1 the range is from 1,520 hours (fast learners) to 4,490 hours (slow learners) which neatly straddles Takka’s estimate of an average of 3,000 for his graph.

“Estimates are further complicated by informal learning, especially for English. Takala (2001:101) cites a Finnish saying “English sticks to your clothes:” and says English is well on the way to becoming a third national language.”
Taking all of these factors into account, only the person asking the question can answer it by logging the progress of the learners in their context. There is not simple answer.”

The CEFR in Practice, pp.98-100

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