Tony Gurr

LEARN to “SPEAK” İngilizce…in 10,000 hours (this time)!

In ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, The Paradigm Debate on 02/01/2013 at 7:16 pm

expletive bubble


Yes, you would thunk that, wouldn’t you?


Especially if you had read my more “uplifting” post – LEARN to “SPEAK” English…in 15 hours (maybe even 2)! – a week or so ago!


It’s funny, isn’t it, how we all respond to different types of “news” in such radically different ways:

Bad news

…we don’t like so much!


When I wrote that original post, I was still under the influence of all that “Christmas Cheer” we hear so much about – around this time of year!

BUT, in a darker corner of my grey matter…another “number” was hiding there lurking stirring – a much BIGGER number!

Besides, you have to admit…a title suggesting you can “LEARN a language in 15 hours” is gonna get you a lot more “hits” on your blog!


THAT number!

Khan (from Kirk)

Damn you…Anders…Anders Ericsson!



Hang on…just hold your horses, there! I thought the “10,000-hour geezer” was called Malcolm…Malcolm GLADwell?

Damn him…even moreso!



Shiriously…I was not so “GLAD” or “WELL” when I first read about “that number”…really bummed me out (and all my summer LEARNing plans) a couple of years back!

Anders…is a decent bloke (have a look at his seminal paper – HEREif you have a 2-hr commute in front of you).


Malcolm (and “his dog” – yes, the secret is “out”) drew on Anders’ work with the “10,000-hour rule” in his book “Outliers” – he claims he wrote the book because he could not find a decent way to explain the careers of really successful people – people like Bill Gates or the Beatles.

But, we all know his dog wanted a lakeside property in Medina!



In a nutshell

The “rule” states that if you want to be really “GREAT” at something, you gotta invest around 10,000 hours to attain that “GREATness“!

…with the Lads from Liverpool, it was “playing time” in Hamburg!

…with Bill Amca, it was “programming” (though Steve Jobs may disagree)!

…with ME, it was going to be “classical piano”, “igloo-building” and “knitting”all till that fateful Summer!

Damn you… Malcolm…Malcolm GLADwell!


Those of you that know the blog…from back in the day…know that one of my very first posts was entitled:

How many hours does it take to LEARN English, Hocam?

Whoopsidaisies! …that’s the Turkish version.

Try this ONE


Now, in that post…and remember it was one of my first…so do not give me a hard time about the poor quality of images (had only clocked up 25-30 hours by then)…I was trying to see if the “guided learning hours” (GLHs) suggested by ELT publishers and their textbook writers could, in fact, lead to GREATness in ELL for our LEARNers here in Turkey.

Those numbers (or “classroom hours”) were a bit like this (in terms of the main “CEFR Levels):

A1 – 80-100 GLHs

A2 – 180-200 GLHs

B1 – 350-400 GLHs

B2 – 550-600 GLHs

C1 – 750-800 GLHs

C2 – 1000-1200 GLHs


According to these “textbook experts”all a LEARNer (wishing to become an “expert” in the English Language) has to do is “sit” in a classroom for a “maximum” of 1,200 GLHs (and by “guided” we mean…by a TEACHer…armed with nothing but a “textbook” – a CD player and a projector, perhaps)!

expletive bubble

Yes, you would say that, wouldn’t you?


I have said morea LOT more!

And, to be fair, some textbook writers do say more…a few of them “add” (in very small print…in the TEACHer’s Book) that EL LEARNers do need to do a fair bit of “self-study” (whatever that is) – from the “workbook” no doubt!


Could it be that Malcolm (and Anders) are “wrong“? Or…is it the case that those “pesky textbook writers”…and their “evil-doer approach” to marketing and flogging their “wares” have been leading us, well and truly, up the garden path?

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.54.10


Let’s do “the Math”!


Come on, Tony – you know all we ELL / ELT folk are a bit “thick” when it comes to the “old ‘rithmetic“!


Not to worry…


ENTER stage left…


Sarah Eaton, a wonderful ELL Consultant from Canada – and a fellow “Jedi blogger“.

I have mentioned Sarah a fair few times on allthingslearning – and she has often extended more than a helping hand to little ‘ole moi with my bouts of bloggery!

Sarah did a great paper on the time required to become “an ELL expert” – and published a version on her own blog (Literacy, Languages and Leadership).


In her paper, she suggested a number of “scenarios” (you know how I loves me “mini-cases”):

Scenario #1: One 3-hour adult education course per week x 8 weeks = 24 hours

Scenario #2: One year of language learning in school = 4 hours per week x 12 weeks x 2 semesters = 96 hours

Scenario #3: 1 year of consistent, dedicated self-study (or homework) at 1 hour per day = 365 hours

Scenario #4: One year of total immersion in the new language (Assuming that in a 24-hour day, we allow 8 hours for sleeping per day) = 16 hours per day x 365 days = 5840 hours


Sarah then applied the “10,000-hour rule” to each of her scenarios to see exactly how long it would take the LEARNers in these scenarios to achieve “expert ability” in a foreign language…like English:

Scenario #1 – Adult education classes – 416 courses of 24 hours per course. If you did 2 courses per year, you’d need 208 years to become fluent.

Scenario #2 – Foreign language studies at school – 96 hours of classes per year = 104 years to achieve fluency.

Scenario #3 – Dedicated self-study – An hour a day, every single day of the year = 365 hours per year = 27 years

Scenario #4 – Total immersion – Approximately 2 years


Go to the image (at the very top of the post)

– YOU know what to “say“!


Sarah does a grand job of fleshing out the ideas behind her numbers (and the complexities such numbers might “hide”) – have a look at the full paper HERE.

One of the things I like (at the end of her paper) is also how she “re-frames” the questions LEARNers should ask.

Instead of ASKing:

“How long will it take me to become fluent in English, hocam?”

…she suggests that LEARNers need to ASK:

“How do I get my 10,000 hours of study and practice to become fluent in English?”

Wonderful question! 




…is, basically (for both of us), that the “classroom” and all the GLHs on the planet are NOT going to help our LEARNers become “experts” in English or English Language LEARNing (perhaps…the more important of the two).


Both Sarah and I also make the point that it is (kindaimpossible to accurately calculate the hours needed to LEARN a language – as ELL depends on factors such as the LEARNer’s language background, levels of individual engagement, the LEARNer’s age and motivation (even “gender” – yes, girls still do generally kick ass in the right environment), and the amount of study and exposure outside the classroom!



…I also focussed on the quality of “TEACHing” (something many “commentators” often forget to mention) – another “inconvenient truth” here in Turkey (as in many other countries)!


We all know, don’t we, that:

LEARNing 16

Especially, in matters of allthingsELL!


We also know (don’t we) that “hazırlık” or “prep school” is about (a lot) more than “just” language LEARNing – university-level EL LEARNers also need to be helped to “de-tox” and focus on personal development, self-study (& reflection), self-assessment and “personal accountability” (in addition to classroom-based GLHs) to realise “effective language LEARNing“.

Not exactly what you might call a “piece o’ cake”…

Duh (TG ver 4 blog)

This is especially the case if most of the recommended GLHs we are told about are given over to “grammar rules and transformation exercises” or are grounded on teachers “spoon-feeding” students discrete skills worksheets – rather than expert instruction in skills development from their TEACHers, meaningful reflection and self-assessment on the part of LEARNers and timely and focussed feedback.

The real problem is that 25-30 hours a week of being “trapped in a hazırlık classroom” for so many months is just “too much”  (many TEACHers would agree with this).

Sorry – to have to “pop” this little bubble – BUT…this is not an “effective way” to conduct the “business” of language LEARNing.

Hey, and we haven’t even got to the issue of “section or class size” – come on, can we really create  an effective language LEARNing environment for groups of 25+?

The CLASSROOM - weapons of mass instruction

We (just) know ALL this – on a “experiential” and a “moral” level….in our heart-of-hearts!



LEARNing not a newspaper

We TEACHers (and institutions) need new questions for 2013heck, we have needed these new questions for years! Yes, language LEARNing is complex…yes, it is tough…yes, it requires “effort“!

But, we ain’t gonna tackle these issues with more of the same-old-same-old – “bumping up” the number of contact hours in a given week, creating a 3rd “summer break semester” (or 5th “summer school module”).

I suppose we could consider – “dropping standards” to allow more students to get a “free pass” into freshman without fully evidencing the levels of language proficiency we know are required on English-medium academic programmes…

We could…but no-one would ever do “that”…would they?


Whitby QUOTATION (Better EDU cators)


It is “collaborative effort” on the part of both TEACHers and LEARNers that will make the “real difference”


Share Share Share


I hope it doesn’t take us 10,000 hours to work that little “secret” out!


  1. *_______* The like button wasn’t enough.

    I often hear teachers saying that what really students need is to immerse into the language, but when they are in class they just get on with the program of rote teaching, even when they try to break the routine with fun games. I have tried it myself, I mean adding fun stuff to see if students would engage in class and get better output. The result continues the same.

    They say that they are tired of repeating it over and over again to the students (especially adults that have harder time keeping in touch with the language outside the class comparing with teens that most of them are connected online doing their own stuff and usually in English – there are lots of exceptions to this rule though) and they don’t get why people would spend money and time on something that are not willing to give their 100% to it. ok, fair enough! However…

    We are teachers and we don’t give 100% to the job! Instead of reflecting on what happened in class, we chose the novel we enjoy or the tv show or time out with the family and students get the blame for not learning what we nicely planned for them to. All good, right? No problem in there. (I’m generalizing here, so no offense indeed to anyone out there just trying to make a point.)

    We are immersed in the English language, this is our job. And we expect students to be the same too??!!. Same goes to any other subject at school. Poor kids really. That is what I observe around me. When I tell that I am good (notice after tons of hours into it, good not excellent.. I still have to google one thing here and there to check grammar. 😉 ) at grammar because I have seen that grammar point thousands of time already, SOME students get shocked with my statement. :O

    What is wrong with people?! Why can’t they see it. Now I really need that prescription Tony. Where is it? 🙂

    Thanks for the wonderful post and for the research data. It will be useful. Need to look more into that actually. My school is thinking of raising the grade for speaking and I’m afraid this is just another coercible measure to make students speak in class. I need to be ready for next February. I tried to talk to them, but no one could make valid argument on why to raise the grade for passing the course, adm postponed the discussion for February then. I wish that more of my colleagues would take the time to dialogue and see the things from all sides of the matter, not just from the teachers side really.


    • Rosie,

      First, when did you become Rosie? 🙂

      Secondly, one of my favourite movies is “The Matrix” – I think you can guess why 🙂

      I think many TEACHers “feel” like Neo – they “know” something is wrong, they “feel” numb, they “want” something…but, as Morpheus tells us:

      The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.

      And, as a result – they do nothing 😦

      I think this is the reason we make a lot of the “decisions” your school is planning to make – many other schools do the same. They do not challenge their own assumptions, they do not question the way things have been done for years – and they keep pushing the “blue pills” 🙂

      More of us need to meet school leaders like Morpheus – and be offered a “choice” 🙂 This would help!

      However, the best choices do not come in the shape of “red pills” from some “leader” – the come in the forms of “questions” that TEACHers ask themselves 🙂 – and “do” something with the answers they co-create!

      As Morpheus says himself:

      “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”


  2. Ps, that is the problem to have too much spare time for reading and writing and people who actually listen! sorry for the long comment. This is something that really is puzzling me as a professional and I cannot look another way. I wish I could, I have tried. I confess. But no luck so far.

    Tks for listening and dialoguing with me. I’m trying to find peace in the job,

  3. Good shout out on the Dr. Eaton blog; I’m also a big fan.

    As far as the number of hours is concerned, I’ve seen these stats before, but never seen them quoted as the hours sitting in a classroom where a language is being taught, rather the number of hours of concentrated study someone my realistically have to put in to reach that ‘level’.

    Just sayin’…

    • LOL – good point 🙂

      You obviously read the “small print” in TEACHers books 🙂

      More “mutevelli heyeti” and “senate” members should do the same – and stop making ridiculous demands on “hazirlik” school leaders and staff 🙂 Or, and here’s a thunk, just LEARN a bit more about ELL 🙂

      Just saying’… 🙂


  4. Rosie is for buddies!! 😉

    Matrix a nice reminder. Tks Tony! You really know how to raise our doubts and calm us down.

    I guess not one can enter the door I have to in February. I just hope for the best and pray for wisdom while doing it. I wish I could pass though or like the movie I was watching yesterday where the lady was having a baby and the midwife kept telling her like in a mantra for her to repeat… “you are a perfect channel”… and when things were getting really tough to deliver the baby the woman in labour shouted out: “get another channel”.

    😀 Have a nice week Tony!

Leave a Reply

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

%d bloggers like this: