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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Feyisa Demie

Demie, F. (2013). English as an Additional Language: How long does it take to acquire English Fluency. Language and Education 27(1): 59-69.

Author(s) from Durham


Policy-makers and mainstream teachers have long been concerned with the best way to help English as an additional language (EAL) pupils to learn English. Yet very little empirical work has examined the time it takes EAL pupils to become fully fluent in English in Britain. The key question posed in this research, therefore, is: how long does it take to acquire English fluency for EAL pupils? The empirical data for the study consisted of EAL pupils’ longitudinal assessment data on the stages of fluency in English from Year 6 to Year 11. The main finding of this study suggests that it takes about 5–7 years on average to acquire academic English proficiency. However, the speed of English language acquisition varies between stages of levels of English. On average, pupils are classified at Stage 1 (beginner) for about a year and a half, before moving to becoming familiar with English (Stage 2), where they typically remain for about two years. It takes about another two-and-a-half years at Stage 3 (becoming confident in English) before they can then be classified as fully fluent. Policy and research implications are discussed critically in the final section.