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10,000 hours of English – how do you teach yours?




students critical thinkingToday, we feature a post from a guest blogger. Irina Lutsenko is a teacher of English from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Over her 10 years in the profession, Irina has taught teenagers, university students and adults. The courses she has taught include General English, Business English, IELTS preparation and TOEFL preparation. In this post, Irina explores how learning English can be much more than just following a course book, and how to fit ‘extra hours’ of English into the learning practice. 

Being a teacher of English, I deal with piles of course books on a daily basis. Course books are really engaging these days, and I inevitably draw a lot of inspiration from them. Sometimes, a single sentence can start a long train of thought. In this post, I’m exploring one such instance, which led to a surprising realization! Lesson 9A in English File Intermediate (Third Edition) centers around the topic of luck. In this lesson the students read a text called ‘A question of luck?’ which explains why certain people become extraordinarily successful, and what factors contribute to their success.

Have a look at the final paragraph of the text:


I don’t know about the specific number – 10,000 hours seems a little excessive! – but the theory behind it makes a lot of sense for language learning.

When deciding to embark on the journey of learning English, many students pin their hopes on the teacher and the course book. Unfortunately, just going to classes and following a course book is not enough. You do need to put in a lot of extra hours to become a successful language learner.

So how can you increase the amount of time you spend on English?

We’ll need to do a little maths here. Let’s say you have English classes twice a week and each class is one and a half hours long. That’s three hours of English a week. If you don’t do anything else – that’s just three for you. However, you can (and should) add the following:

Do your homework. That’s at least one hour per week. I love giving my students ‘enormous’ (in their words) homework. That’s at least one to two hours more. Add: three hours.

Start your day with a TED talk. These are short – 15 minutes on average, which gives you around two hours more per week if you start every day from listening to a TED talk. Add: two hours.

Read or listen to something in English on your way to work / school. Read a book if you go by metro or listen to an audio book if you go by car. Optimistically speaking, your way to work / school takes 30 minutes, multiply it by 2 and then by 5. Add: five hours.

Watch a series and/or a film in English. Most episodes of most series are only 20-30 minutes long. One episode each day multiplied by five working days gives you two and a half hours. At the weekend, watch a film. Add: four and a half hours.

Do some speaking. Find an English-speaking partner online, speak to your friends, join a Speaking Club. Add: one and a half hours.

Let’s throw in an additional hour for times when you check some vocabulary and/or make notes. Add: one hour.

Adding these together comes to seventeen additional hours of English – plus three hours of classes with a teacher. Combined, they total twenty hours of English a week!

It is overwhelmingly obvious that students who put in twenty hours of English a week will be more successful than those who put in just three. The extra hours – tens turning into hundreds, hundreds turning into thousands before you know it – they truly work wonders!


  1. Reblogged this on Learn English with Demi and commented:
    I totally agree with this article. ESL learners should put extra hours on English if they want to become successful English learners. Three hours a week in English class is just not enough. I myself always give my students homework or a list of vocabulary for them to memorize. I’m giving them extra hours of English studying outside my class.

  2. Hola! Como podría acceder al Video de Big English 3. Estoy utilizando el libro de texto y el activity pero quisiera saber si puedo tener acceso al video. Estoy en el colegio Instituto Educativo Modelo de caballito. Desde ya gracias.

    2015-06-10 7:25 GMT-03:00 Oxford University Press :

    > Oxford University Press ELT posted: “Today, we feature a post from a > guest blogger. Irina Lutsenko is a teacher of English from Saint > Petersburg, Russia. Over her 10 years in the profession, Irina has taught > teenagers, university students and adults. The courses she has taught > include Genera”

  3. Gladwell’s claim about 10,000 hours of practice was based almost entirely on a single study at a Berlin music college investigating the practice habits of concert violinists. In fact, the standard deviation very large and 10,000 hours of violin practice was only the mean (average) and violinists considered to be “expert” practised ranging from as little as 3,000 hours to much higher than 10,000. In short, the number of hours practised were not a reliable predictor of success.

    See David Epstein’s book “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance” for a more detailed analysis of the original study and a critique of Gladwell’s claims.

    On the subject of second language acquisition, there are guidelines published by the Council of Europe on estimated averages of guided instruction time for the various levels of the CEFR. I collated the information into a table here: https://matbury.com/html/cefrl/cef_table.html (about 3,300 hours to reach CEFR C2). That doesn’t include exposure to and use of the target language outside of guided instruction time, which is difficult, if not impossible, to track reliably.

    • Matt, the post is not about Gladwell’s theory at all =). This theory was just an ‘inspiration’. It’s just about increasing the amount of time you spend on English – be the aim 10,000 hours or 3,300. It doesn’t really matter.

      • See the link below to the article, “Perfect, It Turns Out, Is What Practice Doesn’t Make.” Learning is more complex than most people realise and there are very few reliable and valid rules of thumb. All teaching practitioners and curriculum developers need to keep themselves well-informed and rely as little as possible on axiomatic attitudes and beliefs.

        • Matt, I don’t rely on axiomatic attitudes, I rely on my experience. Nobody told me what I wrote about. I see it work with my students on a daily basis. And the article – oh, where do I begin… =)

          • Re: “Nobody told me what I wrote about. I see it work with my students on a daily basis.” – I’m not sure what you mean by “works” although I’ve heard a lot of teachers use this expression. How much of an effect does time spent on English language study/activities have on their English language acquisition? Are there learners that seem to learn more from less or vice-versa? How much of a variation do you see? How much of a difference have you seen in English language gains between different types of learning activities? Which ones are more or less effective?

            • “Works” means students who spend extra time on English improve their level more rapidly and significantly than those who don’t. How much of an effect – depends, but pretty much.
              Matt, things aren’t black and white. It’s people. It’s complicated. Different factors come into play.
              “How much of an effect” – if a person watches an episode of their favourite series every day without checking and writing any vocab – less, if a person checks, writes and learns the vocab they hear and then watches this series again and then again 3 days later – more. If a visual learner listens to a ted talk once – less, of an audio learner listens to a ted talk 3 times – more. Etc.
              More importantly, with language acquisition you don’t always know when you see the results. Is an activity effective because students use new language material next class or next week or one year later? Or does it qualify as effective because they get into a habit of watching ted talks and learn new vocab without the teacher even knowing about it years after they’ve stopped going to classes? Does inspiring students to study English qualify as effective?
              Language acquisition is an endless universe. It’s not a math problem with one correct answer.

              • Hi Irina, so if I understand what you’re saying, it’s that you think certain specific activities help but it’s too complicated to say. Is that correct? Can you think of ways to check/measure/evaluate specific learning methods, strategies, or techniques?

                • Matt, yes, it’s complicated to accurately predict and reliably measure the effectiveness of language practice activities. There are too many factors involved. Which is one of the reasons to weave as many activities into your daily routine as possible – some of them are bound to be effective and the teacher might not always be able to say which ones.
                  I’m not a scientist, not a researcher. The way I assess the effectiveness of certain activities is the result I see – the result compared to the student’s original level. How do I see it? It’s in hundreds little changes spread across the entire period I’ve been working with a student.

              • Re: “I’m not a scientist, not a researcher.” — Do you think second language acquisition researchers have anything that you could learn from?

                • I guess so =). Although I have more faith in what practicing language teachers and people who reached at least C1 level in a foreign language have to say.
                  But sure – do you have a specific trustworthy researcher in mind that you think I should read? I haven’t read any theoretical material for a while now, actually.

                • Re: “do you have a specific trustworthy researcher in mind that you think I should read?” — That would depend on how you’re teaching now and the underlying theories that support the methods you currently use, e.g. grammar translation, behaviourism, AKA audio-lingualism, cognitivism, Chomsky’s language acquisition device (LAD), AKA universal grammar (UG), Krashen’s 5 hypotheses of second language acquisition (SLA), and (Vygotskian) usage based theories of SLA, and sociocultural theory (SCT).

                  Like you alluded to earlier, there’s a tendency in mainstream teaching to have an eclectic approach to learning and teaching methods, strategies, and techniques. Most teachers are usually unaware of the underlying theories or where they came from, which makes effective professional development programmes more difficult to specify. It usually takes long conversations with the teachers and preferably some classroom observations to get a sense of how someone teaches before suggesting any appropriate reading and/or exploring specific leaning and teaching methods, approaches, strategies, and techniques (MAST).

                  To complicate matters further, teaching methods/approaches often get mislabelled and misrepresented in mainstream EFL/ESL practice, i.e. They say/believe they’re using method “X” but in fact are doing something closer to method “Y”, so it can be difficult to know what’s actually going on in a teacher’s classroom without observing them directly.

                  If you haven’t already read it, you could start with Krashen’s 5 hypotheses. It’s usually a good starting point for teachers who are dissatifsfied with the eclectic approach that most EFL/ESL course books seem to take: https://sdkrashen.com/content/books/principles_and_practice.pdf

                  Does this help?

                • Thank you, Matt. I’ll definitely read Krashen again, I read him ages ago.
                  But then, Matt, I am a bit scared by your obsession with theory. I studied all these theories of second language acquisition when I was at university. And I was a horrible teacher then. By now I’ve forgotten the theory, and I know I’m a good teacher. I’m not even sure I can say exactly what theories support the methods I use. I now use them intuitively because I see which work and which don’t.
                  Is it really necessary to label the techniques a teacher uses?
                  And you are talking about “ecclectic approach” as if it is “the horror of horrors”. Is it? Is any one method perfect? For example, I don’t use grammar translation method. But I know experienced and smart teachers who include and are able to justify using parts of this method in their classes. Who am I to judge them? Is their one ultimate “judge” of second language acquisition? Krashen is now leading the way. But once Chomsky used to.
                  Overall, I guess the truth is somewhere in the middle. Neither practice, nor theory alone and isolated is enough to make a brilliant teacher. Having said that, I am not sure about practice =). It might be, might it not? 😉

                • P.S. Be prepared to have some of your closely held beliefs about how we acquire languages challenged.

                • Re: my obsession with theory, you’re right in that the majority of teachers can work effectively, judging by John Hattie’s meta-studies on the effect sizes of teacher/teaching interventions, i.e. how well methods, approaches, strategies, and techniques work. You’re also right that in real-world teaching, theory shouldn’t be separated or isolated from teaching practice.

                  The problem arises when teachers want to engage in productive in-service professional development. That’s when we have to ask questions like “Why do we do X like that?”, “How well does Y work?”, and “What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for X or Y to work?” – How often have we heard one teacher say a method worked well and another say that they tried it and it was terrible? Wouldn’t you like to know why?

                  Re: “Although I have more faith in what practising language teachers and people who reached at least C1 level in a foreign language have to say.” — One of the most popular techniques for SLA (and social sciences) research these days is grounded theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grounded_theory) which does exactly this but more thoroughly and systematically (exhaustively).

                • Hi Matt! I’m sorry I haven’t replied for so long, I was away. Thank you very much for a meaningful discussion, it gave me food for thought. I’ve been focusing on pracice so much that I’ve forgotten about theory and would definitely like to go back to it now.

  4. Hi, im an english student from Mexico City.

    It was hard to understand why it is so difficult for me to express myself or to express an idea when I’m speaking or texting in english, if i understand everything when I’m reading some papers or i’m watching tv show.

    Well, it is simple: i don’t need or don’t have to communicate with anybody that speaks english….so, i don’t practice at all.

    In fact, if you compare learning a language and learning math, you will find that it is exactly the same. For example, i needed to practice for 300 hours to achieve the passing score of a math exam.

    So, practice is the only way to success! ?

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