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What Are the Stages of Learning a New Language?

When you’re learning a new language, it can be hard to know if you’re on the right track. You might wonder if you’re making any progress at all.

Well, generally, the way people learn a second language is pretty predictable—they all follow the same steps. 

In this post, we talk about the five stages of second-language learning. You’ll be able to see where you started and how far you’ve already come. (Hint: If you’re an English learner and you can read this, you’re already past the first stage!) You’ll also learn where you’re going next!

1. Preproduction

The very first stage of learning a new language is “preproduction” (sometimes called the “silent stage”). At this point, you’re actively listening to get as much information about the language as you can. 

You already have up to 500 words in your vocabulary, but you’re not really using them yet. Instead, you use actions and gestures (like nodding for “yes” and shaking your head for “no”). If you do speak, you only repeat what you hear.  

The silent stage can last from a few hours to six months. Not everyone goes through this stage, though. You might skip it if you’re learning in a classroom setting—the teacher may expect everyone to speak from the first day.

2. Early production

Congratulations! You’ve moved up to “early production” and you’re beginning to speak! 

You now have a vocabulary of about 1,000 words. You can give one- or two-word answers, including “yes” and “no.” You only use familiar phrases and speak mostly in present simple tense. It’s common to make a lot of mistakes while you speak.

You can expect this stage to last about six months.

3. Speech emergence

Moving right along, you’re now at the “speech emergence” stage! This is an exciting time because you’re beginning to understand more.

With about 3,000 words in your vocabulary, you can now speak in short, complete sentences (3 words or more). You can start simple conversations about familiar topics.

Because you’re speaking and writing more now, you’re going to make more errors in grammar and pronunciation—that’s completely normal! Also, you might not understand jokes properly, but you will soon! 

This stage is usually about one year long. 

4. Intermediate fluency

Ah, fluency! What a great word! Okay, you’re not completely fluent yet, but you’ve come so far! 

You have about 6,000 words in your vocabulary now and you can speak and write in complex sentences. Not only that, but you can share your opinions and express original thoughts. You still make some grammatical errors, but much fewer than before! 

You’ll be at this stage for about two years. 

5. Continued language development/fluency

This is where everyone wants to be! You’re now using your second language almost like a native speaker!

At this stage, you continue to develop your language continuously—including growing your vocabulary. You can now have complex conversations; you don’t have to rely on familiar topics and situations anymore. If you’re faced with a new situation or topic of conversation, you have the language skills to handle it!

Some of the challenges at this stage are pronunciation errors and incorrect idiom use. 

This stage can take between four and 10 years. 

Conclusion 

Whenever you feel like you’re not progressing quickly enough, just remember these stages. If you’re practicing your new language regularly, you’re probably exactly where you should be!

Andrea is a Gabby Academy coach and education technolgy writer based in Vancouver, Canada.