English Language Learning in the Malaysian School Setting: Where Can We Find 10,000 Hours? A Theoretical Perspective

George Iber


In these days of standardized assessments in education  that seek to measure the rate of learning in all subject matters, the question is seldom asked, “Just how long does it take to become proficient?” No matter the subject, we all agree that some amount of practice is necessary for basic proficiency and that more will be needed to really master a skill or subject area.  But how much is difficult to say because different individuals come to the task with different levels of motivation and opportunity to learn.  In the case of learning a second or foreign language different theories predict that a two to five year “structured exposure” is needed for either a basic communication or an academic level of proficiency (Cummins, 1980) respectively. This paper proposes that the range can be described in terms of hours. Based on the concept from Outliers by Gladwell (2008), this paper proposes that 10,000 hours is the target “time-on-task” required for academic proficiency in second language learning.  The implications for school language study is readily apparent. If we want academically proficient second language speakers, those individuals will need to have access to the target language in numbers vastly greater than school can provide in its standard curriculum.

Keywords:  Second language learning, curriculum development, foreign language learning, time-on-task, international education, exchange programs, English as a foreign language

1. Introduction

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