adult blur books close up

Recently I’ve seen a lot of people online talking about the 10,000 Hour Rule. Today, I’m going to look at the rule, the evidence for and against it, and discuss how all of you listening can apply the 10,000-hour rule to learning English!

Listen Here!


  • Mastery (n) – Achieving a high level of skill or expertise in a particular field.
    • After years of dedicated practice and study, she achieved mastery in playing the piano.
  • Deliberate practice (phrase) – Focused and intentional effort to improve specific aspects of a skill.
    • The tennis player engaged in deliberate practice by focusing on improving her backhand technique for hours every day.
  • Comfort zone (phrase) – The level of difficulty or familiarity within which a person feels at ease.
    • He was hesitant to take on new challenges because he preferred to stay within his comfort zone.
  • Second nature (phrase) – Something that has become so natural and instinctive that it feels effortless.
    • After years of experience, driving a car became second nature to him, and he could do it without even thinking.
  • To propel (v) – to drive or push forward; cause progress or advancement.
    • The success of their innovative product propelled the company to the forefront of the industry.
  • Sustained effort (phrase) – Consistent and continuous application of energy or resources.
    • The athlete’s consistent and sustained effort in training allowed him to reach the top of his sport.
  • Multifaceted (adj) – Having many different aspects or elements.
    • The job requires a multifaceted skill set, including problem-solving, communication, and leadership abilities.
  • Knack (n) – A natural skill or talent for doing something.                       
    • She has a knack for solving puzzles.

Understanding the 10,000 Hour Rule

The 10,000 Hour Rule was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers.” It suggests that achieving mastery in any field requires approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

So, what exactly does this rule mean?

In the simplest of explanations, spending 10,000 hours practicing a skill (like English speaking, oil painting, playing the guitar, or boxing) is necessary to become a master at the skill. The idea is that rather than natural talent being important, it is the hours spent practicing skills that are important.

The more you practice, dedicate yourself to learning, and focus on improving, the more likely it is that you will become elite in your chosen skill. The 10,000 hour rule suggests that hard work and practice are the reason why elite athletes, world-class musicians, and fluent language speakers are so successful.

The 10,000 Hour Rule is based on the idea of deliberate practice, which goes beyond mindless repetition. Rather than simply doing something for 10,000 hours, you need to be actively and deliberately practicing. Deliberate practice involves focused efforts to improve specific aspects of a skill and pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone.

In other words, it is not just how much you practice, but also how you practice that makes the difference. As an English learner, for example, it doesn’t just mean after 10,000 hours of using English you will be fluent – it depends how you spend those 10,000 hours (deliberately practicing in classes, language exchanges, or with textbooks? Or just watching movies on Netflix?).

Do you want to Think in English?

I’m so excited that you found my blog and podcast!! If you don’t want to miss an article or an episode, you can subscribe to my page!

The origin of the 10,000 Hour Rule can be traced back to the research of Anders Ericsson, a prominent psychologist. Ericsson conducted a study on violinists and found that the most accomplished musicians had accumulated an average of 10,000 hours of practice by the age of 20. This research became the foundation for the 10,000 Hour Rule.

The rule suggests that it takes a considerable amount of deliberate practice to reach a level of expertise where skills become second nature. It emphasizes the importance of consistent and intentional effort in skill acquisition.

Let’s consider a few examples of successful individuals. Take the legendary musician, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He began composing music at a very young age and dedicated countless hours to refining his craft. Similarly, athletes like Serena Williams and Lionel Messi have spent years practicing and honing their skills to become the best in their respective sports.

While the 10,000 Hour Rule is not a guarantee of success in every endeavour, it highlights the significance of hard work, focused practice, and dedication. It suggests that expertise is not solely determined by natural talent but can be cultivated through deliberate and consistent effort.

Evidence and Research in Support of the 10,000 Hour Rule

Is this actually the case? What evidence is there in support of the 10,000 hour rule?

One of the foundational studies supporting the 10,000 Hour Rule is the research conducted by Anders Ericsson on violinists. Ericsson and his colleagues found that the most accomplished violinists had accumulated thousands of hours of deliberate practice, far surpassing their less accomplished counterparts. This study, according to the authors, demonstrated the correlation between deliberate practice and expertise.

Building on these findings, the researchers concluded that practice was the most effective thing to improve your skills. The more you practice, the better you will be at whatever you are practicing. Natural talent, in this line of thinking, was not that important. They even went as far to suggest that the differences in ability between musicians was almost exclusively down to the amount they practised.

This is the idea that well-known author Malcom Gladwell borrowed for his book. He took the nice sounding round number of 10,000 hours and wrote that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”.


Since the first study by Ericsson in 1993, there have been other studies conducted that give support to the idea of deliberate practice. A study on chess players, for example, found that at least 3000 hours of deliberate practice was necessary to become a master at the skill. Chess grandmasters usually need thousands of hours of practice and study before reaching the pinnacle of their game. However, unlike the earlier study, these authors found that while practice was necessary, it was not the only factor influencing success.

In 2011, Matthew Syed wrote about sport in his book Bounce. He suggested that 10,000 hours of meaningful practice was needed to become an expert athlete.

Language learning is another area where the idea of deliberate practice can be applied. I did a quick search of google scholar and found a lot of research conducted in this field. One study found that deliberate practice improved vocabulary acquisition and many others suggested that to become a proficient English speaker many hours of practice was necessary.

Deliberate practice involves identifying specific weaknesses or areas for improvement and designing practice sessions that target those areas. It also emphasizes the need for regular feedback, guidance, and reflection. By focusing on challenging aspects of the skill and receiving feedback to refine one’s performance, learners can make more efficient progress.

Consistency is another crucial aspect of the 10,000 Hour Rule. Regular and consistent practice over an extended period allows learners to build upon their previous knowledge and skills, leading to gradual improvement and ultimately mastery. It is the cumulative effect of sustained effort that propels individuals toward expertise.

Is Deliberate practice the Most Important Part of Mastering a Skill?

All of that sounds quite convincing, right? 10,000 hours (or a lot of hours) of deliberate practice is the key to mastering a skill. This makes sense.

But there is a slight problem with the 10,000-hour rule. Most modern research… disagrees with its central idea – lots of practice, and practice alone, will make you a master.

The chess study I mentioned earlier summed up the criticism of this idea in its conclusion – “deliberate practice is necessary but not sufficient.” In other words, you need to deliberately practice a lot to be great at something, but this is not the only factor. They pointed out that if you look at chess masters, the amount “practiced” before reaching the master level varied between 728 hours and 16,120 hours.

A few years ago, a group of researchers tried to reproduce the study conducted by Ericsson in 1993 (that was the base for the 10,000-hour rule). And they were much more scientific – they used more violinists in their study than Ericsson did, they used tighter controls, and they “preregistered” their approach (this means they confirmed their plans and analysis before starting the research, preventing them from changing things later on).


What did they find? Practice is important. But not as important as the 10,000-hour rule would have you believe. And not actually that useful to predict elite or masters at a skill.

They looked at 3 groups – highly skilled elite violinists, good violinists, and less accomplished violinists. Less accomplished violinists had only accumulated around 6000 hours of practice by the age of 20, while the better violinists had an average of 11,000 hours. This supports the 10,000 hour rule.

However, the good violinists actually practiced more than the highly skilled elite violinists. Even though they reported practicing more often, they were not as good. The study concluded that the amount of practice you do is about 25% of the reason for skill differences – this is about half suggested by the previous study.

The author of the study, Macnamara, said “Once you get to the highly skilled groups, practice stops accounting for the difference. Everyone has practised a lot and other factors are at play in determining who goes on to that super-elite level.”

The factors depend on the skill being learned: in chess it could be intelligence or working memory, in sport it may be how efficiently a person uses oxygen. To complicate matters further, one factor can drive another. A child who enjoys playing the violin, for example, may be happy to practise and be focused on the task because they do not see it as a chore.”

And this is similar to what many other studies have found. In a summary of 88 different research papers, one group of researchers found that while deliberate practice is important, it is not the only factor. People who practice more tend to be better at a skill that people who practice less… but it is not a guarantee that you will become an expert.


The 10,000-hour rule is too simplistic, therefore. Just practicing for 10,000 hours, even if you practice deliberately, is not necessarily going to make you a fluent English speaker.

Factors such as natural talent, access to resources, and the quality of practice can greatly impact skill acquisition. For English learners, the age you start learning, how you study and practice, the quality of your teachers and textbooks, and even your natural ability to learn languages matters. Some individuals may require more or less time than the average 10,000 hours to reach mastery.

I’ve talked before about how you need to consider yourself in control of your English learning journey in order to stay motivated. Worrying about things like your natural ability is not going to help you study. But it is important to realise that natural talent is a real thing – some people are quicker at learning languages, have better memories, or a better natural ability at pronunciation.

This doesn’t mean that people without the talent will never become a fluent English speaker. But it might mean it will take some people longer. Or it may mean you will have an accent for longer.

In the study of violinists from a few years ago, they found that practice is important to understand the difference between less accomplished violinists and good violinists, but not as much between good violinists and great violinists. Practice will make you good, but it might not make you great.

Applying the 10,000 Hour Rule to English Learning

Now let’s see how we can apply the idea of deliberate practice and the arguments about the 10,000 Hour Rule to English languages. Learning a language is a complex skill that requires time, effort, and consistent practice. Although the 10,000 Hour Rule may not give us a clear roadmap for becoming fluent in English, it does provide valuable insights into the learning process.

As we discussed earlier, deliberate practice involves identifying specific weaknesses or areas for improvement and designing practice sessions to target those areas. In language learning, this means focusing on improving vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing skills. By breaking down these components and dedicating focused practice sessions to each of them, you can systematically work towards improving your overall proficiency.

Activities such as language exchanges, language classes, using authentic resources like books and articles, and using language learning apps can all be considered forms of deliberate practice. These activities provide opportunities for you to actively engage with the language, receive feedback, and reflect on your progress. Additionally, setting specific goals, tracking progress, and seeking guidance from teachers or language experts can enhance the effectiveness of deliberate practice.


Consistency is another important aspect of language learning, which aligns with the 10,000 Hour Rule. Regular and consistent practice over an extended period allows you to reinforce your knowledge and skills, gradually improving their language proficiency. Each practice session contributes to building a strong foundation.

It’s worth noting that language learning involves various factors beyond just the number of practice hours. Natural talent, access to resources, learning strategies, and individual learning styles can all impact the speed and effectiveness of language acquisition. Some individuals may have a natural knack for learning languages, while others may require more time and effort to achieve a similar level of proficiency.

Furthermore, the quality of practice is crucial in language learning. Merely consuming language content without actively engaging or reflecting on the learning process may not produce the desired results. You should strive for meaningful and purposeful practice that challenges you and pushes you out of your comfort zone.

While the 10,000 Hour Rule offers a useful framework for understanding the importance of deliberate practice and consistent effort in language learning, it is not a rigid formula that guarantees fluency. Language learning is a dynamic and multifaceted process influenced by various individual factors. Embracing a growth mindset, setting realistic goals, and adopting effective learning strategies tailored to one’s needs can contribute to successful language acquisition.

Never miss an episode

Subscribe wherever you enjoy podcasts:

Final Thought

The ideas of deliberate practice and the 10,000 Hour Rule offer valuable insights for English learners. While practice is important, it is not the only factor that determines success in language learning. Natural talent, access to resources, and effective learning strategies also influence progress.

As you pursue English fluency, stay motivated, practice consistently, and adopt a growth mindset. Believe in your ability to succeed, set achievable goals, and remember that with dedication and perseverance, you can make remarkable progress in your English language journey.

What do you think? Do you believe in the 10,000 hour rule?

Donate to Thinking in English!


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

Leave a Reply