Many people ask: “How long it takes to learn a foreign language?”. Presumably you know the correct answer: “It depends”.
The second and most accurate answer is that learning a foreign language usually takes from three months to two years to achieve proficiency in speaking, writing, and reading a foreign language.
A motivated student, under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher who uses the right language learning strategies, can achieve an intermediate level of fluent English, Spanish, or French in approximately three months if he or she follows the teacher’s recommendations.
Nevertheless, it would take two years to reach intermediate fluency in Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese.
Let’s discuss the most important factors in language complexity.
There are five factors that determine how much time it will take to learn a foreign language
Let’s look at five important factors for how long it takes to learn a foreign language.
The foreign language itself
The Foreign Service Institute classifies languages into five categories, each with its own degree of difficulty and the time it takes to learn. The structure of a language:
- its alphabet,
- and rhythm.
Ultimately, it determines how easy or difficult it is to learn.
Let’s say you set aside 25 hours a week to study exclusively one of your chosen languages. The speed at which you would progress in learning that language would depend on the category to which it belongs.
- Italian, Spanish, French and other languages closely related to English (600-650 hours to reach intermediate level).
- More complex languages, such as German, for instance (700-750 hours).
- Swahilli or Indonesian (about 950 hours).
- Asian language group (1150 or more hours).
- The most difficult groups are: Arabic, Hindi, Chinese, and Japanese (it takes about 2000 hours to learn them).
Your background in language learning
Previously developed talents can help you improve new skills more quickly in different fields of knowledge, such as language acquisition.
Mutual intelligibility is a concept in linguistics that makes it easier to learn or identify closely related languages and dialects if they are spoken simultaneously. As a result, if you spend 1,100 hours learning Hindi, you can master the closely related languages, Gujarati and Urdu, in less time.
If we talk about the three European language families: Germanic, Romance, and Slavic, there are languages which have such a high degree of mutual understanding that their speakers can communicate with each other simply by speaking their native language! For example, in Ukrainian and Russian.
While this is indeed true, one should be cautious about asymmetric intelligibility. Unlike Spanish speakers, native speakers of Italian and Portuguese can understand Italian and Portuguese faster than a Spanish speaker can understand Italian or Portuguese.
In addition, it depends on which stage of the language you were or are in. You can read more about this here.
Your goals (desired level of language proficiency)
Is there a certain level of fluency or competence that you would like to achieve? Perhaps you want to improve your level of communication in Spanish in everyday situations. Perhaps you want to prepare for a future profession in another country.
More than that, perhaps you are a polyglot who is practicing a variety of languages and focusing on learning vocabulary and word construction. Or perhaps you want to be an experienced expat in another country someday.
Every language learner has a different set of objectives and goals, and it is important to know which of them is yours in order to properly estimate the necessary time commitment.
All language learners should keep their goal in mind while learning a new language. If you want to communicate about your travels, a simple language and grammar will suffice to effectively communicate with your colleagues and friends. If you want to work as an interpreter in the future, you will need to have a high knowledge of the language, fluency, and impeccable grammar.
Either way, you should set realistic goals for yourself from the start. This will increase your chances of succeeding in your task.
Teachers’ techniques and tools
Consider the following scenario: two basketball players are working on their jump shots.
One is a self-taught student who trains independently using books, apps, and watching basketball videos.
The other is a professional student who gets lessons from a coach. He learns the basics from his high school basketball coach as well as through personal training.
As long as both players devote 1,000 hours to working on their jump shot and improving their throwing technique and range, it is likely that the second player will improve his accuracy faster. He will get professional support as well as quick feedback, which will allow him to quickly learn the proper techniques for throwing the ball.
Mental tactics, such as visualizing the shot and breathing exercises, will be taught to him by an experienced instructor. The process of practicing with an experienced teacher will allow the student to synchronize the mechanics of mind and body. As a result, he is likely to learn the skill faster because he is getting support and experience from coaches and teammates that a self-taught student won’t get.
In conclusion, we can say that having professionals in your environment greatly increases the speed and level of understanding and mastering the language.
In any case, having a method is already better than having no approach at all. But if you have the opportunity to hire a private tutor or an experienced teacher, you should seriously think about this because your learning speed directly depends on it.
Having a great language teacher, whether it’s in group classes or one-on-one lessons, can speed up your learning process. It’s also a good idea to make a habit of using learning resources such as books, games, mobile apps, and websites. By using them, you can expand your vocabulary and improve your language comprehension. This also speeds up the process of language learning.
Motivation, attitude, and mindset
When you are mastering any new skill, you start to understand that it is more complex than you anticipated when you first began your language learning journey. At times, you may become bored, irritated, and discouraged. Moreover, you can experience real difficulties.
Successful people anticipate such situations and fight them, not giving up on their goals and objectives. They keep their composure and are confident that a solution to any problem that arises is sure to be found.
They maintain a “growth mindset” and accept the struggle, confident that in time they will not only achieve their goal, but also become a better student as a result of this experience. On top of that, they focus their attention on the tasks, engage in positive self-deception, and do not allow their inability to complete the tasks to be identified with a sense of self-worth or dignity.
Xenoglossophobia (fear of other languages), sometimes called xenoglossophobia, is a real struggle for many students, whether they realize it or not.
Even relatively simple languages, such as German, can push you to persevere throughout your studies. The more you persevere through these difficulties, the more challenges you will be able to overcome while working with complex ideas.
In conclusion, not every hour spent learning a foreign language is equally beneficial. If you are often perplexed, irritated, or easily distracted, 600 hours can soon turn into 800 or 900 hours.
If you are fluent in English, you will need between 575 and 600 hours to learn French (or 23–24 weeks full time). The same holds true for other European Romance languages (such as Italian, Spanish, etc.) and for Germanic languages (such as German, Danish, Swedish, Dutch/Afrikaans, and Norwegian).
Although integrative motivation does not necessarily shorten the time it takes to master the basics of a foreign language, it can be argued that a strong interest in language and culture can also accelerate the path to true mastery of conversation and grammar.
You can speed up the process of learning a language if you:
- work out your gaps in your knowledge on your own;
- constantly communicate with a native speaker and other sources of information in the language you are learning (e.g., TV shows);
- work on expanding your vocabulary all the time.
By the way, if you want to know how to learn a language the fastest way, we advise you to read the article we published earlier. There are 10 simple steps that are sure to be useful for you.
When it comes to your vocabulary, the Langavia Personal Dictionary service is a great assistive tool that can help you do that. This service offers a unique learning algorithm based on a gamified system that greatly speeds up the process of memorizing new words. The free version of the application is enough for you to feel all the benefits of purposeful work on improving your vocabulary. After just a few days with the app, you will wonder how you ever managed without it.
All of these gamified exercises are provided by Langavia