How long does it actually take to learn a language? There are a few things to consider in answering this question. No matter what language you are learning, it will take time to learn it well. However, some languages can take longer to learn than others.
The similarity of the language can be a big factor. If you are an English speaker who wants to learn French or Spanish for example, then you can happily start without having to learn the entire alphabet from scratch. But if Japanese is your target language, you’ve got three different writing systems to brush up on before you can start putting words together.
The amount of time you dedicate per day can be a factor. The effectiveness of your method will also determine a lot. That is why you should make use of the best ways to learn a language.
At what point would you say that your target language has been learned? This article will discuss the different factors that affect how quickly or slowly it takes to learn a language from the similarity to your native tongue, to goals and methodology.
The Four Different Language Groups
The FSI language rating system, which ranks languages according to how long it typically takes English speakers to acquire them, is one often cited source. The FSI has access to a unique collection of factual data on the topic because the Foreign Service Institute has been teaching diplomats a wide range of languages over the course of over 70 years.
Although these category lists don’t definitively answer the question, they are a good starting point. We’ll go through each of these categories and discuss what some languages are more difficult than others.
FSI classified the languages based on the average amount of time it takes to achieve “Professional Working Proficiency,” which is comparable to a B2 or upper intermediate level.
Category 1 Languages: “Easy” Languages
These are the simplest languages to learn for English speakers, who may achieve reading and speaking proficiency in approximately a half-year of intensive study. This will take between 23 and 24 weeks to complete, or 600 to 750 class hours.
This group comprises Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish, and Italian, and is mostly made up of Romance and Germanic languages. This should come as no surprise since Romance and Latinate sources contribute significantly to the English lexicon.
Category 2 Languages: “Medium”Languages
Category 2 languages are also quite similar to English but with enough differences to make them a tier harder. We mentioned that English was heavily derived from German. While German does indeed contain many similarities with English, there are several grammar idiosyncrasies that make it more challenging to pick up. According to FSI, becoming competent in these languages would require at least 30 or more weeks or 900 class hours of rigorous study.
Category 3 Languages: “Hard” Languages
These languages are set apart as having linguistic and/or cultural differences from English. You’ll notice this category has most of the South Asian and South East Asian Languages such as Bengali, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. They would require around 44 weeks to learn or 1100 class hours.
Category 4 Languages: “Extremely Hard” Languages
Languages in category 4 are the most difficult for English speakers to learn since their scripts and cultural assumptions are completely different. These are most frequently languages in Asia and the Middle East.
While Mandarin and Arabic are difficult to understand, Japanese has a reputation for being the most difficult in this category due, in part, to its three different scripts. The languages in this category take 88 weeks or 2200 class hours to learn.
So, How Long Does it Take to Learn a Language?
If you’re still deciding which language you should learn, keep in mind that the distance between your target language and your native language will influence how quickly you pick up the language. The mentality you bring into your efforts to learn and your motivation for learning are also important factors.
Knowing a language also does not always imply mastering it. Many people simply aim to be able to have a conversation and function in their target language even if it isn’t at a native level.
So, it can take more or less time to achieve your objective depending on how you define fluency, the level of difficulty of the language you’ve selected, and the resemblance between your native and target languages. Aside from these though, there are still not many certainties for the typical length of time required to learn various languages.
Similar Languages can Help you Learn Quicker
The distance between your target language’s culture, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and writing system and what you currently speak will determine how steep or flat the learning curve you have to face will be. If you are learning a language similar to your mother tongue, or you are already familiar with another language that is closer to your target language, you can learn faster because more words will be easier to recognize as you relate them to familiar sounds and concepts. For example, the pluralization of nouns by adding “s” and “es” at the end of Spanish words will not be a new concept for any English speaker, but for someone who only speaks Chinese, in which plural forms are mostly the same as the singular, they would have an additional factor to adjust to. The most challenging languages to learn are those that have a mix of differences in several of those factors.
Set a Specific Time Goal
You will get more out of anything if you put more work into it, just as with any craft or ability. If you are serious about learning a language, you have to set aside time if you want to succeed.
It’s important to keep in mind that FSI students take part in rigorous study programs in nearly ideal learning settings. The FSI’s findings are based on subjects who devote 10 hours a day to learning a new language. Do not be in a rush or become frustrated if you do not pick up your language as quickly as anticipated. Under normal conditions, it is unrealistic to expect to acquire such a high level of skill in such a short period of time.
Instead, decide how much you can work per day and stick to that schedule. If you overdo it and start to feel burnt out, adjust it, and shave some time off until you find a comfortable and repeatable routine. However much time you do per day whether it is half an hour or three hours, make the most of that time. Make sure you spent as much of that time as you can immersed in that language. Think in your target language, and talk if you can.
Talk, talk, talk!
It’s perfectly normal to get nervous and trip up when you first start speaking in a new language. Don’t worry, this happens to everyone. Nobody becomes conversationally fluent without having conversations so the quickest way to get there is to jump right in and start talking. Having someone correct a mistake you made in conversation and learning from it is a lot better than silently getting wrong forever. You are far more likely to become a confident and natural speaker when you really practice speaking the language.
All of the knowledge you’ve acquired via language study is immediately put to use when you engage in conversation. Your fluency and recall will also increase as a result of the need to apply your lessons while thinking on your feet. It is like muscle memory. When a musician plays a note or a chord, they don’t have to go through the placements of each of their fingers mentally. They just play.
Start off Easy
It’s always best to start by learning the alphabet and the basic words. Most languages have a structured system divvying up the different number of words and concepts being taught into different levels to ease people into the language and materials. Chinese has HSK levels 1 to 6. Spanish has DELE levels from A1 to C2. Russian has the TRKI levels Elementary to 4th certificate. There’s a reason why the first levels of learning are usually called basic, foundational, or essential. It’s not even necessarily because they’re the easiest aspects of a language but because the “basic” words and concepts are most commonly used and will keep coming up and getting reinforced as you continue learning.
Try Having a Dictionary or an App
Friction points are anything that hold you back or makes it harder for you to learn a language. For example when you’re listening to a podcast or watching a youtube video, or even having a conversation and you encounter a word or phrase you don’t know and don’t look it up immediately, it can slow you down or, worse, get you stuck. This is because there is a friction point. When we want to avoid these frustrations tools can come in handy. and e-dictionaries can make your life so much easier because you never know when you’ll need to look up a word’s pronunciation or spelling. Find out if you’ll have access to a handy app or pocket dictionary for your language. It will put you in a position to pick up new information faster.
Try online or offline Courses
If you have a busy schedule, online courses are a more flexible option for you. Online courses have many perks because you can do them all in the privacy and convenience of your own home, with the freedom and flexibility to set your own schedule and choose your own teacher. It can be tricky, however, to find the right teacher who fits both your learning style and schedule. With AmazingTalker’s tutor matching system, which uses a filtering process based on your age, language level, purpose of study, and target budget to help centralize the options to be tailored to what is best for you, you can start learning immediately.
If you want to go to a physical class, you can go to an international language center. These are schools that specialize in teaching languages. Organizations like Instituto Cervantes, Società Dante Alighieri, the Goethe-Institut, and Instituto Camões all have language centers established in different countries all around the world. Their students can vary widely by age, educational background, and experience.
Have the Correct Mindset
The process of working towards something can feel a lot smoother when you have an understanding of the length or trajectory of a big project and the mindset needed to complete it. The same holds true when learning a new language. The struggle is a natural part of growth. Know why you’re learning. Use the resources you have around you as motivation. If you aren’t learning your language voluntarily but as part of a requirement for school or work then try to look for a friend who speaks your target language or a piece of media that you would like to enjoy by deepening your understanding of such as music, movies, or TV shows. Most students who take up a new language to complete a requirement usually end up less proficient because their goal isn’t actually to learn or use it but to pass a standardized test. Fluency does not equal test-taking ability. Live your target language. Sing songs, make arguments, tell stories, and laugh at jokes in it. Enjoy it.
Language Learning Methodology
You should select a learning methodology that works best for you because everyone learns differently. One of the best methods to learn a language is through immersion, which involves spending as little time as possible speaking your mother tongue and focusing entirely on the new language. Additionally, there is the grammar-translation approach, in which students learn grammatical principles and then apply them by translating phrases between the target language and their mother tongue. The spaced repetition method repeats phrases or words at gradually increasing spacings to aid with memory recall. You can even take these diverse approaches and others and mix and match them for different things you want to learn. Whatever strategies you find effective, just make sure you keep at it.
Don’t Rush, Just Start
As you have learned, there are a lot of things that factor into the timeline of language learning such as your choice of language, goals, resources, mindset, and methodology. Ultimately, the time it takes to learn a new language will be up to you. You will decide how long it will take every time you use the language, set a new goal, and choose when and when not to practice. But there is no need to rush because your only competitor is yourself. So why not try to get better than you were yesterday? Do you want to learn how to say hello in different languages?
With AmazingTalker you can get personalized study programs and one-on-one support while working with qualified tutors at affordable prices from the convenience of your home. Working one-on-one with an AmazingTalker teacher can help anyone who wishes to learn a language quickly and effectively. We offer various languages for you to choose from. Start your language learning journey now and find your tutor today!