How Long Does it Take to Learn a Language?

Being fluent in more than one language is sometimes the difference between where you are and where you want to be. The opportunities available to you, when you learn a new language, are massive.

However, learning a new language can be quite challenging. Because of your tight work or study schedule, you find yourself asking how long it would take you to learn a new language and be fluent in it.

We’ll answer that question in this comprehensive guide and you would see how easy it is to get started on that language you’ve always wanted to communicate in.

We live in a fast-paced world that moves at a steady speed. From quick cars, and quick deliveries, to fast Internet. We’re so used to completing things quickly that we almost demand it of everything in our everyday life.

Can this same speed apply to learning languages?

Learning a new language is crucial to enhance your brain health and cognitive abilities. It also allows you to win more beneficial friendships, especially when you travel abroad to study or work. So, you may have to learn a new language not just for the thrill of it but for its necessity.

This guide explores everything you need to know about learning a new language, from start to fluency, including tips and tricks you’ll find helpful. Stay with us!

Table of contents

How Long Does it Take to Learn a Language?

There is no definite answer to the question of the time it takes to learn a new language. One reason is that it is difficult to define learning or being a professional. This is because learning a new language is a cycle that has no closure.

According to research from the US Foreign Service Institute, it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in group 1 languages, and 720 hours for group 2-4 languages. FSI groups French and German as Group 1; Bulgarian, and Burmese as Group 2; Amharic, and Cambodian as Group 3; and Arabic, and Chinese as Group 4. The higher the group number, the more difficult learning the language is.

Still based on FSI research, if you are able to put in 10 hours a day to learn a language, then basic fluency in easy languages should take you 48 days, while for difficult languages, it should take you 72 days.

The issue now is, can you spare 10 hours of your standard day to learn the language of your choice?

This may not be a feat for some people, but to some others, especially those working and studying abroad, it’s a great challenge. So, in their case, it would take them longer to learn a new language.

Now, this is for basic fluency. To become more fluent, you’ll need to put in extra work. You need to continue rehearsing or else your skills will deteriorate, and this is more days, right?

What are the Simplest and Hardest Languages to Learn? 

What makes a language hard or simple to learn depends greatly on your language. A language that a traditional English speaker would find hard may not be hard for a German speaker. Some languages are so related to your native language that it makes it simple for you and hard for someone else who doesn’t speak your native language.

The general guideline is that it’s typically a lot simpler to learn ‘related’ languages. Languages that have a place with a similar group inside a language family. English has a place with the Indo-European language family, a Germanic group. 

The easiest languages for English speakers are other Germanic languages, including Danish, Dutch, Swedish, and Norwegian. They also incorporate a few Romance Indo-European languages like French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. 

The most regularly accepted way of dividing languages into levels of difficulty for English speakers (including the time needed to master it) is given by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). This organization provides a guideline that groups languages into levels of difficulty for English speakers (including the time needed to master it). 

Let’s see what this grouping looks like.

Language Groups, Level of Difficulty, and Learning Timeline 

Group 124-30 weeks (600-750 class hours) Danish, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Romanian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Swedish. These are languages like English, so they are considered easy for the English speaker. 
Group 2 Roughly 36 weeks (900 class hours) German, Indonesian, Malay, and Swahili.  
Group 3Roughly 44 weeks (1100 class hours) Amharic, Cambodian, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Lao, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese. These are the supposed ‘hard languages’ importance they are altogether extraordinarily phonetically or potentially socially from English. The rundown isn’t thorough. 
Group 488 weeks (2200 class hours) Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. These languages are now and then alluded to as ‘super-hard’ and are uncommonly hard for native English speakers to dominate. 

What are the Various Degrees of Proficiency? 

If you’ve ever spoken a language you just learned to a native speaker and seen them smile or outrightly laugh out when you speak, you’d know you have to achieve fluency. Communication is better when both parties are fluent in the language of communication.

So, if you’re learning a language to be able to communicate perfectly in it, you need to know the various levels of proficiency to reassure your hope of becoming a maestro in the new language.

There are two scales used to portray the various degrees of proficiency in a new language. The first is the scale used by the FSI, the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR). The second scale is the Common European Framework for References for Languages: Learning, Teaching, and Assessment, typically abbreviated as English for CEFR, CEF, or CEFRL.

This second scale is not new to people who have studied a European language.

Let’s show you how both scales categorize fluency:

1. Elementary Proficiency (ILR 1, CEFR A2)

At this level of proficiency, you know gained an elementary, basic command of your primary language. You know only the basic words, can answer questions about a few everyday topics, and communicate most of your needs.

Elementary proficiency implies that you have restricted vocabulary and can write in basic sentences or sentence fragments with normal spelling and grammatical errors. At this level, you won’t be able to speak on new topics spontaneously: you can just use the expressions you have learned. 

2. Limited Work Proficiency (ILR 2, CEFR B2) 

At ILR level 2, your ability to communicate is higher: you can deal with routine social interactions, such as presenting yourself and chatting about recent developments, work, family, and other personal topics. You can deal with basic work requirements, yet may require help if any difficulties or complications arise. 

In conversation, you normally get the gist of what you hear if the subject is non-technical while improvising a little at the Elementary proficiency level. Your command of grammar is also higher: you can deal with basic sentences accurately but you still do not have thorough control over your speech.

3. Minimum Professional Proficiency (ILR 3, CEFR C1) 

The minimum professional proficiency level is the level where you understand and communicate in the new language at a significant level in many sorts of conversations including practical, social, and professional topics.

This is the standard level of proficiency people aim to attain when learning a new language. It is the standard level used to judge your understanding of a new language.

At this level, you can also discuss specific interests and certain fields without problems. Your understanding is complete for a normal rate of speech and your vocabulary is broad enough because your control of language is good and major errors are rare.

4. Full Proficiency (ILR 4, CEFR C2) 

At ILR level 4, you have finally achieved fluency and accuracy on all levels necessary to fulfill proficient requirements. You can understand and take part in a personal and professional conversation on any topic because your precision of vocabulary is high. 

However, you won’t be taken for a native speaker. You would still be making few articulations and syntactic mistakes at this stage but you would be able to deal with casual deciphering in your target language. 

5. Native and Bilingual Proficiency (ILR 5) 

What is better than attaining professional proficiency? Reaching native or bilingual proficiency! If you achieve this proficiency in your target language, it implies that your level is identical to that of an educated native speaker. Congratulations, you’ve reached total fluency!

Your command of language progresses to where you’ve dominated the language, including expressive vocabulary, idioms, and social references. Even at a particular level, you need standard practice or your skills will break down. 

If you can become very fluent in speaking Chinese, you can take up any of these Best Teaching Abroad Jobs in China in 2023.

How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language and Be Fluent? 

The table above shows that it takes 24-30 weeks or 600-750 class hours for English speakers to reach ‘Minimum professional proficiency’ (ILR 3, CEFR C1). And it takes the same English speaker 88 weeks or 2,200 class hours to master languages from Group 4, otherwise known as the ‘super-hard’ languages such as Japanese or Arabic.

The question is, how practical are these numbers?

FSI stated that these are average numbers and individual results can vary depending on several factors, such as the learner’s natural ability, prior linguistic experience, and time spent in the classroom. 

FSI’s facts were based on years of training diplomats and foreign affairs employees who receive intensive language courses made especially for them. But we can’t afford to study like diplomats! Most of us work all day, have kids, run errands, and have busy schedules and lifestyles. 

We don’t have the luxury of learning a foreign language in the same way linguistics or foreign affairs student can. Life gets in the way sometimes and sometimes we fall off the language-learning bandwagon and return days, weeks, or even months later.

A Practical Example:

Now, consider a student at a linguistic college who takes language lessons each day, which incorporates both theory and practice. They study the language for several hours every day, that’s like a full-time job. If they start with zero information on the language, in 3-4 years, they will arrive at ILR 3 or 4 (CEFR С1 or C2).

Compare this to part-time language learning by yourself, using textbooks, watching YouTube videos, and using language learning apps. You may only reach ILR 2 (CEFR B1 or B2) at the same time it took the full-time learner to reach ILR 3.

So, are the official statistics completely useless if you are a non-diplomat?

No! They give you a clearer picture of what languages will be simpler or harder for you to learn. They can also provide you with an answer to the question of how long it takes to learn a new language. With a grounded schedule, devotion, and enthusiasm, you can master any new language.

Here are some learning techniques to assist you in learning a language efficiently.

Intensive vs. Extensive: How Learning Strategies Can Make a Difference 

To learn a new language, there are learning strategies you have to employ. Two of these strategies are Intensive and extensive reading.

Extensive reading incorporates reading various writings for pleasure to understand the overall topic while Intensive reading implies diving further into the writing and the language itself.  You read the texts to completely understand the content and gain new vocabulary.

The two kinds of reading are significant: if you don’t read intensively, you don’t rehearse general understanding skills. Then again, if you don’t read seriously, then you can’t learn the language material fast enough. 

This same rule can be applied to learning. You can concentrate seriously by reading books and also have fun practicing by watching films. To successfully gain proficiency in a language, it is fundamental to combine both learning strategies. 

What is the Absolute, Most Ideal Approaches to Become Fluent in Another Language? 

These days there is a wide range of methods of learning a language for non-linguists and non-diplomats. Here are the most ideal approaches to gaining proficiency in a language.

You can use one technique or merge them for the best impact. 

1. Take Online Lessons

You don’t have to leave the solace of your home to learn a language with an achieved educator. Online stages like italki.com allow you to access experienced language instructors in over 100 languages from anywhere in the world. 

2. Join a Language School 

Even with the sophistication of modern inventions, studying offline is still a great way to learn a language. It encourages you to stay accountable and make new friends. And it even allows for a more personal connection with your teacher and the ability to take part in fun language-learning activities with your classmates. 

3. Use Language Learning Applications 

More language applications show up each day, and most of the good ones are free or reasonably priced. Some applications like Duolingo offer general extensive courses, while Memrise, Utalk, and Mondly are more centered around one part of the language, for example, vocabulary. There are also applications like Tandem and Hellospeak that allow you to discover speaking accomplices to rehearse your target language. 

4. Inundate Yourself in the Language 

At the point when you have to learn a new language simply because you’re living in its locality, you can take a serious language course at home, go on a language vacation abroad, or move to the nation where they communicate in your target language. 

You can also create a form of artificial immersion at home. Try changing every one of your gadgets to your target language, consuming more foreign media, and communicating in the language as much as possible.

Also, read: 15 Best German Language Schools in Germany

5. Self-study 

While working with an instructor is incredible, reading without help can help you learn faster. There are a lot of resources that can help you from self-guidance books like the Teach Yourself series to language learning podcasts and YouTube channels. You can also become fluent in any language by watching films, reading the news, and tuning in to music, or radio stations. 

Bottom Line

Depending on your native language, the level of difficulty of the target language you want to learn, the time you dedicate to learning the new language, the level of fluency you hope to attain, and the mode of learning you choose, it would take you between six (6) months to four (4) years to learn a new language.

It may look like such a long time but the process can be so much fun and immersing if you put in real interest to learning it. Don’t forget that learning a new language could get you new friends, greater opportunities, and a sense of fulfillment.

What language did you learn lately and how long did it take you to learn it? Feel free to share your experience with us in the comment section.


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