Language Advantage
April 1, 2020

How Long Does It Take to Learn a Foreign Language?

If you have considered starting a new language, you might wonder how long it will take to master it. The answer, in its simplest form, is: It depends.

As with most things, learning is highly dependent on the individual learner. For example, a highly-motivated individual is more likely to stick with the process, rather than stop partway.

Keeping motivation high involves finding things you love about the language that keeps your interest in Russian, French, Spanish, or another foreign choice. It could be a love of a foreign film, the culture, or a specific cuisine, for example.

How Challenging is the Language?

Another factor that affects how long it takes to learn a new language is its difficulty. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) categorizes languages into groups of difficulty for English speakers.

The FSI rankings indicate how many hours of classroom learning would be necessary for this person to learn a new language. Category I, whose languages most closely resemble English, and are therefore the easiest to learn, include Danish, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. They take about 575-600 hours or 23-24 weeks.

Meanwhile, German is in Category II. It is similar to English, although less so than the first category, and takes 750 hours (30 weeks) on average to learn. Category III has Indonesian, Swahili, and Malaysian; it takes 900 hours or 30 weeks to master.

As for Category IV, which has even more linguistic and cultural differences from English than Category III, these languages take about 44 weeks or 1100 hours to learn. Examples are Bengali, Czech, Russian, Slovak, and Turkish.

Meanwhile, Category V is the most challenging for English speakers, taking 2200 hours (88 weeks). Taking the longest time to learn are Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Arabic. The reason is that these use scripts that do not occur in English.

Proficiency Level

There are also different levels of proficiency to consider. While one person may learn a language basics enough to speak and write socially, someone else may have a deeper knowledge of it. An enhanced learning stage can take longer to reach than an introductory one.

The American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has guidelines for language students to determine their proficiency. The levels are Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior, and Distinguished, with the first three having sub-levels of low, mid, and high.

Other Factors

Among the easiest ways to learn a new language is to take lessons. The process is smoother than learning solely on your own because you have a structure to follow and are accountable for showing up for the classes.

Also, the time it takes to learn a foreign language varies by person, as no two minds are the same. Factors such as the amount of focus of the learning, how many hours a day they put toward education, and study methods can all affect time to reach fluency.

As you move toward being able to listen, speak, and write a foreign language with confidence, take time to assess your progress. Be proud of yourself for how far you’ve come so far. Keep at it, one day at a time.

Discover our language learning programs that can help you reach your goals.

5 important tips to be successful in learning a new language

Study the language every day. Have a study plan

– Start with 10-15 minutes a day. As you go along increase the time on a weekly basis.

– If you miss a day just try to catch up the following day.

– Reward yourself after each week (listen to some music, watch a movie, go and get a special treat form the country, etc..)

Connect with a native speaker

Speaking with a real, live person will help you to feel much more motivated about learning the language than staring at a book or computer screen.

– Try to find a friend or colleague who speaks the language you wish to learn and who’d be willing to sit down with you and help you practice. Alternatively, you could try putting ads in local online forums or newspapers to find someone to tutor you or participate in a language exchange.

Watch, listen, read and write in your chosen language

Immersing yourself in a language means doing all the activities you would normally do in your native tongue, through your new language — whether that’s reading, writing or listening.

– Download podcasts or tune in to radio stations in your new language. This is a great way to immerse yourself in the language while you’re on the go.

– Listen to songs in that language. Try to learn the lyrics, then check what they mean. That way, if you hear it again, you can tell what the conversation is about at that point.

– Watch a movie or a show for 15-30 minutes max. at the beginning. When you feel more confident increase the watching time. Try to avoid subtitles, as you will tend to rely on them. To make things easier, try to watch shows or movies whose plots you are already familiar with — like kids’ cartoons or dubbed versions of English movies — knowing the context will help you to decipher the meanings of words and phrases.

– You should also attempt to read and write in your new language. Get a newspaper or magazine and attempt to read half to one article a day — looking up any words you don’t understand in your dictionary. You should also try to write a few simple things in your new language using a Language Journal.

Learn vocabulary.

Mastering basic vocabulary is probably one of the most important things you can do when learning a new language. Even if you can’t understand whole sentences, the ability to pick out                      keywords can help you to understand the general meaning of a speech or text.

– Focus on 100 most common words. From there, you can work your way up to the most common 1000 words. It is estimated that learning the 1000 most common words in a language will allow you to understand 70% of any text.

– Focus on the vocabulary that is most relevant to you— learn business vocabulary if you’re learning a language for business.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

When you’re learning a new language, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes, otherwise you won’t get very far.

– You’re bound to get yourself in a few embarrassing situations, but what’s the big deal? The native speakers might have a good chuckle, but they’ll still appreciate the effort you’re making and be willing to help you out.

– You are not aiming for perfection here, you are aiming for progress. Making mistakes (and learning from them) will help you to progress.

Contact us to learn more best practices to succeed in your language learning journey.