How long does it take to learn a language?

There is no definitive answer to the question posed by the title of this post. It all depends on the following factors, among other things:

How much of the language do you want to learn?
If you want to become proficient in all aspects of the language, then it’s going to take a lot longer than if you just want to learn enough to ‘get by’ when you visit a country or region where the language is spoken

Which languages do you already know?
Learning a language related to your native language and/or another language you know will probably take less time than learning an unrelated language. There will be a lot of vocabulary you recognise and the grammar will be similar.

How will you be studying?
Studying on your own and/or with a private tutor might be quicker than studying in a class because you can go at your own pace. If you study every day, even for only short while, you’ll probably make better and faster progress than spending a few hours a week in a class. You might make even more progress if you combine studying on your own with going to a class or having individual lessons – the class/lessons will give you the opportunity to use your language with others, and to get advice, guidance and feedback from a teacher/tutor, while studying on your own enables you to work on aspects of the language that interest you and practise the bits that you find difficult.

How motivated are you?
To continue studying for as long as it takes to learn a language, you need to be well motivated, and also focused and dedicated. To motivated you are, the quicker your progress is likely to be.

According to ALTA Languages Services, it takes about 300 hours for someone to go from beginner to advanced level. This works out as around a year and eight months of studying for half an hour a day, or ten months studying for an hour a day.

It took me five years of fulltime study to learn Chinese, a year and a half of which I spent in Taiwan. French and German took me seven and six years of regular study (a few hours a week) respectively. After four years studying Japanese fulltime, including four months in Japan, I could speak it fairly well, though not fluently. I’ve been learning Spanish and Welsh sporadically for about eight years and have a fairly good command of the latter, but only a fairly shaky grasp of the former. After two years of studying Irish I have a good knowledge of the language and can speak it quite well.

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

11 Responses to How long does it take to learn a language?

  1. David says:

    At Secondary School I am learning Japanese and am finding it harder this year because there are other kids that can be very noisy and I find it very hard to concentrate. At home though I am learning Dutch, which I find alot easier, not only because there are no noisy kids around, but also because Dutch is very similar to English.

  2. Benjamin says:

    If you know German and English, Dutch vocabulary shouldn’t be too hard. As a German I can read and understand quite some texts in Dutch… Sometimes. ;)

  3. Mike says:

    Yeah, after I started to study German, I found that I could read some sentences in Dutch. It was as though someone had written them in German, but spelled the words all funny.

  4. Sam says:

    When I was in college, students who had reached a certain level in Spanish could take a four-week winter course in Portuguese. Evidently those who speak Spanish have an advantage in learning Portuguese and possibly a similar edge for learning other Romance languages.

    I had a year of high school French that helped me learn vocabulary in Spanish. The experience of having studied a language–any language–was also helpful.

    During my first trip to Europe, I found myself able to guess at some words in Dutch. After a year of university German, I was able to figure out even more of the language. I remember sitting on a train and overhearing two young men speaking something that sounded like really unusual or dialectal German and thinking that my German was better than theirs. It turned out to be Dutch. Oops!

    At various times I tried Hebrew, Russian and Japanese. I didn’t have any similar languages to connect things to–similar in terms of vocabulary or grammar.

  5. Ramses says:

    Gewoon Nederlands leren, hoe onlogisch de taal soms ook mag zijn.

    Just learn Dutch, how illogic the language may be some times.

    I’m currently learning Russian. The big problem is still that I confuse the different в, ь, б types… Big plus for me is that Russian has much words who are similair to Dutch, my native language.

  6. Giorgia says:

    hi i wantto learn italian how long would it take xx

  7. Polly says:

    I don’t even speak Dutch or German, but I can generally get the idea if I read them, because they’re both so close to English. I can read an article in French and understand from 50%-75% of it because of the similarity to Spanish. Though the pronounciation is very different, on paper they’re very similar.

  8. zooplah says:

    hi i wantto learn italian how long would it take xx

    Depends on many factors, including your native language, what other languages you know, how skilled you are at learning the concepts (and memorizing the words), and so on.

    I don’t even speak Dutch or German, but I can generally get the idea if I read them, because they’re both so close to English.

    I don’t know about the mutual intelligibility of those three languages, Polly. I can read a bit of German, but only because I’ve studied it (and even then, my amount of comprehension is quite low), and I can hardly make out Dutch at all. Maybe some people have skill for spotting similarities, that we linguistically challenged don’t have.

  9. I believe (but it’s a matter of _belief_, not fact, mark you) that one can learn enough Esperanto to get by in most situations, and of course read some 75% of existing non-technical literature, in (say) 20 to 30 hours. That, of course, includes _all_ of formal grammar.

  10. Gaby says:

    I am from South America and have been studying English for nearly 6 years in my country. I came to the States to obtain my Master in Education in 2005. I ‘ve been living here since then. I was now hired by a public school to teach first grade. I feel that my speaking is not spontaneous nor automatic. I feel that sometimes I find things hard to explain and I often catch myself making awful grammar mistakes. It really affects me in my social relationships as I think I can’t express all I want.
    How long does it take to become proficient in a foreing language in all the levels?

  11. Asmaa says:

    I am learning Spanish, Hebrew and Latin currently. I think it depends on the person as to much quickly they’d want to become proficient in a language. I am learning Hebrew because I want to; Latin because it is related to Spanish. Spanish was the first forgein language I opted for. Haven’t regretted it ever since =)