Whether you're learning how to speak Spanish, French, or Klingon, several factors come into play. From your previous experience learning languages to the languages themselves, each part impacts how long it should take to learn.
Additionally, your native tongue often helps you learn some languages easier than others. English speakers should definitely check out our past advice. Today, languages are broken into four categories that measure their difficulty. Group one is the languages that come much easier than group four.
Four different language groups
When it comes to learning anything, it’s all about time. The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) says that if you can study for ten hours a day, lower grouped languages take 48 days for basic fluency. Meanwhile, difficult languages should take you 72 days. The Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR), or FSI Scale as it is often is called, scores fluency on a 1-5 scale:
- Elementary proficiency. The person satisfies routine travel needs and minimum courtesy requirements.
- Limited working proficiency. The person satisfies routine social demands and limited work requirements.
- Minimum professional proficiency. The person speaks the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional topics.
- Full professional proficiency. The person speaks the language fluently and accurately on all levels normally pertinent to professional needs.
- Native or bilingual proficiency. The person has speaking proficiency equivalent to that of an educated native speaker.
How Long Does It Take to Learn a New Language?
Now, let’s dig into some major factors and tips to help you learn your next language:
Define ‘Learning a New Language’
To a certain degree, learning a new language is relative. Each person has a different interpretation of learning a language. For some, fluency is completely knowing and conversing in the common tongue of native speakers. In other cases, folks consider a language learned if they can communicate on their upcoming vacation. Whatever you choose is right for you as long as you remain realistic about your goals. Set an attainable goal and work towards it.
Similar Languages Help You Learn Faster
Knowing a similar language to your L2 or L3 (or more!) language is an immense help when learning a new language. By tapping into our past knowledge, we relate to familiar sounds and words we already know. This is an incredibly helpful mental trick we give ourselves.
As you become fluent in more languages, each will play a role in learning the next. However, it isn't always accurate. While the method can help us learn, it also creates semi-bilingual misnomers in our conversations and writing. So, don’t use this as a go-to source method for learning. Instead, treat it as a helpful tip from time to time. Just make sure you double check your answers before going with a mental recall.
How Much Time Can You Commit?
It should come as no surprise that the more you put into something, the more you are going to get from it. When it comes to learning a new language, you have to be dedicated.
As mentioned above, the FSI bases its findings off the subject dedicating 10 hours per day to learning their new language. That is an ideal number that most of us simply can’t get to. Whether you are a hard at work student, a working parent or pretty much just about anyone with responsibilities, 10 hours per day will be hard to stick to. If you find yourself in this predicament, determine how much you can work each day.
Once you know how long you can afford to study each day commit to it. If you can do five hours, do five hours every day. If two is all you can do, make those two hours count. However, some proponents of learning a new language believe that time is trumped by effort. As Mark Manson notes, "It’s better to allow a particular period of your life, even if it’s only 1-2 weeks, and really go at it 100% than to half ass it over the course of months or even years."
Are you using a coach or accountability partner?
It’s all about holding yourself accountable. If you fail to hold yourself to the language learning fire, then you probably won’t stick with it. That’s why using a coach or partner is a vital tool to learning a new language. Not only do you have someone to work with. You also have someone you are accountable to. Letting down a partner or coach is never good. It’s especially worse when you feel like you’ve let yourself down. By having a coach or partner and sticking to the plan, you can avoid these problems.
Together, you can work on basics of language learning you can’t do on your own. Writing letters and speaking conversations is much more engaging with other people involved. Tap into your community and begin building your own language learning network today.
It’s All About Talking
When we first start to learn a new language we often feel nervous. Don’t worry if it happens to you. This is very common. However, if you ever want to become a language learning champion you’ll have to overcome this. The best way to do that is to dive in head first and have a conversation. When that conversation is over, have another. Then another. Keep having conversations until you no longer trip through them. When that day arrives, you can call yourself truly fluent.
Remember the saying “practice makes perfect.” It may not be tomorrow, but you are much more likely to become a perfect speaker when you actually practice speaking the language.
Start with the Most Common Words
While book learning and even some older language learning programs can provide value, they often leave you shortchanged when talking with locals. That’s why many language learning experts suggest you learn the most common words in the language you plan on learning. Sure, learning from books and traditional classrooms is an excellent way to take in a new language.
Unfortunately, that won’t help you learn to speak like a native. Sometimes, it is best to deviate from the book and head for the streets. Then, head for the markets. Then, a local cafe. In short, go where the speakers are. Learn the most common words being spoken by the locals, not your books. Some experts and professors say 100, 300, even 3,000 when determining the right number. Start with 100 and see if that’s enough to get you learning.
With those words in your head, you will fill more comfortable speaking using idioms, slang and understanding the overall speech of locals. Now, you should start to pick up conversations with these words. You’re on your way to learning that new language!
Have a Great App or Pocket Dictionary on Hand
You never know when you’ll need to research the spelling or pronunciation of a word. When trying to figure out how long it takes to learn a new language, ask if you’ll have a helpful app or pocket dictionary at your disposal. If you answer yes to either, then you set yourself up for a chance to learn a bit more quickly. It may not seem all that impactful at once.
However, over time, you should begin to take notice at how much having this resource at your disposal truly is. These tools aren’t only great for when you’re stuck. They also work as excellent learning tools. When you aren’t able to have a conversation with someone, dive into your dictionary. It only takes a few seconds to learn a few new words and phrases. Make sure you always have one in your pocket.
Dive Into Audio Courses -- Both Practical and Unorthodox
Audio courses are great for learning a language, especially your most common words. There are some incredible learning courses out there. You can try audio courses through some platforms, but you could go another route as well. Everything from YouTube videos to soap operas to books on tape serves as valuable audio lessons. People who have never spoken a language say that audio courses worked for them. While we certainly recommend learning through traditional mediums as well, these can work in catching you up on a language.
By listening to how locals and natives speak, you once again get a true language learning experience. In doing so, you remove the formality of books and even some more traditional audio courses. Unorthodox methods aren’t always perfect, but they should be an excellent source for your language learning foundation.Now that you know the expected timeframe, prepare for your next language learning experience by crossing as many of these ideas off your to-do list. By preparing yourself today, you’ll be best equipped to learn in the days ahead. Watch this video from our friend Conor Clyne, on how long does it take to learn a new language.