How long does it take to learn a language? 5 factors to consider
Published on July 12, 2022 / Updated on January 5, 2024
How long does it take to learn a language?
Well, that depends on a lot of different factors, such as your motivation, the level you’re trying to reach, and the resources you use.
It’s also important to think about the difficulty of the language you’re trying to learn. For example, if you want to learn Spanish and you speak English as your first language, it will likely be much easier than learning Japanese or Arabic.
Okay, so when do you become fluent in a language? If you’re looking for a short answer, here it is: To learn a new language, you’re looking at roughly 600 to 2,200 hours on average (we know that’s a huge range!).
Below, we’ll get into more detail about the factors that affect how quickly you can learn a language.
Here’s the truth: Not all languages are going to be easy or straightforward to learn—in fact, some might feel downright impossible. You’ll find that the languages that are easiest for you to learn are the ones that resemble your first language.
To illustrate this, let’s look at the four language groups Foreign Service Institute has created. Their research is based on how close a language’s characteristics are to English—the groupings might surprise you!
Keep in mind that the above timeframes are generalizations: Your success depends on not just the number of hours you spend practicing that language, but the quality of your practice, your natural aptitude, your prior knowledge, and more.
You’ll notice that earlier we only indicated learning hours, not weeks or months. Why? Because those things will depend on how much time you commit per day, week or month. If you pick a Category I language, for example, and you practice for two hours every single day, you’ll have a pretty good grasp of it in around ten months. If you can only commit five hours a week, however, that same language would take you more than two years.
There’s a limit, though. Trying to commit to studying six hours a day or more will probably only set you up for failure. Chances are that, with a goal like that, you’ll fail to meet your daily quota, which will sap your motivation before long. Keep it manageable: around two hours a day.
But are all learning hours the same? Not exactly. Spending a couple of hours a day watching a TV show dubbed in French will not give you the same results you’ll get from using the right tools (which brings us to our next point).
There are lots of different ways to build your language skills, including chatting with a conversation partner, writing in a journal, reading in your target language and more. But you should have a solid foundation to start. Choosing a focused language course like Lingoda is a great way to start because you’ll make every minute count; you can even meet some of your language goals in just an hour a day if you’re committed to it!
Motivation is huge when it comes to language learning. Whether you’re learning for fun, to advance your career or to communicate in a new country, motivation will take you a long way.
According to one study, high motivation can actually make up for other deficiencies like a lack of skills or unfavorable learning conditions.
Another factor that will affect your speed of learning is your proficiency level when you start, and where you’re trying to go. If you’re a complete newbie (CEFR level A1), it’ll be faster for you to make the leap to A2 than it will be for an A2 student to reach B1 or for a C1 student to reach C2—basically native-level English. This is because the higher you go, the more challenging and time-consuming the learning tasks will be.
As you can see, there’s lots to consider about the time it takes to learn a new language. But rather than worrying about how long it will take, why not just get started? You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole new language to gain!