How long does it take to learn a language? 5 factors to consider

How long does it take to learn a language? 5 factors to consider

by Andrea Byaruhanga

Updated November 9, 2022

 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.

Learn languages at your pace

Factor 1: The language you choose

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!

  • Category I contains the languages that are the most similar to English. Some of these are Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch and Norwegian. These languages should take you approximately 600 to 750 hours to learn.
  • Category II languages include German, Indonesian and Swahili. An English speaker would need to invest about 900 hours to learn a Category II language.
  • Category III languages will clock about 1,100 hours; they’re considered “hard” for English speakers. This group contains languages such as Armenian, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Somali and Thai.
  • Category IV consists of languages that are considered “super-hard” for English speakers to master. In this group, you’ll find Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic. You’re looking at about 2,200 hours for one of these languages (double what it takes to learn a “hard” Category III language).

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.

Factor 2: The time you put into it

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).

Factor 3: The tools you use

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! 

Factor 4: Your motivation to learn

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. 

Factor 5: The level you want to reach

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.

How long does it take to learn a language? It depends! 

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!

Learn languages at your pace

Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.

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