We all know that you are probably not going to learn a language overnight, but how much of a commitment is it really? We are going to break down everything you need to know to answer the burning question of how long does it take to learn a language? First, we will tackle how many hours a day you should put into studying a foreign language. Then, we will present multiple tools and resources for you to optimize your time spent on learning a new language. Finally, we will tackle the most commonly used languages and rank them from easiest to hardest to master.
So, you are thinking about learning a new language. An important question to ask yourself first, however, is why? Not only will this keep you focused and motivated, but it will also define the level you need to master in the language which takes different amounts of time.
Can you learn a language in 15 minutes a day? Is it possible to learn a language in 2 years? Well…
We have seen from the Common European Framework for Reference of Language (CEFRL) guidelines what fluency means, but how can you reach it? When calculating how long it takes to reach fluency, it greatly depends on how you choose to learn a language. Are you planning on taking classes? Having a language exchange with a tandem partner? Using an app or online program? Or traveling to a country where the language is spoken through immersion? All of these have different time expectations for moving from beginner to becoming fluent.
Obviously, the more study the better. However, the key is to study smarter, not harder. Find a balance by complementing active study hours with integrating the language into your life in a way that’s effective, enjoyable and sustainable.
If we really want to put time on it, thirty minutes to an hour of real active study a day is a step in the right direction. This time should be used specifically dedicated to learning important new words, sentence structures, grammar rules, pronunciation, conjugation, etc. Depending on your language learning goals, this length may vary but it is important to have a manageable language learning schedule no matter what goal you may have. This is particularly important in the early stages of language learning.
Language exposure is anything that reinforces the language, without necessarily being focused on the learning aspect. This can include watching movies, reading the news, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, etc. This is quite a simple and almost effortless way to absorb your target language which also contributes to your study hours. Language exposure is oftentimes left out of the language learning schedule, but it’s a pivotal part of language learning nevertheless.
Learning in a classroom environment is the classic, old school method of learning a foreign language. For good reason, it still works today and is one of the most effective ways to learn a language. It provides a good knowledge base while also covering all four aspects of language learning — reading, writing, speaking and listening. One massive advantage of this method is having a sense of accountability. Having deadlines and homework makes it much harder to procrastinate!
Although learning a language in a classroom is still a popular choice, there are other ways to study a language. Language learning apps, for example, are said to be revolutionizing language learning. Apps are great for optimizing your time spent on learning a language because you'll always have them at your fingertips and are either free or a more affordable option. However, this way of learning a language is intended to be used alongside other resources.
We couldn’t not plug our very own language exchange app here…
Here at Tandem, we believe that speaking is the fastest way to fluency! That’s why we’ve developed an awesome free app that allows members to connect with native speakers all over the world and practice 160+ languages via text, audio message, and video call. With millions of members, Tandem is one of the largest language learning communities out there, so you are sure to find a language exchange partner that fits for you.
… End of plug 😉
As mentioned above, language exposure is a pivotal part of language learning. If you are a self-disciplined person and up for a challenge, you could potentially use this method as your primary learning resource. It’s important to realize, however, that it requires a lot more effort and engagement than it being used as a form of passive learning.
If you decide to watch a foreign film, first of all make sure you have the subtitles turned on and secondly, make sure you have a notebook and pen beside you to note down new vocabulary and sentence structures. The same thing goes for reading a book or the news — you need to highlight, underline and have lots of sticky notes at the ready! Other ideas are to change your phone’s language to your target language and add some chrome extensions for language learners to your browser. This method, naturally, prolongs the language learning journey but some may find it more enjoyable.
Complete immersion is another way to learn a language and the fastest way. This oftentimes involves traveling/moving to the native country, focusing on total cultural immersion and advancing your language skillset. This helps with learning the correct pronunciation and colloquial terms which you wouldn’t necessarily pick up in the classroom.
There are many platforms that help you learn languages online with many of them being quite reasonably priced, or even free. This can be an excellent way to learn the basics of a new language without committing a large amount of time or money. These types of resources are generally suited to beginners, as they generally only cover the basics, and tend to move at a slow pace.
Some languages are easy to learn for native English speakers, and others are immensely difficult. Scripts, alphabets, conjugations, vocabulary, and more all factor into making a language easy or hard to learn. The United States Foreign Service Institute (FSI) divides the world’s languages into groups based on their difficulty for English speakers to learn and the approximate hours to reach fluency in them.
These languages are closely related to English. There is a mix of Romance and Germanic languages in this category:
Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish.
There’s only one language in this category — German. German is closely related to English, however, there are quirky traits that bump it up in difficulty.
These languages have linguistic and/or cultural differences from English and are mainly spoken in Southeast Asia — Indonesian, Malaysian, Swahili, for example.
These languages have significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English. Here you’ll find the Slavic, Baltic and Uralic languages:
Bengali, Bosnian, Burmese, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic, Khmer, Lao, Latvian, Macedonian, Nepali, Pashto, Polish, Russian, Sinhala, Tagalog, Turkish, Urdu, Uzbek, Xhosa, Zulu.
These languages are especially difficult for native English speakers, as they generally have completely unfamiliar scripts and cultural connections. These languages are most commonly spoken in Asia and the Middle East — Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Korean. Included here is Japanese, which has a reputation for being the toughest in this group due to, in part, it’s multiple writing styles.
As we have seen, there are no shortcuts for fluency, unfortunately! The only real way to expedite the process is to become as immersed as possible and dedicate yourself. If you are considering taking on the challenge of learning a new language, now is the time to start!
With millions of members, Tandem is the largest global language learning community out there! With our Tandem app, you can connect with native speakers all over the world and practice languages via text, audio message, and video call. Download Tandem today - it’s free!