How long does it take to learn a foreign language?


  1. What factors influence the learning of a foreign language?
  2. What are the different language levels?
  3. What are the easiest languages to learn?
  4. How to learn a foreign language quickly?


Do you want to start learning a language and wonder how long it will take you to learn English? Spanish? Turkish? Chinese? You should know that many factors influence the time it takes to learn a foreign language

You can, for example, learn English three times quicker than Arabic! It's all a matter of learning method, goals, and personal motivation. Find out from GoStudent how many hours of learning you need to reach your language goals.learn a foreign language

What factors influence the learning of a foreign language?


Several factors influence how long it takes to learn a foreign language 🕐 :

The language being studied

Some foreign languages are easier and faster to learn than others no matter how good someone may be at learning languages.

The conditions for learning

It is possible to learn a foreign language quickly, thanks to different teaching methods—from intensive courses to full immersion.

Personal involvement

The degree of motivation varies according to the person and their goals. A highly motivated person who works several hours a day will progress more quickly than someone who is less consistent.

The level you wish to reach

Learning a language can be very subjective and no two people have the same goal. If you are going on a trip abroad and want to communicate with locals about everyday topics such as food or transportation, then basic knowledge is sufficient. 

However, if you wish to become bilingual, then it will take longer. Be mindful that total mastery doesn’t have to be the initial learning goal. 


What are the different language levels?


While there are multiple language proficiency standards, the most relevant one is the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages). It breaks down language fluency into three main levels. 

- Novice levels cover basic language skills for beginners. These include: being able to introduce oneself, asking and answering yes/no questions, communicating simply on familiar subjects, and expressing immediate needs.

- Intermediate levels cover more complex vocabulary and skills. Here, students can meaningfully participate in a wider range of conversations and demonstrate a greater level of spoken and written fluency.

- Finally, Advanced levels are the top levels where students demonstrate high linguistic expertise and autonomy. While there two more levels beyond advanced, an advanced speaker has the linguistic expertise to express complex ideas, engage in nuanced conversations, as well as demonstrate cultural awareness in the target language. 

Each of the above levels is further broken down into Low, Mid, and High. For example, Novice is broken down into Novice Low (NL), Novice Mid (NM), and Novice High (NH). This is done to better describe individual student fluency. 

Did you know?

European countries use a different fluency system called Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or the CEFR. The core distinctions between beginner and more fluent speakers are similar but the labels are different:
- A1 and A2: Beginners

- B1 and B2: Intermediate

- C1 and C2: Advanced/Native-level 


What are the easiest languages to learn?


The time to learn a foreign language varies according to the difficulty of the language you wish to learn. For example, for a native French speaker, it will be easier and faster to learn Spanish or English, which share a common alphabet and many similarities, than Chinese or Arabic, for example.

The Foreign Service Institute (a part of the State Department) has ranked languages according to how difficult they are to learn. The study is based on native English speakers. 

Easy" languages to learn 

The foreign languages that are the easiest to learn are languages that are are languages that have commonalities with English:

- Spanish

- Italian

- French

- Romanian

- Swedish

- Portuguese

- Norwegian

- Danish

- Dutch

To obtain a basic level (i.e. level B2 of the CEFR, explained above) in these languages, 600 hours of work will be necessary, or 24 weeks. 

Let's say you are motivated and can devote some time, you could gain functional proficiency for these languages in 6 months at a rate of 20 hours of learning per week (about 3 hours per day).

So, how long does it take to learn Spanish for example?

If you want to learn Spanish for everyday situations, up to three months of study may be necessary. For more in-depth knowledge, you should aim for twice as much—six months.

And how long does it take to learn French?

To reach a high novice level in French, count on approximately 200 hours of learning. For a solid intermediate level, 600 hours. Finally, for an advanced level, around 1200 hours of learning will be necessary.

These learning times are given as an indication. They obviously vary according to the method used and the number of hours spent studying per day.

Languages that are a little less easy to learn 

Languages that have less in common with English prove more challenging to learn, due to both cultural and linguistic differences. These are some examples:

- German

- Indonesian

- Swahili

For example, it would take between 750 (for German) and 900 hours of study to learn these languages. This is equivalent to 9 months for language learners who are able to dedicate 20 hours a week to language acquisition.

Languages that are difficult to learn 

Next are languages with significant cultural and linguistic differences with English. There are many languages, including many Eastern European, African and Southeast Asian languages.

- Albanian

- Bulgarian

- Croatian

- Finnish

- Polish

- Hebrew

- Hindi

- Russian

- Turkish

- Thai

- Vietnamese

For these languages, the estimates increase to around 1100 hours. These languages require significant dedication, clocking in at around a year of study for those who can devote 20 hours a week.

Super complex languages to learn 

What about the most difficult languages to learn ? Not surprisingly, these are languages that use a different alphabet from ours and whose pronunciation and grammar have little in common with English:

- Arabic (all dialects)

- Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin)

- Japanese

- Korean

These languages take up to 88 weeks to learn, which is almost 4 times the time it would take you to learn Spanish, for example. But don't let this ranking discourage you! It is possible to learn any language, even the most difficult, as long as you are motivated and determined. 

How long does it take to move up to a higher proficiency level?

Are you a novice speaker but want to improve your proficiency? Here's how much study time you'll need to get to the next level:

- From Novice to Low Intermediate: 150 hours of work

- From Low Intermediate to High Intermediate: 200 hours of work

- From High Intermediate to Advanced: 250 hours of work

- From Advanced to Distinguished: variable number of hours 

Obviously, these learning times vary depending on the individual and the learning model—some methods are faster than others!


How to learn a foreign language quickly?


There are different language learning, which can greatly influence the learning time.

Stay abroad programs, language learning overdrive 

It’s no secret that the most effective and fastest way is through authentic language immersion in a country where the target language is widely spoken. A stay abroad program coupled with intensive language courses on site will make you make enormous progress in a very short time.

Be careful, however, to immerse yourself in the local culture and to interact with target language speakers. The trap is to only socialize with people that only speak your mother tongue, which could slow down your learning of a new language.

If you don't have the opportunity to go abroad, don't panic. There are simple and equally effective ways to learn a foreign language quickly.

Intensive language learning

Language academies often offer small group languages. You will have a variety of language courses with either small-group or online classes with a qualified instructor.

Private lessons in a foreign language

There are many private tutors who will be happy to assist you in your learning. Private, personalized lessons are a quick way to make rapid progress. The advantage of private lessons over language academies is an individualized learning plan and undivided attention from your tutor. 

GoStudent private tutors are an affordable option if you are looking for tailored language learning experience.

Apps and self-paced language courses

You can also try to learn a language on your own thanks to mobile apps like Duolingo or language courses such as Rosetta Stone. The idea is that you are given the resources to learn at your own pace.

The downside is that if you are stuck you will need to find the solution yourself. This could be discouraging and time consuming. Something else to keep in mind is that with self-paced learning you are responsible for your own motivation.

Before committing to an expensive language course, it’s important to think about whether the level of commitment is a good fit for you. A better option could be a hybrid approach. By combining a private tutor with free or affordable language learning apps, you get the best of both worlds.

At school and university

The earlier you start learning a foreign language, the faster the process is likely to be. Some languages, such as Spanish or French, are taught as early as kindergarten. 

For those who wish to specialize in foreign languages, universities offer degree programs in foreign languages and cultures.

Tips for learning a foreign language quickly

Here are some tips and tricks that can help you learn any foreign language faster.

- Reading authentic writing in the target language (websites, social media, magazines)

- Language exchanges or penpals

- Trying to think in the language you are learning (naming things to practice vocabulary or describing your daily routine).

- Watching movies or TV shows in the target language with subtitles.

- Use any opportunity to practice the language, even if you make mistakes (it’s totally OK!)

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