Learning a new language is exciting and fun to do. Being a polyglot improves your mental capacity and flexibility and gives you more opportunities for your business and career growth.
But how long does it take to learn a new language?
Learning a language takes time and effort. And while progress depends on several factors, such as the language you want to learn, learning style, and motivation, it will generally take between three months and two years to become fluent in a new language.
Knowing how long it takes to master a new language will help you understand the learning process and the planning you need for your studies.
This article will tackle the average time to become fluent in a new language, the average learning time to reach professional working proficiency, and the factors that influence how long you can learn a new language.
Ready? Let’s dig in!
What is the Average Time It Takes to Become Fluent in a New Language?
Fluency in a language is reading, writing, comprehending, and speaking fluidly and comfortably.
Becoming fluent in a new language depends on multiple factors, but the average time it takes is generally between three months to two years.
If you are a native English speaker and want to learn a language that is very close to your mother tongue, it may take you approximately three months to achieve intermediate fluency.
Unsurprisingly, learning languages that are different from English, such as Korean and Mandarin, can take you two years to gain the same level of fluency.
We will dig more into the learning time for each language below.
Average Learning Time to Reach Professional Working Proficiency when Learning a New Language
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) categorized languages based on their difficulty and the time required to reach the Professional Working Proficiency or the Speaking 3/Reading 3 of the Interagency Language Roundtable scale.
They based the timeline in each category on the observed average time a student needed to achieve proficiency. However, the actual time can vary based on different factors.
Here are the categories:
Languages in this category are similar to English and are thus some of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers. It takes 24 to 30 weeks or 600 to 750 class hours to reach the Professional Working Proficiency level.
The list of languages includes Danish, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, and Swedish. These languages take 24 weeks to learn. Only the French language takes 30 weeks to be proficient.
Languages in this category are more complex than the previous category. It is estimated to take 36 weeks or 900 class hours for you to achieve the same level of proficiency.
The languages under this category include German, Haitian Creole, Indonesian, Malay, and Swahili.
This category contains hard languages that are significantly different from English in terms of their linguistic and cultural aspects. It usually takes 44 weeks or 1100 class hours to become proficient in languages under this category.
The FSI produced a list of languages in this category, but the list below is not exhaustive:
This category contains super-hard languages, which are extremely difficult for native English speakers. It is estimated to take 88 weeks or 2200 class hours to achieve proficiency.
The languages under this category include Arabic, Chinese-Cantonese, Chinese-Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean.
Factors that Influence How Long it Takes to Learn a Foreign Language
Several factors can affect your learning time for a new language, including:
1. The foreign language you want to learn
The length of time it takes to learn a new foreign language depends on the distance between your native language and your target language. The farther the target language to your mother tongue is, the more time and effort you must invest in studying.
For instance, if you are a native Spanish speaker, learning Portuguese can be a lot faster because their syntax, which refers to the arrangement of words in sentences, phrases, and formation of sentences, is similar. Pronunciation is easy to learn, too.
It gets complicated when you learn a language with an entirely different syntax, alphabet, and writing system from your native language. Japanese, Korean, and Chinese can be difficult if you are an English native speaker.
Setting expectations when learning a new language can help you set your goal, direction, and motivation to learn. You have to determine your expectations for learning and what is your desired proficiency level for the language you are studying.
There are different proficiency levels you can aim for. These are the three scales where you can check your proficiency level:
Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale
The Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale has five levels of proficiency, starting from no proficiency at level 0, then elementary proficiency at level 1, to functionally native proficiency at level 5.
They assign a skill level to you when you take an authorized language examination. The examines will assign a level on different performance criteria through descriptive statements.
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has six levels for proficiency, but it is deemed relevant to European language learners.
Thus, there is a global scale using a hyper-text branching principle, which consists of three broad levels. These broad levels are A as Basic User, B as Independent User, and C as Proficient User.
Each level has two specific sub-levels, A1 and A2, under the A (Basic User) level. B1 and B2 are under the B level, while C1 and C2 are under the C level.
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages sets guidelines and descriptions of what you can do. It cannot do with language in terms of reading, writing, listening, and speaking at each proficiency level.
They identify five major proficiency levels: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior, and Distinguished. Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced levels have high, mid, and low sub-levels.
These levels of proficiency describe your level from a highly articulate user to a lower level or no functional ability.
Since there are different proficiency levels, you set each level as a milestone for your learning. By doing this, you have specific goals to achieve, such as encouraging yourself to excel from a low proficiency level to a high proficiency level.
Studying a new language can be more technical and repetitive. It can also cause frustration, boredom, and discouragement, especially when it takes time to master it.
Having the right mindset can get you through learning a new language. When you have a growth mindset, you believe that you can learn your target language through hard work and good strategies. Thus, you persist in learning and achieving the goal that you want–learning your target language.
A recent study in China where researchers focused on the student’s mindset in learning foreign languages supports the notion that mindset influence language learning. The results showed that students with a growth mindset are more resilient in dealing with challenges in learning the English language.
As a result, they have the highest perceived English competence than students with fixed and slight growth mindsets.
4. Personal interest and motivation
Personal interest and motivation matter when learning a new language. These intrinsic drive forces can help you focus and persist in studying.
Another study at Michigan State University focused on students learning German. The results found that students who took the language course for compliance only had a lower average proficiency level compared to students with a declared major, taking the subject for professional purposes, and those who studied abroad.
The research findings suggest that personal interests and motivation are really factors that influence language learning and proficiency.
5. Pronunciation and accentedness
Pronunciation and accentedness are also factors that affect the learning time of a new language. Most learning methods don’t focus much on these to reach general proficiency faster.
However, correct pronunciation and accent can make words comprehensible and aid in conversing better with other people.
Exerting an effort to attain correct pronunciation and accent in your target language will allow you to better make yourself understood when speaking with a native or fluent speaker of your target language.
You also get to be confident in conversing using the target language when you know that you correctly pronounce the words. This lessens your anxiety about being judged by other people when conversing.
You will quickly improve when you focus your attention on these two factors.
6. Your background
Your personal background can greatly influence the required time to learn your target language. For instance, if you or bilingual or have been studying foreign languages since you are a child, learning another language can be easier because you already know and have developed different language-learning techniques.
Learning a new language that is related closely related to the languages you already know can make you learn it faster. This is because of the similarities in syntax and writing systems between the related languages.
Additionally, familiarity with the language and exposure to it can significantly speed up the pace of learning your target language. The more you are exposed to people conversing with each other using your target language, the more that you will know and apply your learnings faster.
7. Techniques and tools you use
Learning techniques and tools are your greatest supplements to hasten your learning of the target language you wish to learn.
You can attend group classes or hire a private tutor to teach you your target language. Having a good teacher can teach, encourage, and mentor you in learning. You can easily ask the teacher if you have difficulties or concerns about the lessons.
Alternatively, you can self-learn the desired language you want. You can read books for reference and watch videos.
Final Thoughts on How Long It Takes to Learn a New Language
Whether you want to learn a new language for fun or professional purposes, learning it takes time and patience. You also have to dedicate effort to learning not only the technical aspects but also the pronunciation and accent of your desired language.
We have outlined above the average time to achieve fluency and professional working proficiency in a language. This can guide you in setting your plans and study time for learning.
We also mentioned several factors that can affect the length of time for learning a new language. One of which is your resources and tools, which are essential in your studying.
Don’t worry if you have limited resources and tools. There are many resources online that you can utilize for studying. While most are paid courses, there are definitely plenty of free resources that can help you learn your desired language.
Hopefully, this article answered your question of “How long does it take to learn a new language?” If you still have any questions, please comment below so we can help.