How long does it take to learn a new language?
We all grow up conversing in a language taught to us by our parents and we call this our ‘native’ language. As we grow up, we learn English and realise that it is a better language to be able to communicate with people due to the fact that our native languages might be different but all of us can converse through English. While there is no doubting that notion the reality is that although English is spoken by a large population of people, that doesn’t mean it’s the most popular language or that you’re not missing out if you choose to associate exclusively with English speakers. It might be surprising to know Mandarin and Spanish are the most commonly spoken languages in the world.
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Learning a new language, one that isn’t your native or English will benefit you in more than one way. You can travel without any dependencies, you can learn a lot about different cultures just through learning their languages, it’ll open up a variety of different job opportunities abroad for you and you can grow mentally and psychologically. With that said, you might wonder how long does it truly take to learn or even master a language?
In reality, the time takes to learn a language completely depends on the learner himself. It depends on their attitude towards the language, the time they can dedicate to the language and finally their ability to grasp the knowledge. To understand how long it takes to learn a language, you need to understand the different groups these languages are divided in, the basis of their difficulty.
The FSI, US Foreign Service Institute, divides languages into groups of difficulty for speakers of English:
Group 1: French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili
Group 2: Bulgarian, Burmese, Greek, Hindi, Persian, Urdu
Group 3: Amharic, Cambodian, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Lao, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese
Group 4: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean
FSI research indicates that it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in group 1 languages, and 720 hours for group 2-4 languages. The first stage is important in order to get a grasp of some basic vocabulary and a sense of how the language works. It also gives us the confidence that we can move on to fluency. During this first stage, we are curious about the language and willing to listen to the same content over and over. It is important to focus on the initial stages of learning the language or it could end up taking more time to achieve fluency than usual.
In addition to this, if we compare the languages to English to figure out the time it would take to learn these languages then:
- Languages closely related to English, like Swedish, Afrikaans, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Romanian, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese etc, would take around 575 to 600 hours or 23 to 24 weeks to master them.
- Languages that are somewhat similar to English, like German would take around 30 weeks or 750 hours of study to attain the desired fluency.
- Languages which are linguistically different when compared to English like Swahili, Indonesian, and Malaysian will take you around 36 weeks or 900 hours to master them.
- Languages like Hindi, Thai, Hungarian, Latvian, Bulgarian, Bengali, Nepali which have significant linguistic differences will take around 44 weeks or 1100 hours to master them.
- Languages like Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Mandarin, and Chinese are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers. They take around 88 weeks or 2,200 hours.
Even with all this, it is important to keep in mind that the time spent on learning a language has a crucial deciding factor, this deciding factor is your own dedication and ability to grasp the knowledge provided to you. If you can stay motivated, dedicated and concentrate well, then you should be able to learn even the toughest languages in no time.