How long does it take to learn a language?

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Have you ever wanted (or needed!) to pick up a new language before a certain date or deadline? 

Perhaps you have a holiday looming and want to master a few phrases, or even an exam on the horizon that you need to study for.

Whether you’re brushing up on existing skills or starting completely from scratch – chances are, you’re stretched for time and want to know exactly how long it’ll take you to reach your language goals. 

So, exactly how long does it take to learn a language? 

Well, a lot of factors come into play and knowing what these factors are will help you understand how long it should take you to become competent in another language. 

These are the 7 main factors that will determine how much time it should take you to learn a new language: 

1. Language difficulty

It’s fair to say that some languages are easier to learn than others.

The US Foreign Service Institute, where government workers train in foreign languages, categorise language difficulty in five categories (for native English speakers):

  • Category 1: World languages (more similar to English). Includes: French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.
  • Category 2: more challenging languages such as German, Malay or Haitian Creole.
  • Category 3: languages with “significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English”. Here you’ll find Polish, Finnish, Turkish, Russian and more.
  • Category 4: officially “super-hard” languages. Prepare to be challenged by languages like Japanese, Arabic or Chinese.

2. Level of proficiency

Of course, you could learn how to say hello, goodbye and thank you in your target language and call it quits.

So here again, the Foreign Service Institute has a handy list that ranks language skills from elementary proficiency (where you meet travel needs and basic courtesy), all the way to native or bilingual proficiency.

Note: the University of Cambridge Language Assessment has a suggested amount of study time required for their exams based on similar proficiency levels. It’s a great guideline.

3. Study style

You’d think that the more you study, the quicker you learn. That’s not always the case.

Studying grammar for several hours a day might work for some, but it just doesn’t sound super healthy.

This is why at Busuu, we have created a Study Plan that helps learners stay organised, motivated, and on top of their individual goals.

Because it’s not how much you study, but how you study.

5. Language learning background

Here’s the deal:

It’s unfair (or great, depending on where you stand), but the more languages you speak, the easier and faster it is to learn a new one.

If you’re already a language learner, you’ll probably have a few tips and tricks up your sleeve. Use them!

6. Age

You’ll find countless academic papers dedicated to the question as to whether age factors in language acquisition.

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t technically harder for older students to learn a new language.

It’s more that certain teaching methods don’t always resonate with them, or that health and physical impediments can become obstacles.

7. Immersion

Theory is great and all, but without practice with native speakers, you’ll never get a chance to test – or enjoy – your newfound language skills.

In fact, some will go as far as saying it’s the only way to really learn a language.

While it’s true that immersion programs show close-to-magic results, it’s not always easy to find the time, dedication, or budget to travel abroad.

Luckily, there are ways you can immerse yourself in another language without leaving home.

Plus, with Busuu Premium, you get native speaker feedback and conversations. It’s the closest you’ll get to instant teleportation to the country of your choice.

Learn the basics in 22 hours

Learning a foreign language is an experience very personal to you.

Hopefully by now you’ll have a better idea of how long it might take you. But at Busuu, we like to think of it in amount of dedication per day.

And based on the results of our 90 million learners, we’re pretty confident 10 minutes daily can give amazing results if you stick at it. 

In fact, a research team recently calculated that 22 hours of Busuu Premium is equivalent to one college semester of language study.

Now, how many days this goes on for is completely up to you.

But that’s the beauty of our teaching method: you will learn a new language from scratch at your own pace.

And more importantly, you’ll get to do it whenever you want, wherever you are.

So what are you waiting for?

2 COMMENTS

  1. soy una suscriptora y estoy intentando aprender ingles , pero he notado que en algunas lecciones la mujer que habla no se le entiende nada , habla demasiado enredado y debe enteder que mientras uno como alumno educa el oido y que le hablen asi enredado demasiado rapido no le entiendo nada.
    Agradezco su atención y perdone las incomodidades

  2. I’m a little confused. English is a West Germanic language, and I always found German to be easier than most foreign languages. So, how are those Romance languages more similar to English than Dutch and German? I’m pretty sure German is easier than Malay.

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