How Long Does It Take To Learn A Language?

There are various ways to estimate how long it takes to learn a language — and when you can reasonably expect to reach your goals.
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How Long Does It Take To Learn A Language?

Taking on a new challenge is much easier when you can see the finish line. If you lack an end goal and a clear expectation of how long it will take you to reach that goal, it will be much more difficult to stay motivated. With that in mind, we wanted to answer the burning question once and for all: how long does it take to learn a language?

The short (and somewhat unsatisfying) response is that it varies widely based on many different factors. Are you the type of person who is disciplined about sticking to a routine, or do you find it hard to be consistent with your studying? How much time are you willing and able to devote per day to this endeavor? Are you learning a language that is more accessible for English speakers, like Spanish, or taking on a tougher language, like Mandarin Chinese?

The answers to these questions, and others, will affect the length of time it takes to reach your goal. But thanks to the estimations of researchers, linguistic experts and even the United States government, you can arrive to a somewhat more concrete range of time. Assess these models and decide which one, if any, makes the most sense to you. Perhaps it’ll provide a reasonable benchmark for achieving your language-learning goals.

Learn The Basics In Three Weeks

One of the most common claims you’ll hear from us is that you can learn to have basic conversations in your new language in three weeks. We even put some Babbel staffers to the test to see how much they could learn in that period of time. The results were overwhelmingly positive!

We spoke with one of the linguists on our team of experts to find out how much you can really learn in three weeks of study with the Babbel app.

Put simply, if you practice with Babbel’s Spanish courses daily for three weeks, you can learn:

  • Vocabulary spanning 22 relevant topics
  • Basic grammatical knowledge
  • How to have authentic dialogues
  • Solid pronunciation skills

Set Aside 15 Minutes Per Day

This model doesn’t exactly give you a strict finish line, but it does provide a framework for how to learn a new language effectively and in a timely manner. Spending 15 minutes on language learning every day will put you on the path to language proficiency, according to our team of language experts.

It all comes down to the science of learning and memory, which dispels the myth that “cramming” for a test is helpful and instead says that learning in smaller chunks and using repetition is the way to go. This makes 15 minutes the perfect amount of time for learning a chunk of information and then repeating it until it sticks in your long-term memory.

Follow In The Footsteps Of Diplomats

Another way to gauge how long it might take for you to learn a language is to take a page from the book of American diplomats. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), which provides training for U.S. State Department employees, puts out a guide estimating how long it will take diplomats to reach “professional working proficiency” in specific languages. Keep in mind that these estimates may seem long because diplomats need to be able to have complex conversations on crucial issues; this goes beyond basic conversations.

The FSI divides languages into four categories, with Category I languages taking the least amount of time to learn and Category IV languages taking the longest.

Here are a couple of languages from each category and approximately how long the FSI believes they would take to master:

  • Category I: Spanish (24 weeks), French (30 weeks)
  • Category II: German (36 weeks), Indonesian (36 weeks)
  • Category III: Russian (44 weeks), Greek (44 weeks)
  • Category IV: Arabic (88 weeks), Chinese (88 weeks), Japanese (88 weeks)
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