We all have things we say we want to do, but then there’s the whole separate matter of “actual likelihood of following through.” “Which language should I learn?” A better question might be: “How much time can I realistically devote to learning a language right now?”
There are a whole host of things that can get in the way of our stated aims: fear, laziness, self-sabotage, lack of time. Of all of these, the latter is actually cited most often by people who give up on language learning.
So how do you avoid a failed language-learning goal? Perhaps it’s not mainly about motivation or willpower so much as it’s about realistically budgeting your time.
The Foreign Service Institute released a helpful guide that details how long it generally takes diplomats to learn various languages. Category I languages, or those that are easiest for native English speakers to learn, include Dutch and Spanish (24 to 30 weeks). A Category IV language, on the other hand, includes the likes of Arabic and Japanese (88 weeks).
The way the math is broken down, these numbers are assuming that you’re spending roughly three hours per day studying. The guide also considers a language “learned” after the learner gets to a “three out of five” level of speaking and reading, five being “highly articulate, well-educated, native-speaker proficiency.” It’s also kind of a given that the FSI tends to hire people who are already predisposed to learning languages well.
Quartz put together a helpful map using the FSI data, which shows pretty plainly that you generally get increasingly more difficult languages the farther you get from the United States. This puts another thing into perspective, which is that learning a more foreign-sounding tongue is akin to traveling to a more distant location. It requires more energy, resources and planning to learn successfully.
Given that we’re all working with various kinds of goals and amounts of free time, here’s a quiz to help you figure out which language would make the most sense for you to study right now.