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Time learning a new language

How long would you say it would take an average person to get fluent in a new language? A year? Two years?

April 18, 2018



It depends on your native language, the language being learned, and how you define "fluent". For a native English speaker, learning Spanish can expect the following, if they are taking full-time intensive and/or immersion, proficiency-based language training under the supervision of an instructor with only 1 - 4 students per class:

240 hours - intermediate mid: able to handle successfully a variety of uncomplicated communicative tasks in straightforward social situations. Conversation is generally limited to those predictable and concrete exchanges necessary for survival in the target culture.

480 hours - advanced low: able to participate in most informal and some formal conversations on topics related to school, home, and leisure activities. They can also speak about some topics related to employment, current events, and matters of public and community interest.



I remember asking my French teacher how long it took for him to be comfortable in French, and he said 2 years of straight study. Of course, it depends on the learner as well.


It depends on the language, and the time spent every day, and whether or not you're in country and hearing it every day, and of course it depends on your definition of fluent. But what's sure is that spending some time at it every day for a long period of time will eventually get you there, and getting frustrated because you don't think you're learning fast enough and giving up doesn't get you there.


Hey, that depends on a lot of factors. How much time you have to dedicate to the endeavor. Why you want to learn that language. How well you already speak your native language, your grasp of advanced grammar and vocabulary. Your intelligence and dedication. The level of fluency you want to achieve. Your innate language abilities. Your personality. How close the language is to languages you already know. The resources available to you to learn the other language from your native language. The prominence of that language in media or on the net. Your access to native speakers, for example, nearness to a border where they speak the other language or you can periodically cross over and immerse yourself in the other language. Access to an émigré community can also be helpful. You can also immigrate yourself and be forced to learn the language in a rapid but broken manner, but having done that I can say that this would be the hard way! A small proportion of people learn a foreign language in the military, or join the Foreign Service. You can also volunteer for a foreign military, Spain has a Foreign Legion for example! You can also marry a person who speaks that language then he/she can laugh at you as you mangle the language up. It depends on a lot of factors!

Remember how long a child takes to learn their first language and they had constant immersion to it. Are they really fluent after 5 years, 7 years, or even 10 years? Finally, another factor is how welcoming the native speakers of that language are to foreigners learning their language and if you will be discriminated against simply for being foreign. As an English speaker you will also experience this problem, almost everywhere you go they will want to speak to you in English! Even if you look like a westerner, they will want to speak to you in English. Almost everywhere English will suffice. Considering all this, as an adult, if you really crank it up maybe in two years for a basic fluency.


My personal recommendation for someone who is starting to learn a new language and trying to get a handle on how long they will need to study to get "good" at the language ... think in terms of months or years, rather than days or weeks. You won't learn Japanese over a long weekend. It takes time and study and practice and more time. There's a massive amount of information to absorb and learn how to utilize. It will take a while. There are ways to progress a little faster, but there are no true "shortcuts" that let you skip past all the hard parts. You have to put in the time and the effort.

Reaching fluency is a long-term goal. It helps to make a series of smaller goals that you can achieve while on the road to fluency. Setting a daily study goal and a monthly "checkpoint" that you want to reach in your tree is a great motivator, for example. You might also want a more functional goal - like reaching a level where you can start reading simple books in your second language by X months. Or aim for being able to have a short conversation in your target language with a native speaker, if you have one available to practice with. There are several on-line options for chat or text exchanges available for language learners too. These kind of "functional" goals are great because they mean you can start USING your language skills in new and interesting ways.

Apps like DuoLingo are nice because they give you a tangible record of your progress as you move through the course. You can SEE that you've learned and continue to learn.

Good luck! 頑張って!


It takes around 3 years


I have been studying Spanish for about 3 hours daily, every day this year.

Duolingo: I am at Level 17 on Spanish from English and at Level 10 on English from Spanish. I have learned 2,000 words, some of which I can recall instantly, while others still take seconds to recall.

Listening: While listening to the radio, I can recognize maybe 50% of words up to moderate talk speeds. Even though I can recognize words, most still fly by without my retrieving the meaning fast enough.

Reading: I can get the general sense of what I am reading, because there is plenty of time to recall words and ponder sentence meaning.

Thinking in Spanish: My brain does not think in Spanish at all, unless I specifically focus in on what I have learned.

So, how long until I am fluent? A low level in maybe 3 months if I continue studying for 3 hours daily. I hope to be able to have intermediate conversations with speakers who are willing to slow down.

Am I kidding myself or will it take years?


According to FSI about ~600 classroom hours for Spanish to reach Proficiency Reading R3 and Speaking S3: https://voxy.com/blog/2011/03/hardest-languages-infographic/


Yes, but the original poster wants to be fluent not just proficient! Also, when FSI describes proficiency they mean that the student has spent 20-25 a week in an intensive course over 6 months to achieve that level! At a University that would mean committing like three hours a week for 15 weeks (per semester) in the classroom, with maybe 6 hours in the language lab, not counting self study by yourself. Then maybe you could reach that level in say a year and a half. Meaning that you are an intermediate level learner. If you are good an MCER exam might place you at a B2 level. This would be far from proficient on that scale! If he were to commit another year or year and a half and do some of the advanced courses he might be able to achieve an operational proficiency, somewhere between a C1 or a C2 on that scale. That might be what he actually means when he is thinking "fluent".

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