The question of how long it takes to learn a new language is a question asked by many. However, because everyone has different capabilities and goals, there is no correct answer. Do we need only few months, half a year, a year, or several years? So, what is it really like? There are several points you need to consider.
- What is your goal?
When we talk about learning a language, we must first clarify what we mean by this. Do we mean being able to use it on a holiday trip, being able to communicate in general situations or a more advanced level?
When talking about fluency levels, the most commonly accepted classification distinguishes six levels of proficiency in a foreign language: A1 – beginner, A2 – lower intermediate B1 – intermediate B2 – higher intermediate C1 – advanced, C2 – professional. Knowing this, we need to establish which level is our goal. Proficiency in a foreign language, in fact, starts at level B2. By reaching this level, we should be able to communicate fluently and spontaneously enough to have a normal conversation with a foreigner without causing tension to either of the parties.
Establishing your level goal before starting your journey can help you manage your learning time and expectations. Do you need to become fluent as soon as possible, or maybe you are doing it just for fun? Are you planning to visit or live in a foreign country, or you are only interested in its literature or cinema? These are all questions you need to answer in order to know how long it may take you to reach your desired level. Your motivation is the single most important thing when learning a language.
2. How difficult is the language you are interested in?
The time necessary to achieve level B2 in a foreign language depends heavily on its difficulty. The difficulty, on the other hand, depends on the languages you can already speak, especially your native language. For English speakers, there are nine languages that are regarded as especially hard to learn, including Mandarin Chinese. It means that if you choose to learn Mandarin, you will have to invest more time and effort into it, and even after a longer period of learning you may still feel you are not close to fluent.
However, don’t take it as a sign to give up. The harder it is, the more rewarding your success will be. Remember that learning a language is not about breaking time records or being the best at everything. You will never be happy with yourself and find pleasure in learning if you compare yourself to others. Everyone has different life goals and their own priorities along the way. As we all know, we are different and the pace of learning really depends on our own circumstances. For example, learning progress will be faster for someone who does it while living in a country where this language is spoken on a daily basis; it will be also different for someone who attends a language course and learns at home; and it will be different for someone who devotes only 2 hours per week and does not practice conversation at all. The overall difficulty level of a language is important, but it does not determine the final results as much as your motivation and the amount of time you spend on your study.
Speaking of which…
3. How much time can you dedicate to the language learning?
Learning time is extremely important and depends on a number of factors, among which the right organization of work and regularity are certainly worth mentioning, including how many hours a week you are able to spend studying and how often you actually want to study. The more motivated you are, the more time you will spend regularly. However, we recommend it to be not less than 2 hours weekly if you want to ever see any results.
It is hard to plan a regular time of study. Even if we succeed in the beginning, we are also so busy in our everyday life that sooner or later we may dedicate less and less time to it. Therefore, it is a good idea to put the quality of your learning above the time spent on the language. Of course, the amount of time you have planned has a positive effect on your language success. However, the quality of your learning is no less important in our constantly busy lifestyles.
Thinking about (and planning) which language resources to use, investing in a language school, tutor or language trip, choosing interesting content to make learning more enjoyable: these are all important things that contribute to better investing our priceless time. A day has only 24 hours and successful people use quality sources of knowledge and inspiration. It is no secret that passionate people learn faster since they are able to find more interesting resources, which leads us to the last important point:
4. What is your learning strategy?
Your learning strategy determines how you do it. Do you know your dominant way of absorbing new information? Do you know if you are an auditory learner, a visual learner or maybe you need body movements to remember things better? It is not just time, but the techniques you use that affect how much you are able to remember.
As you probably know, experiencing language in real life situations is the best way, because this is the very purpose of its existence: to help us in our everyday life. We learn something by doing it and it is especially true for language due to its practical character. Books and grammar are important, but the sooner you start speaking, the sooner you will see results.
It often happens that the first contact with a foreign language happens at school and the entire learning process takes many years (and often fails). However, people who succeed in learning their second foreign language by themselves (on private courses, by travelling, watching videos etc.) take far less time to do it. How does it happen? The answer, apart from motivation (we have to mention it again), is different learning strategy. School language classes are based on a standardized, often boring curriculum that pays attention to grammar and tests because these are the easiest and cheapest to organize. At the same time, school children who play online computer games with players from foreign countries pick up the basics of a new language in no time. This is why finding your own learning approach is your best bet: don’t fail to the stereotype of language learning being boring and standardized, because school’s reality totally differs from the real life. How you want to learn depends entirely on you and no approach is wrong as long as it works.
Interested in Mandarin Chinese? Maayot is here to help. Check out more of our articles about language learning: