That’s a question we get very often. Unfortunately, the short answer is usually disappointing because the person asking the question is hoping for a concrete answer and praying for a short amount of time. They’re looking for answers such as “you can do it in 3 weeks”, or “it takes about 4 months”. Things a bit more complicated than that and there is no easy answer. But here are 6 things to remember when learning a language that will greatly increase your chances of success.
Looking for a specific time line is not the best state of mind to have for language learning. Unfortunately, most people who have this mindset don’t reach fluency. The problem is that they’re interested in the destination, not the journey. The truth is that you could start speaking within a few weeks, but you will learn your entire life. You’ll get a bit better every minute that you practice, forever.
The word “forever” can be scary, but it only means that you can always get better. Learning a language is not like building a house; there is no real completion to it, you’ll only constantly get better. Learning a language is more like learning how to play the guitar; you can learn three chords and be on your way, or you can become the next Jimmy Hendrix. It all depends on how much time and effort you put in.
Every time you use the language, you are gradually getting better. The good news is that the beginning is where you’ll make the most noticeable progress. Eventually, you’ll start to notice things slowing down, but it doesn’t mean you’re not making progress, it’s just not as noticeable. Heck, you are likely still learning a few words every now and then in your own language. Plus, the reason you are so good at your mother tongue is that you have spent an unbelievable amount of time reinforcing it. If you had stopped practising your first language when you reached “fluency”, you wouldn’t be nearly as good.
The speed at which you’ll learn a new language depends on many factors, including: the language you are learning, the techniques or methods used and your own ability to remember new words. In any case, the time frame needs to be measured in hours spent with the language and not in months or years. The time you’ll put in each day is the biggest factor to take into consideration. Some rough estimates have been done averaging about 500 hours to learn languages such as Spanish, French and Italian to reach basic fluency. That is about 8 months at 2 hours a day and 16 months at 1 hour a day, but it can be done much faster or much slower than that.
Everyone is different and the definition of “fluency” is rather vague. What we do know for sure is that if you want quick results, you need to put in a lot of time. We don’t like time estimates, because it puts even more emphasis on the end goal, which shouldn’t really exist in language learning. Nothing will magically happen after 500 hours of study, you’ll simply be a tiny bit better than you were at hour 499. And guess what, even when you do reach 500 hours of study time, you’ll still have a lot to learn. It is important to understand that learning a language is a very gradual process and that you won’t unlock some new level and evolve after a certain amount of time.
You must learn to notice and enjoy the tiny amount of progress you make every single day. The key to language-learning is to find a method you enjoy, be consistent and never give up. That is the only way to reach fluency and beyond. If you can do that, language-learning can be a journey that will reward you every day of your life! Have fun!
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