How long does it take to learn a language?

How long it takes to speak a foreign language depends on several factors:

The level you want to reach

If you want to be able to speak fluently about all kinds of subjects so that no one can distinguish you from a native speaker, it takes loads of time. Years. It’s different when you mainly want to be able to do everyday things in a foreign language such as shopping, talking to your neighbours and reading the newspaper. You learn that faster.

As a beginner, you learn new things fairly quickly and soon notice that you can have short conversations in the new language. The more advanced you become, the more time it takes to reach a higher level, simply because your language skills are becoming richer and richer.

Ask yourself what you want to be able to do and in what kinds of situations, and then you can work towards your goals.

Your starting situation

How much experience you have with language learning also determines how quickly you can pick up a language. If you’ve learned a foreign language before, you know how to tackle things.
In addition, your current skill levels in a language play a role in how big a step you have to take to get to the level you want to reach. For example, suppose you want to be able to give a good presentation in German. In that case, you'll have the right level faster if you can already participate in a simple German conversation than if you don’t speak a word of German yet.

The language you want to learn

You learn languages related to your mother tongue faster than those that are quite different from your mother tongue. For Westerners, it's easier to learn Germanic or Romanesque languages such as German, French and Spanish. The more similarities between the languages there are, the faster the learning process goes. For example, Germans generally learn Dutch more easily than Americans do, and Italians speak Spanish faster than Germans.

Languages like Russian, Arabic and Chinese are a bit more complicated, but with the right guidance, you can get off to a flying start.

The number of hours you put into it

Some institutes have calculated how many hours you need to learn a language before you can speak it. It’s too simplistic to attribute it entirely to the number of hours spent studying, but it is logical to assume that with one hour of study a day, you will speak a language faster than with a half an hour of study a day.

The effectiveness of the method

The way you learn can be very decisive when it comes to making significant steps forward or not at all. We know from experience that the most effective way to learn a language has the following characteristics:

  • Individually
  • Focused on your situation
  • Focused on your levels
  • Focused on your goals
  • With the right intensity: make sure you get into a flow that keeps you learning

Keep going until you can speak the language

It used to be said that if you wanted to learn a language really well, it was best to go to the ‘Nuns of Vught’. Missionaries and diplomats who went out into the world stayed in Vught until they spoke the language well enough. In most other professions, there was less time available for learning languages. They learned the language better and better in steps. This is still the most common thing nowadays.
Yet, some people want to attain proficiency right away. Air traffic controllers or doctors who are going to work in another country are good examples of this. On average, they need an average of seven weeks at our institute before they can use the language at the skill level they need.

How long will it take you to learn a language?

Are you curious how long it will take you to be able to do something specific in a foreign language? A language trainer can make a good estimation if he or she knows a little more about your situation and your current skills. At Regina Coeli, you have an intake interview with a language trainer before your training, and take a language test to assess your levels. During the interview, the language trainer will give you advice on the length of your training. Curious? Sign up for a training course!

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