How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language?

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While I normally write about things I recommend, I want to have more variation. I will continue to do recommendations of things I come across, but I also want to post my findings of questions that I have (on any topic). These are not questions unique to myself; however, I have taken the time to research the topics and find out the answers. When I find an article that has been written about the subject, I will simply summarize the findings and direct you to the article (for further investigation).

Since I am trying to learn Japanese, I was curious about how long it normally takes to learn a language on average. Obviously, some people are better than others at learning languages, while other factors like being immersed in a specific country will speed up the development. However, there is a helpful chart that was created by the Foreign Service Institute that estimates how long it will take to learn a specific language. I will go over the 3 most interesting languages to me, and see how long it might take to learn them.

Japanese: Japanese is considered a Category 5 language, which means that it is a language that is “exceptionally difficult for native English speakers”. This is the category that takes the most time, and the average time to learn Japanese is 2200 hours. To put this into perspective, if you studied for an hour a day, this would mean it would take you almost 6 years to become “fluent” in Japanese. I do not want to take 6 years to learn Japanese, so I hope to speed up my own curve by living in Japan and studying it intensely for a shorter period of time.

Chinese: Chinese is the same as Japanese as a Category 5 language, which means it will also take 2200 hours on average to learn Chinese. After having taken Chinese in high school for 4 years, I can say this sounds about right, although I probably should have studied more diligently.

Italian: Italian is considered a Category 1 language, which is “languages closely related to English”. These languages are supposed to be the easiest for English speakers to learn, and are supposed to take about 575-600 hours on average to learn them. After having tried to study Italian for a year (but only for about 1-2 hours a week), I am not really qualified to say whether 575-600 hours sounds about right. I would say that it does feel like an attainable goal though, as long as you are motivated and willing to put in 600 good hours (depending how much you study daily, this would mean 1-2 years).

Overall, I think you should check out the full list for languages that you might be interested in learning. Even the most simple languages are still big time commitments, so you have to be willing to dedicate a large chunk of time to learning them. However, I think that learning languages is really cool (to be able to speak them when actually in that country), as well as it being good for your brain and cognitive thinking ability; therefore, if you have the time and commitment, it is a goal worth pursuing.


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