Learning background

People are going all over the world for all kinds of reasons. This results in people willing to learn all kinds of languages for all kinds of reasons. With the intention to learn a language often the question “How long does it take to learn a language?” pops up. Especially among people intending to start learning foreign languages. The answer to this question is not that simple since it is dependent on a lot of different factors. The content below covers the factors that influence the time it takes to learn something.
This post is written to answer the question “How long does it take to learn a language?”. However this post is interesting for anyone wondering how to improve your learning skills and extremely beneficial for anyone trying to do so. The facts stay the same, just replace the word language with the skill that you want to learn.

Benefits of improving your learning skill

More and more people tend to learn a foreign language. Once the intention is there very quickly the question arises: How long would it take to learn this language?. That basically depends on how good you are in learning. Exactly, learning itself is also a skill you can learn and in which you can improve yourself. Improving yourself in learning can be done in countless ways. Including several factors which you normally wouldn’t link to your learning ability. Let me capture the factors with the biggest impact on your learning ability. I will break it down in 4 different factors.

How long it takes to learn a language depends on:
1.     Your investment of time
2.     Your motivation
3.     Your physical & mental state
4.     The learning method & content you use

The investment of time into learning

The learning time cannot be measured in weeks or months. This is completely dependent on the quantity (how much) of time you spend daily or weekly and the quality of the time you spend (how you spend it).

Quantity; How much time you spend on learning daily or weekly is the main factor in how long it will take. How much hours this is going to be is completely up to you but I recommend to set a fixed time. Reserve a fixed time per day to learning a language. Experience shows that when people set a weekly time they often keep postponing it until there is no time available anymore. A daily time gab like 30 minutes before going to sleep is ideal. Doing this daily it becomes a habit, habits are very powerful for consistency. ( “Did you know that during your sleep you keep processing & learning in what you put your mind to the time before going to sleep?” )

Time managementQuality; Besides the time you spend it is also the case how you spend your time. A lot of people spend hours front of their books and yet they didn’t learn anything. They are busy with their phone or are completely somewhere else with their thoughts. To optimize the quality of your learning time there are few things you should know. Several surveys point out that cutting learning time up in small blocks is beneficial to long consecutive learning sessions. Learn in blocks of 30 minutes, do this without your phone within reach or eyesight. No one will blame you for not responding for 30 min. ( “Did you know that if you put your phone away for 30 minutes probably no one will notice?” ) Last but not least to prevent your thoughts floating away to other activity’s for that they. Write them down, make a list of all the things you should not forget anyway so that you can fully focus on learning, for 30 minutes. ( “Having a to do list on busy & chaotic days empty’s your head and so improves focus and concentration.” )

Find out what motivates you. Why are you doing this?

Besides the time spent, the most important factor of how long the learning will take is your motivation to do so. Motivation is fundamental for a higher learning speed because it directs your behavior. It leads to increased effort and energy, affects cognitive processes and it creates persistence in learning. The two major points that you can do to affect your motivation are setting solid goals and managing your social circle.

Steps to successGoals; Your motivation is mainly determined by the value of your goal. Your goal is the answer on the question WHY? you want to learn this language. Write down your goal and during the journey of learning always remember WHY you started. ( “Start with WHY.” ) Your goal describes up to which level you want to develop yourself in the language. A goal to being able to order his food in one language will take far less time then a goal to attend business conferences in a foreign language.

Social; Another big factor is your social circle around you. Creating a team of people around you that are on the same journey is extremely motivating. Not being able to create a team of familiar people you can join a community online. There are community’s for everything online and often there is a lot of experience being shared within. ( “Did you know there is an awesome community for learning languages named mynewlanguages.com?” ) Another powerful source of motivation is competition. This can be an intentionally setup competition with others or the drive to prove them wrong. The second one does not work for everyone but there are people that get extremely motivated when others state that they cannot do something. ( “Tell me I can’t, then watch me work twice as hard to prove you wrong!” )

The impact of your physical and mental state to your learning ability.

Your physical and mental state of well being also contribute to determine how long it will take to learn a language. State of well beingAlthough it is a very important and interesting factor it is a very comprehensive one. In this post I will only discuss this very briefly. When people are interested in the impact of your state of well being on learning leave a comment, then I will work on a separated post on that.

The better the physical and mental state that you are in the better your body functions. Learning a language takes place in different parts in your brain. And let for a coincidence your brain be a part of your body. So the better your physical and mental state, the better your brain functions. Despites there is far more to it I will name a few of the aspects with big impact: taking healthy and sufficient nutrition, exercising sufficient, sleeping 7-9 hours per day and doing meditation.

The impact of using the right learning method.

Learning PyramidAnother factor with a big impact on the required learning time is HOW you learn the language. This concerns the content & method that you use to learn a particular language.

There are countless books available for learning any language in the world. Now comes the question, which book should I use for learning a language the more fast possible? From my own experience, other people their reviews and checking the content I made a selection of books for different languages which I recommend. It is important that you learn in all 4 different ways; reading, writing, listening and talking, dependent on your goals of coarse. To develop yourself in the language and get comfortable the best way is to do exercises. Your brain is processing the information on another way than just reading it what makes you remember it better. That is why I always recommend courses with exercises. If you want to learn on your own I recommend you learn by a software course. Using software you will be able to develop in talking and listening as well.

Once learning a language, it is very helpful to join a community to surround you with others who are learning the same language. You can benefit from each others knowledge by asking questions about grammar and exceptions etc. A community also provides partners to talk with in this language. From that point on you are already applying the skills that you have developed.

How long it takes is completely up to you.

The 4 factors with the biggest impact on your ability to learn a language are now covered. You will notice that it will take less and less time to learn a language once improving on those aspects. You might understand now that there is not one direct answer on the question “How long does it take to learn a language?”. The answer is different for every individual and for every individual it depends on several factors.

Concerning effectuating all above advice as the best way to learn a language, this will save you tremendous amounts of time. Concerning ignoring all advice as the worst way to learn a language, well, let’s just say it will become a very tough journey. Learn how to learn, to learn faster!

2 thoughts on “How long does it take to learn a language? – Improve your learning curve!”

  1. Hi Marc, very interesting post and so very true! I learned 3 languages quite well and have always wanted to know how I did it. That’s because I did not open any books or grammar lessons to learn them. So I guess you are right when you write about the importance of exercise and put to work what you think you learned. Surrounding yourself with others who learn the same language sounds reasonable, but I guess that if you could you should talk to people who speak the language already. Living in Italy and drinking wine I learned Italian, never opened a grammar book. Going to Sydney I learned English (I guess, some will say I didn’t!).
    But how on earth did I learn Dutch living in Italy? I bought a course with a CD and listened to it. It said Dutch in 3 months and was in English (I’m German and living in Italy, so that was quite a challenge). I listened to the CDs and convinced myself that I liked the sound. I also watched movies in Dutch, which is hard, because they do not translate movies to their language. So the only movies in Dutch have been filmed in the Netherland or the best of cases in Belgium…anyway.
    I guess there are a few steps when you learn a language. I’m a musician so the first one for me is listening and understanding when a word finishes. Just the melody and the energy of the language. Understanding if it’s a question, a comment, a request. Then the situation, the way the people interact and the distance they keep. The things they appreciate or they run from. How they see the world and how they see themselves.
    To me language is connected more to culture and actual people than to grammar or rules.
    The second step is to meet actual people who speak that language and talk to them making every fault possible. They will laugh and love you for that. And you learn.
    Then you could start to read and connect sounds to signs and last but not least to write.
    This is the way I learned three languages. What do you think?

    1. Hi Jana, thank you for your interesting story!
      This adds a lot to the question and I am sure it will help a lot of people! I love the way you broke up why and how you practiced by listening. Love to see how your steps of how to learn a language are completely adapted to your reason and feeling for learning those languages.
      About your question what I think about it?.. Let’s just start with saying that I admire your story to mastering those languages, it is a truly inspiring (and a bit complicated :P) story to me and sure to others as well. I think it is amazing how you deviated from the “standard” way of learning a language. How you, by following your feeling, found yourself in the best way of learning a language according to science 😉 Learning from others, doing and making mistakes is the best way of learning a language. Nice to see how your story reflects this.
      Quote Jana: “Meet actual people who speak that language and talk to them, making every fault possible. They will laugh and love you for that. And you learn.” So important! Feeling comfortable making mistakes and even enjoy them, instead of feeling awkward about it and limiting yourself, is game changing. Once you understand this, and start applying your language skills, the learning process really gets to a whole new level.
      I might even refer to your comment in one of my following posts if that is ok with you. Truly inspiring, thanks for sharing Jana!

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