How Long Does It Take to Learn a New Language? 3 Months, 1 Year or 5 Years?

By | November 23, 2016

Many people study a foreign language for years at a school. I know people who have studied English for 10 years at school but they still can’t speak it. Meanwhile, some “language gurus” promise that you can learn to speak a language fluently in 6 months, 3 months or almost even in one month!

Today we are going to discuss how long does it take to learn a new language. I have learned several languages and I have lots of experience about the language learning process. Before I have failed but recently I have “unlocked the code” to learn languages fast. There are some key factors that define how long you will learn.

How Long Does It Take to Learn a New Language

Kids learn languages quickly because they are not afraid of making mistakes.

+10 Years of Studying English and I Couldn’t Speak It…

All students in Finland who study English in a High school, study it +10 years in total. Still, some of them say that they can’t speak the language well. I was once one of them.

The problem with the school system was that we studied so much grammar and concentrated on the mistakes. When you made a mistake, you got “punished” people thought you are not so good. If you didn’t make any mistakes, you were fine. Does it sound familiar? I don’t know how is it in your country but at least in Finland’s school people were too afraid of making mistakes.

When I realized much faster ways to learn languages I started to move my focus off from grammar and I started praising mistakes. One of the world’s most famous language gurus is Benny Lewis. He once took a challenge that he must do at least 100 mistakes with Spanish every single day. More mistakes he made, more satisfied he was. Strange? 😉 Today that guy speaks 10-15 languages fluently because he started making mistakes. Before that, he was afraid of trying and couldn’t speak any foreign language.

Mistakes are of course not the main purpose but mistakes are proof that you are  trying!

There are many factors that will define how fast you will learn a new language. These are for example

1.What are your goals?
2.How often do you study?
3.How do you learn? What are your tools?
4.Do you use money?
5.Where do you learn?

I will tackle all those subject one by one.

What Are Your Goals?

Do you want to understand what other people speak and get understood in a new language? Or do you want to learn to speak like a native?  Do you want to learn to write or speak or both?

There are different levels of fluency. Learning to speak a new fluently can take 3 months or 3 years depending how you define fluency. For me, fluency means that I can easily communicate with other speakers and I understand what they are speaking.

When I am learning a new language, my goal isn’t usually to learn it to speak like a native. In addition, there are millions of different native speakers and they all sound a little bit different. Take for example German. They speak it differently in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland and in different parts or those countries they have their own dialects. So in my opinion, a good goal would be to understand what other people say and they understand what you are saying in German.

Or maybe your goal is just to learn to write in a new language. You want to write poems, songs or a blog in a new language. People have different goals when learning a language. Define your goals clearly and make a plan how you are going to achieve them. You can also use some levels like A1, A2, B1, B2 etc. if they help you. Here is examples how you can set your language goals:

1.I “YOUR NAME” can have simple conversations in Spanish 1.1.2017
2.I “YOUR NAME” can have conversations about life, relationships and hobbies in Spanish 1.2.2017.
3.I “YOUR NAME” understand 90% when Spanish people talk 1.5.2017.

These are examples how you can define your goals. It’s important that you have a deadline with your goals and that your goal is clear and measurable. People who write down goals achieve 40-97% better results than those who don’t write down their goals.

How Long Does It Take to Learn a Foreign Language

Have a clear goal and it will become easier to reach

How Often Do You Study?

Let’s compare two situations. Person A studies a new language for 4 hours. 2 hours on Saturday and 2 hours on Sunday. Person B studies his language every day for 30 minutes. In a week it makes 3,5 hours in total. Guess who is going to learn faster? Definitely person B.

I have listened to a teaching about this from so many different language experts and polyglots (a polyglot is a person who speaks several languages). All of them recommend learning in small amounts every day instead of many hours once a week.

Take your calendar. Think, when you would have time for a new language. Then write there, “Study Spanish”. You will get it done more easily when you have planned in beforehand. Don’t think that you could learn a new language quickly if you are studying it only once or twice a week. You can make some progress but I would recommend studying at least small amounts every day. Even 10-15 minutes is good. It activates your “language brain” and keeps your new vocabulary active.

If you would be studying once a week, you have already forgotten most of the words that you learned the last time.

Little progress every day adds up to big results

How Do You Learn? What Are Your Tools?

Your methods will hugely define how long it will take to learn a new language. If you are just reading dictionaries in order to learn new words and trying to memorize long lists how to conjugate the words, I guess that you will be learning that language still after 20 years.

But if you are willing to use some better and more fun methods, you will achieve good results faster. Benny Lewis’ first rule is to start speaking a language starting from day #1. I have realized that it’s a powerful tip. At first you will need to go out of your comfort zone but afterward, you will feel much more confident and you will not be afraid of making mistakes.

If you want to learn languages faster I can definitely recommend taking a look at Benny’s courses. That guy really knows how to master languages.

=> Learn Foreign Languages Faster Than Ever Before. Check Benny’s Course Here!

Do You Use Money?

You can learn to speak a new language fluently without using any money. There are so good free resources out there on the Internet. However, sometimes using the money to buy a language course or some lessons can definitely boost your learning . You buy a language learning program and you think, “I have used the money on this. I don’t want to waste my money so I will need to take all out of this program.” Then it can push you to forward faster.

Using the money on language teacher can also be profitable because many times they have lots of experience and they can teach you the best tips. But remember that not all teachers are excellent. Some of them are better and some of them are not so good.

If you want to find language teacher, I would recommend you to check Italki. There you can find native professional teachers of any price. Check here what is Italki and get your $10 gift for language lessons.

Where Do You Learn?

Do you learn in a language where you find language partners easily? Actually, you can find language partners anywhere in the world because we have the Internet. Sometimes people find it easier to learn a language when they are living in a country where it’s an official language. However, living in a country doesn’t guarantee anything. I know people who have lived 10, 20 or even 30 years abroad and they still only speak their own language.

And I know people who have never lived abroad and still they speak more than 4 languages. So please, don’t use it as an excuse to not to learn a language.

I would recommend learning naturally in a natural context. That is, of course, easier when living in a new country but you can do it as well when you are not living in a country where that language is spoken. Francais Authentique is, for example, a community/podcast/Youtube channel where you can learn French naturally by a native French speaker. In Italki you can connect with native speakers and you can naturally learn a language with them while building a friendship. If you are working in a company where you can use a foreign language, that’s a natural way of learning it.

Even though I praise a natural way of learning, studying in a language course or from a textbook is also fine. But remember that the best progress becomes when you use your language in a natural context. That is the reason why you are studying anyway. Isn’t it?

Conclusion – How Long Does It Take to Learn a New Language?

We need to say that it really depends on onto. Even if you would be living in a new country, it can take 10 years. Even if you would be going to the language lessons, it can take many years.

But if you are learning a new language with right methods, we are talking about months, not years. Benny Lewis says that you can become a fluent speaker in three months. And that is what he has done in his own life. Sometimes even without living in a country where they speak that language.

I would say that if you are studying a language only a little bit every day, you will be fluent in 2 years. If you are studying it a little bit more, you can make it in 6 months-1 years. But if you are really committed and using right methods, fluency is possible in 3 months. That really requires dedication and commitment. (Remember that many factors affect and we cannot say the exact date.)

If you would like to learn languages faster I really recommend taking a look at Benny Lewis language course: Fluent in three months.

What do you think? How long does it take to learn a foreign language? Is it possible in three months? How long did it take from you? Leave a comment below and I will be more than happy to give you a response. 🙂

6 thoughts on “How Long Does It Take to Learn a New Language? 3 Months, 1 Year or 5 Years?

  1. Brian

    Hi Roope,

    For my work I have to fly a tremendous amount. I used to waste my time on the flights watching movies, but after a while I realized that I could do something really positive with that time.

    I saw that they have a whole audio section where they teach languages, many different languages, and I started to listen to them. I listened again and again until I started getting the basics!

    Occasionally I get to use my new found skills but I think that the amount of time I am spending on it, I won’t become an expert, but sometimes in business, if you can show someone that you cared enough to try something in their language, it makes a difference.

    Do you find that?

    1. Roope Kiuttu Post author

      Hi Brian,

      I 100% agree with you. In my experience you can make a very good first impression with foreign people if you have learned their native language. And most of the time even “Hi, how are you?” gives a good feeling for the other. I am always happily surprised if some foreigner can speak any words of my own native language which is Finnish.

      I really like your idea that you don’t waste your flights anymore watching movies but instead you are learning language. It give you new skills. One powerful way to learn a foreign language is to watch movies with that language. Then if you have also the subtitles, it can help too. I think it’s a relaxed and nice way to learn. Still I don’t use it very much because it’s sometimes very hard to find a good movie that I would like.. haha 😀

      All the best for your language learning Brian! 🙂

  2. John Rico

    I also have a problem in learning a new language. Actually, I have been studying English for more than 5 years in my home country because it is included in our curriculum. But then if I already use it in a daily conversation, I usually stutter and ran out of words. I think maybe because I can’t find a way to construct a good sentence. I am wondering if what did you do to overcome this language problem? I am willing to hear some suggestions from you.

    1. Roope Kiuttu Post author

      Hi John,

      many people have had the same challenge as you. They know how the language works, they understand it but they are not able to speak it very much.

      Benny Lewis’ language teachings gave me a real breakthrough with languages. I started embracing mistakes instead of avoiding them at all cost. i have realized that no one speaks a “perfect language”. For example they speak English as a native language in Scotland, Ireland, England, United States, Australia, many countries in Africa and all of them speak it differently.

      When you speak a foreign language, the most important thing is that people understand you. You don’t need to say, “Hello Mr. Could you please tell me where is a toilet, please?” People understand already when you say, “Toilet?” and look around. Just to give a simple example :D.

  3. Sase3119

    Speaking is the biggest problem I have when learning new languages. When i took my first decent language course in high school I was an incredibly shy person and was essentially afraid to speak in class, because I didn’t want my classmates to laugh at me if I got something wrong (sadly being teenagers, this was not a far-fetched thought). By the end of the first year I had fallen in love with the language, I could read and write really well (at least in the contexts we had learned, being year one), I could even understand pretty well because my teacher spoke it a lot, but to this day I still have trouble speaking it because I get nervous.

    I actually got to visit the country finally two years ago, and again I understood fine (which was great for asking directions 😉 ) but it was so hard to make myself speak up and actually answer! I’m pretty sure most of them thought I was a dumb foreigner who didn’t understand anything 🙁


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