How long does it take to learn a language? What the research says

Updated on January 2022

The truth: Learning a new language takes time.

Learning anything new is all about patience. People can get impatient when it comes to learning a new language as being fluent in a different language acts as an asset in many ways. Whatever may be the reason behind learning a new language, most people wish to achieve success as fast as possible. Underestimating the time required is one primary reason we fail in language learning.

The acquisition of a new language is a complex phenomenon different for each individual based on multiple factors. The required time depends mainly on three factors: Language Difficulty, Proficiency level, and how you learn!

There are a variety of ways to estimate how long it takes to learn a new language and when you can reasonably expect to reach your language learning goals. Considering certain factors like your target of fluency, the language you’ve chosen plus the similarity between your native and target languages, all determines the time it may take to reach your goal.

If your native language is English, research estimates it will require more time to learn Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or Korean than to learn Turkish, Czech, Russian, or Hebrew, which in turn require more time than Greek, Hindi, or Persian, with the least difficult being French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Swahili. Clearly, some language learners are successful by virtue of their sheer determination, hard work and persistence.

However there are other crucial factors influencing success that are largely beyond the control of the learner. These factors can be broadly categorised as internal and external. It is their complex interplay that determines the speed and facility with which the new language is learned.

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Internal Factors

Internal factors are those that the individual language learner brings with him or her to the particular learning situation.

  • 1. Age: - Age plays an important factor in determining how fast a learner can acquire a new language. Children, who already have solid literacy skills in their own language, seem to be in the best position to acquire a new language efficiently. Motivated, older learners can be very successful too, but usually struggle to achieve native-speaker-equivalent pronunciation and intonation.
  • 2. Personality: Introverted or anxious learners usually make slower progress, particularly in the development of oral skills as they are less likely to take advantage of opportunities to speak or to seek out such opportunities. More outgoing students will not worry about the inevitability of making mistakes. They will take risks and will give themselves much more practice.
  • 3. Intrinsic Motivation: Intrinsic motivation has been found to correlate strongly with educational achievement. Clearly, students who enjoy language learning and take pride in their progress will do better than those who don't. Extrinsic motivation is also a significant factor. For example, those who need to learn English in order to get a place at an American university or to communicate with a new English boy/girlfriend are likely to make greater efforts and thus gain greater progress.
  • 4. Experiences: Learners who have acquired general knowledge and experience are in a stronger position to develop a new language than those who haven't. The student, for example, who has already lived in 3 different countries and been exposed to various languages and cultures has a stronger base for learning a foreign language than the student who hasn't had such experiences.
  • 5. Cognition: In general, it seems that students with greater cognitive abilities will make faster progress. Some linguists believe that there is a specific, innate language learning ability that is stronger in some students than in others.
  • 6. Native language: Students who are learning a second language which is from the same language family as their first language have, in general, a much easier task than those who aren't. So, for example, a Dutch child will learn English more quickly than a Japanese child.

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External Factors

External factors are those that characterise the particular language learning situation.

  • 1. Curriculum: Language learning is less likely to take place if students are fully submerged into the mainstream program without any extra assistance or, conversely, not allowed to be part of the mainstream until they have reached a certain level of language proficiency.
  • 2. Instruction: Clearly, some language teachers are better than others at providing appropriate and effective learning experiences for the students in their classrooms. These students will make faster progress.
  • 3. The same applies to mainstream teachers in second language situations. The Science teacher, for example, who is aware that she too is responsible for the students' English language development, and makes certain accommodations, will contribute to their linguistic development.
  • 4. Culture and status: There is some evidence that students in situations where their own culture has a lower status than that of the culture in which they are learning the language make slower progress.
  • 5. Extrinsic Motivation: Students who are continuously encouraged to learn, by their teachers and parents will generally learn faster than those who aren't. For example, students from families that place little importance on language learning are likely to progress less quickly.
  • 6. Access to native speakers: The opportunity to interact with native speakers both within and outside of the classroom is a significant advantage. Native speakers are linguistic models and can provide appropriate feedback.

No matter which foreign language or course you’re considering, you can always discover an online language learning program. A digitised way of the world has left everything completely transformed for good. Likewise, learning a new language has also become super easy and efficient through the various online platforms and applications. Online language learning allows us to pick up new programs or teachers. As a student, you can choose or change whatever suits you.

SwitchED is a wonderful online learning platform for your little ones to learn a new language. The online courses are very effective, fun and engaging. You will see your child progressing himself / herself on the path towards learning a new language. Along with the language they are taught about the origin, culture and traditions of the language which makes the learning process more holistic and creative!

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