How Long Should It Take to Learn a New Language? (Or More Than One)

Learning a new language can be tough work, but once you successfully pick up one you tend to get hooked on the idea of expanding your language repertoire. At the same time, it can be a little confusing to know when exactly you can move on to try a new one. Achieving fluency can take years, and if you’re like me you may tend to get a little impatient about giving a new language a try. Is there a perfect time frame for learning a language? And can you start learning a third or fourth while still working on your second? Let’s find out!

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How long should it take?

Right off the bat, let me tell you that there is no set time frame for learning a language. It might take you longer to achieve a high level of Mandarin than, say, French due to the former being considered a much more difficult tongue to master. It also depends greatly on the languages you already speak. If you are fluent in Spanish, for example, making the leap to languages like French or Italian can be relatively easy. In this same vein, learning Korean can be greatly facilitated if you already speak Japanese or Chinese, so many factors can play into the length of language study needed for you.

That being said, successful polyglots often tout 1-2 years as the maximum amount of time you should dedicate to a single tongue before moving on. Again, this time frame depends largely on you. At the end of the day, you can waste five years trying to learn a language and still be no further along than you were when you started. The one thing all successful language learners have in common is dedication. Learning a language requires discipline both in the classroom and out. You can’t expect to conquer a language within a year unless you dedicate time to it consistently. That means: Every. Single. Day. So when polyglots speak of the 1-2 year time frame, they are referring to those who spend at least an hour every day practicing their target language. If you do that, within a year, two at most, you should be speaking at a very high level.

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How many can you learn?

Now, if you have the time you may be interested in killing two birds with one stone by tackling two languages within those 1-2 years of study. Is this feasible though, or simply a waste of your valuable time? As it turns out, you can successfully learn two languages at once as long as you go about it the right way. The first step is to choose your language pairing. Avoid seeking out two languages that are too similar (like Spanish and French) because you’ll end up getting confused and mixing up your vocabulary and grammar. Instead, experts suggest minimizing confusion by going for languages that have few similarities (like German and Arabic). As easy as learning two Romance languages at the same time may seem, it’ll end up giving you more grief than actual results, so be careful about your language pairs.

It’s also important to choose at least one language that you’re a little familiar with. If you’ve already learned Italian, then one of your languages can be Spanish since it bears similarities to something you already know. Also, plan out how much time you will give to each language every day and if you want to make one or the other your priority language (meaning you’ll give it more attention so that at the end you’re sure to have conquered at least one). Depending on what your goals are, you can allot more time to one language or give them both equal weights. Remember, learning two languages at once takes at least twice the work of learning one so you have to be ready to commit some serious time to it.

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Like with anything, you’ll achieve results according to the effort you put into the learning process. If you can’t dedicate an hour every day, don’t worry, even just spending fifteen minutes on particularly busy days will keep you on track! Most importantly, don’t restrict yourself to what everyone else says. These are just guidelines which you can adjust to best suit you. Want to learn a language in three months? With the right amount of work and discipline you can do that! Think you need at least three years to conquer a new tongue? That’s perfectly okay too! What matters is that you do what’s right for you and you are happy with the results!

How long do you think it should take to learn a new language? Do you have any tips for new language learners or people looking to tackle more than one at the same time? Tell us in the comments section!