Becoming proficient in foreign languages
Have you ever wondered, how long it takes to become proficient in a particular language? Typically, the evaluation of language proficiency is based on four skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. However, how long does it take to become proficient enough to be able to communicate in a foreign language?
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the Department of State has compiled comparative tables which show the approximate amount of time necessary to learn the languages which are offered at the Institute (http://aboutworldlanguages.com/Language-Difficulty). These tables are based on the number of class hours spent on learning a language. According to these calculations, students are expected to work 25 hours/week in class and at least 3-4 hours a day independently out of class. A typical learner at the Institute is a native speaker of English who also speaks another foreign language and who is 30-40 years old on average. The languages were categorized into three groups:
1) languages that require 575-600 class hours (23-24 weeks):
Afrikaans German Romanian
Danish Italian Spanish
Dutch Norwegian Swedish
2) languages that require 1100 class hours (44 weeks):
Albanian Hungarian Serbian
Amharic* Indonesian Sinhalese
Armenian Icelandic Slovak
Azerbaijani Khmer Slovenian
Bengali Lao Swahili
Bosnian Latvian Tagalog
Bulgarian Lithuanian Tamil*
Burmese Macedonian Thai*
Croatian Malay Turkish
Czech Mongolian* Ukrainian
Estonian* Nepali Urdu
Finnish* Pashto Uzbek
Georgian* Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik) Vietnamese*
Greek Polish Xhosa
Hebrew Russian Zulu
The languages marked with “*” tend to be more difficult for learning (http://aboutworldlanguages.com/Language-Difficulty).
3) languages that require 2200 class hours (88 weeks):
Arabic Japanese Mandarin
It should be reminded that the time indicated above is approximate and the actual time necessary for learning a foreign language depends on a number of factors. First, it is necessary to consider how close are the languages we speak to the languages we want to learn. For example, for Ukrainian speakers it may be easier to learn Russian than for French speakers because Russian is more similar to Ukrainian (in terms of the grammar and the vocabulary) than French. Age is another factor that may influence how fast we learn languages. For young learners, it is usually easier to learn a new language than for older learners. Notably, linguists believe that if a child moves to a foreign-language environment when he/she is 9 years old or younger, this child may learn the foreign language of the environment without accent. Finally, it is important to take into consideration the fact that there are different types of learners: some people learn languages faster, others a little longer.
Regardless of the time it takes us to master a language, all healthy people have the capacity to learn foreign languages. Moreover, learning foreign languages allows us to stay sharp. Therefore, if you have been hesitating whether to learn a foreign language or not, just learn it.
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