Becoming proficient in foreign languages

How-long-does-it-take-to-learn-a-languageDear All,
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 ( 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
French                                      Portuguese

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 (

3) languages that require 2200 class hours (88 weeks):
Arabic                                     Japanese                               Mandarin
Cantonese                              Korean

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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