How Many Hours Does It Take To Learn A Language?

Language is not simply a reporting device for experience but a defining framework.- Benjamin Whorf

With this thought, I would request you to ask yourself one question. “Why do I want to learn a language?” Your answer to this question will determine the answer to the next question. “How many hours does it take to learn a language?”

Learning a new language comes with challenges. But it also enhances communication skills and helps to build aptitude. You know a language and realize how it creates new prospects for you, personally and professionally.

As a language encourager, I don’t want you to get scared; instead, learn the “hacks.”

Moment of truth: There is no one size fits all concept here.

Therefore, the time taken to learn a language depends mainly on your dedication. But there are other factors also that determine the amount of time.

Language Grouping

how many hours to learn a language

Did you know that the US Foreign Service Institute categorizes languages into different groups as per their level of difficulty? The table below will make it easy for you to understand:

Groups Languages
Group 1 German, Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Swahili
Group 2 Bulgarian, Hindi, Urdu, Burmese, Greek
Group 3 Amharic, Czech, Hebrew, Cambodian, Finnish, Hungarian, Polish, Lao, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Thai, Vietnamese, Turkish
Group 4 Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean

What Are The Different Levels Of Proficiency?

On a scale of 1-5, the FSI describes different proficiency levels applicable to language study. These are:

1. Elementary

As an elementary-level proficient, you can communicate basic daily greetings and essential travel-related communication. This doesn’t work as well as it sounds. Because it is restricted to hello, good morning, order, please, thank you, etc. Beyond this, you are unable to converse.

2. Limited Working

At this level, you are a bit close to basic social conversations. You learn the correct pronunciation, which shapes your language skills for the future. The limitations are many but very important for a language learner.

3. Minimal or Intermediate

Do not get confused with the words I chose to describe this level. The amount of vocabulary, grammar, and sentence formation you learn at this level is significant. You can use them both at a formal or informal level. Whether it’s a social gathering, professional meet, or personal interaction, it works for all!

It is equivalent to the B2 level of the European Framework. You can confidently say that you know a beginner’s level of a second language.

4. Professional

By now, you are fluent in the target language as per your personal and professional goals. The time taken to travel from a minimal to a professional scale is a lot. It requires a lot of practice in all four aspects of language learning- writing, speaking, reading, and listening.

5. Native or Bilingual

People believe that becoming bilingual is rare to achieve. But my views differ! If you break your inhibitions and pick up a new language, this level isn’t that difficult. You have to commit yourself and keep practicing. Soon the language will become your native tongue!

Hourly Chart Of Languages By FSI

how many hours to learn a language

The data from FSI(Foreign Service Institute) teaches almost 800 languages. With years of experience teaching languages, FSI has divided the most common ones into different tiers. These are as follows:

1. Tier 1- Languages similar to English

The Group 1 languages are the fastest to learn if you know English. These languages use the same alphabet as English. Comparatively, the intonations are on a similar level as in English. Moreover, they share common vocabulary words too! All in all, a much more familiar space to begin language learning.

The following chart will tell you about the hours it will take to master these languages:

Language Time in Hours 
Afrikaans 575 hours
Danish 575 hours
Dutch 575 hours
French 600 hours
Italian 600 hours
Portugese 600 hours
Romanian 600 hours
Spanish 600 hours

2. Tier 2- German language

Even though the Germanic languages we read above take an average of 575 hours, it is a bit more for German. The German language is more complex and challenging to comprehend. Especially for native English speakers, German takes time to pick up. There are endless pronouns, specific vocabulary, and grammatical cases—however, German shares 40% of its vocabulary with English, which is the brighter side.

Language Time in Hours 
German 750 hours

3. Tier 3- Linguistically different languages from English

The 3 tier languages are easy to pronounce but equally tricky in their vocabulary part. The same applies to grammar too. It is pretty hard if you compare it to English. The nouns and verb forms are complex and usually very long.

Those who know Arabic find Swahili comparatively easy to comprehend. The chart below gives the approx hours it will take to learn these languages:

Language Time in Hours 
Indonesian 900 hours
Swahili 900 hours
Haitian 900 hours

4. Tier 4- Different than English

Tier 4 includes an extensive list of languages. Most of them are profoundly different than English. One reason is there is no one rule for these languages. They change very fast, like in 100 years. It takes extra effort for the students to know first about the origin and then the latest modifications. Thus, it takes a lot of time to become fluent.

Language Time in Hours 
Polish 1100 hours
Croatian 1100 hours
Latvian 1100 hours
Greek 1100 hours
Turkish 1100 hours
Icelandic 1100 hours
Finnish 1100 hours
Estonian 1100 hours
Hungarian 1100 hours
Bengali 1100 hours
Bulgarian 1100 hours
Persian 1100 hours
Hindi 1100 hours
Russian 1100 hours
Slovak 1100 hours
Tagalog 1100 hours
Ukranian 1100 hours
Urdu 1100 hours
Vietnamese 1100 hours

5. Tier 5- The most sophisticated languages

The most challenging and complex languages are the following:

Language Time in Hours
Arabic 2200 hours
Japanese 2200 hours
Korean 2200 hours
Mandarin Chinese 2200 hours
Cantonese 2200 hours

Brace yourself! You are here for a long haul. Most of these languages have phonetics which does not match English. Mandarin has a peculiar tone that English doesn’t. Japanese follows four unpredictable pitch accents, which is very unlikely to English.

English connects syllables, but in these languages, syllables are primarily single. Thus it complicates while speaking. There is more to the grammar and their technicalities, making these languages the most time to learn.

If you have already thought you will learn a new language, then do not stress. Let your brain decipher an alien language. Slowly it will assimilate the learnings for you, and you will be fluent in one or more of these languages.

Realistic Hours A Day Keeps The Worry Away

table with clock and checklist.

For instance, you devote 10 hours daily to your language learning. Now you first design a schedule and follow it for some time. You balance your class hours and break time.

Suddenly you see a dip in hours of study! You panic or overthink and end up reading less and wasting more time. This time, you decide to pick up from where you left off. And the loss of your precious hours hit you hard.

What did you end up doing?

It is a very practical scenario. Understand that the total hours for each language will vary. So much to the extent that you might finish one level of proficiency faster than the other.

Be realistic!

Or you will end up taking a lot of time learning.

  • Plan as per your ability and not any rule.
  • Consider the gestational time for the brain equally as study time, wherein it will process what it just came across!
  •  Switch to alternative learning modes like podcasts, audio lessons, marketing ads, learning app, etc.

These are great ways to pick up the conversational aspect of any language. It’s fun, and you don’t even realize you are learning so much!

Determining Factors for How many Hours Does It Take To Learn A Language

“You learn something every day if you pay attention.” – Ray LeBlond 

If you go through all the languages spoken above, anywhere between 3-6 months is the time to learn a language. But your fluency also depends on your level of immersion.

However, the spectrum that governs the time taken for learning is enormous. It means there is more than one factor responsible. Let us know more about them.

1. The language you choose

If you go by the list of FSI and various language schools, it classifies languages from simple to complex. If you choose Chinese, gaining proficiency will take 2200 hours. It will take 750 hours to get a similar proficiency level if you pick German.

2. You set your level of fluency

Apart from the known proficiency scale, every individual sets their level per their caliber. So if you are learning a language for a hobby, your proficiency requirement will be lower than the official scale. On the other hand, from a career perspective, your goals will be higher, and so will your proficiency level.

Remember the end goal. Set the right expectation and work hard to achieve the goal.

3. Teachers and tools

teacher teaching new language

A good teacher speed up your learning process. Their perspective about a language shapes your initial outlook toward an alien dialect. They encourage, guide, and discipline you in your learning journey. Apart from that, knowing some of the cognitive tools is a savior. Like,

  • Mnemonic devices– for acronyms, chunking data, and rhymes
  • Language cognates– short lessons on small topics curated by a native speaker

4. Your mindset

Your attitude toward learning determines your level of dedication. It will perplex you in the beginning. But having a growth mindset is your answer to all your anxieties and mastering the language.

From A Multilingual Person’s Diary

practicing a new language

Time should not be your first concern. Learning the right way should be. I am proficient in five languages, and my experience taught me that consistency takes you ahead of others. So emphasize that rather than focusing on how fast or slow you can learn.

Initially, we think in one language, find the right words in another, translate them from the former to the latter, and then speak or write them. It is a very cumbersome process. But slowly, you respond quickly as the new language gets auto-tuned in your brain. So much so that sometimes it becomes your default language of communication.

Additionally, I would suggest that you begin the translation from your native language to the new foreign language you have chosen. The grammar structure for a sentence is similar in the case of native languages, unlike English, from which it differs. Also, when you think in your native language, you believe it faster!

Next time if someone asks you the same question- How many hours does it take to learn a language?

Tell them this- Give yourself time to adapt to a new language. Learning will happen gradually!


1. What are the most common scales of language proficiency?

The three major language frameworks are as follows:

  • CEFR – Common European Framework of reference for languages
  • ACTFL- American Council on the teaching of Foreign languages
  • ILR- Interagency Language Roundtable

2. Can I learn multiple languages at the same time?

Yes, you can. The human brain is known to grasp multiple languages at the same time. As a polyglot, your brain connects the various languages and stores the information for you. As a result, you see a smooth transition between multiple languages after years of practice.

3. Which languages take the most time to learn and why?

Chinese has many Chinese characters, which requires a lot of practice and time. Japanese has special characters similar to Chinese, but the meaning differs. The kanjis or unique characters are in thousands for every level of Japanese proficiency. For Korean, the Hangul and Hanja(basic alphabets) are easy to pick up, whereas the unfamiliar grammar pattern makes learning difficult.

4. Does knowing multiple languages worth it?

Yes. Knowing a new language, bilingual or multilingual, provides you with better opportunities for higher studies and professionally.

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Some people have a knack for language learning some don’t. Some take a guided approach, and some follow a random path. The journey to excellence will be uphill, and so will the long hours. Your willingness and passion will eventually decide how much time you will take to learn the language.

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