How Long Does It Take To Learn A Language?

How Long Does it Take to Learn a Language?

I’ve managed to go 2 1/2 years without writing a post on the topic of “How long will it take me to learn ____?”. Truthfully, I could go another 2 1/2 years without addressing it and I would be just fine. However, I continue to see this question asked on Language forums, in Facebook groups, on Twitter, and in my email. Somehow being able to quantify things like this just seems to be part of human nature. Well, I’m going to talk about this in depth and answer (or at least try to shed some light on) this question once and for all! So, how long does it take to learn a language? Let’s find out.
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Tips For Developing Fluency Early

eaieoG9c4I know, I know. I used the F word. Well, for the remainder of this post, I’m defining fluency as fluidity of verbal speech. I am not defining any level of competency or functionality, just the ability to speak at a fluid, even, and unbroken pace. Therefore, the purpose of this post will be to help you develop a natural, easy, and fluent-sounding speech pattern in your target language early in the learning process.

Before I jump into the post, I’d like to share the reason that I feel like this is an important piece of the language learning puzzle. Two and a half years ago, when I started learning German, I hit the books and flashcards hard. Within three months I had memorized over 1000 words and could recite lots of obscure German grammar points. By six months, I was over 2000 words and could write large paragraphs with good speed and accuracy. I could also “kind of” hold a conversation… My speaking was ok. I could say anything I wanted to and get my point across with no problems. I wasn’t lacking vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation. My problem was my “fluency”. I stopped and started and “ummm”ed and stuttered and stammered and basically sounded uncomfortable speaking the language. Fortunately, I was able to overcome these issues in the following months and would say I’m pretty comfortable with my oral abilities these days.

What follows are some tips I’ve picked up that really work for me. Hopefully you find some gems among them:

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I Have All the Language Toys! – Now What?

     If you’re like me, you are probably super excited about learning a language. You probably also enjoy what I call “The resource round-up”. What is the “resource round-up”? It’s that exciting stage right BEFORE you dive into learning a new language when you scrounge for resources to help propel your learning to new heights. I’ll talk about how to do a proper round-up in a future post.

     For now, let’s assume you are all “resourced up” and ready to explode! I’ll paint the picture. You’ve got a dozen free language websites in your favorites with all the vocabulary lists, grammar points, common phrases, native audio, and encouragement you could ever possibly want. You’ve gone on an shopping spree and now you have 6 or 8 or 20 new books including multiple courses, vocabulary books, dictionaries, verb guides, and who knows what else because you really haven’t looked them over that well yet. Maybe you’ve downloaded some podcasts, audio courses, or even some simple audiobooks. Maybe your bookshelf looks something like one of mine:

my shelf     Maybe it looks like a less (or even more) extreme version of mine.  Basically, we are assuming that you are 100% totally geared and psyched up to drive your shelf into Language World and kick some major butt.  You’ve got the firepower.  You’ve got the attitude and the confidence.  You’ve got the desire.  What’s stopping you?

     Oh yeah…  What do I do now?  I always run into this too.  Honestly, it doesn’t get much easier the more languages you know.  I’ve never started two languages the exact same way.  No two languages are the same, why should the methods be?

You may be saying “Great advice Sherlock, what am I supposed to do now?”  Well, bear with me for a little while longer and I will have you ready to move on from “Resource Round-up” to “Language Launch” in a matter of minutes. Read More

My First Words: Starting Out in a New Language

I get a lot of questions about how to start a new language.  In particular:  “What words should I learn first?”  Well, today I’m going to share my list of the words I prioritize when starting a language.  This is a list of 250 words that I learn first.  They are MY basics.  They are not for everyone.  They involve things that I want to be able to talk about.  They are not all encompassing and, to be honest, they will not bring you to fluency by any means.  They DO however allow me to talk about the things that I feel like talking about.  Not all of the things, but enough for me to feel like I can communicate most of the things that I need to (even if in a roundabout way) in a foreign language.

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Juggling Multiple Languages – Some practical advice

Juggle    I get a lot of questions about learning multiple languages.  Should I do it?  How do I manage the time?  What about interference?  And so on.  So, I figure that today would be as good a day as any to answer as many of those questions as I can.

Disclaimer:  All of the opinions expressed in this post are the OPINIONS of Bill Price and not of anyone else, real or imagined.  Any similarity to anyone else’s opinions is purely coincidental (and kind of cool).

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How To Set Language Learning Goals You Can Reach

I imagine that we are all familiar with the concept of goals and if you are reading this after reading the title of this post, then I’m also assuming that you believe (at least to some extent) that goals are important.  In fact I would bet that as a language learner, you have many goals.  I would also bet that you have made goals in the past that you were not (for some reason or another) able to reach.  I know I have. Read More


Language Learning Goals for 2014- Mandarin, Spanish, and Indonesian

Hello fellow language enthusiasts!  It’s about that time.  In this post, I’d like to lay out my language plans for 2014.  This will be an ambitious year indeed as I look to add THREE (3) , yes III, languages to my “speaks conversationally” list, bringing the total to 6.  What do I consider “conversational fluency?  Good question.  Here is a quick and dirty explanation of what I consider conversational fluency and consequently, what I aim for on my personal language missions: Read More

Intro and Welcome!

Hello, and welcome to My German Quest.  In case you didn’t read the description, this blog will follow my wife and my journey to German fluency in one year.  This will be our first real foray into language learning (outside of K-12 requirements) and if we are successful, there will be more languages to come.

Some background on my wife and I.  My name is Bill and I was born in Florida and raised from 1st grade to 7th grade in Louisiana and from then on in Colorado.  Thanks to Louisiana public schools I took French from 1st grade on and by High School I was fluent.  Of course, that was almost 20 years ago and I am no longer a fluent speaker.  I can still read and understand conversations (80% or so) but I can struggle to speak it sometimes.

My wife’s name is Kirsten and she has lived in Colorado almost all of her life.  She took Spanish in High School and never really got above a very basic understanding.  For her, it’s been over 15 years and most of her Spanish is gone.

So, why German?  Good question.  I wish I could give a really compelling story, but there really isn’t one.  We decided we wanted to try to learn a language and so we both made lists of ones we thought would be useful and/or interesting.  Based on advice from some friends and some research online, German won out over Russian, Japanese, and Mandarin.  We have a couple of friends who speak German at a basic to intermediate level so we figured that we would at least have some people to practice on in the early stages and who might have an interest in learning more with us.

So, how are we learning?  Well, I did some research and found that the Pimsluer Method of all audio was pretty popular and seemed to produce decent results.  The cons were really lack of much grammar and complete absence of reading.  We decided on a combination of Pimsluer and supplementary material.  We picked up the Pimsluer German I program at the local book store and a “Learn German the Fun and Easy Way” workbook.  For fun we also bought a German phrasebook of “real” German (profanities, slang, etc).  Our goal is to follow the Pimsluer course method everyday and use the workbook to pump up our vocabulary.

I read online somewhere that 100 words form almost 50% of everyday conversation in a given language, 1000 words almost 80% and 2000 words form 95% of conversational speech.  Using this logic, if we were to supplement our Pimsluer learning with 5 new vocabulary words per day, that would bring us up over 1000 words within 3 months.  In my mind, that would seem to be a great starting point to really using the language everyday.  When I say “everyday”, I mean REALLY using it like watching German television shows, listening to German podcasts/radio, speaking with native speakers in meaningful conversations.  To me, this is the point where it will seem like we are finally getting somewhere.  The goal of fluency (to me) would include understanding and communicating 98% or so of spoken language.  That is where I want to be in one year.