How many years does it take you to learn a foreign language?

How long does it take you to acquire a foreign language?

  • 1 year or less
  • within 2 years
  • within 3 years
  • 4 years
  • 5 to 8 years
  • more than 8 years

0 voters

I’m interested in finding out how long does it take a person to learn a foreign language well. And by learn it well, it means you can [size=150]have an intellectual conversation [/size]with another person using this certain language.

Hi Coliegirly,
I guess a year or a bit less would be enough for a really dedicated & hard-working language-learner… :lol:

If you have been striving to learn a language for years, don’t panic!

Now let’s be realistic, shall we? One year might be enough to improve a language if you already have some good knowledge of it. Yet learning a language (from scratch) with proficiency in one year (or even two or three, if you ask me) is nothing short of a miracle, unless you are a genius, or you have nothing to do with your time other than that (that is, you don’t have a demanding job or family or any other responsibilities to cope with – here you would still need to be somehow gifted with magical abilities, I think).

Anyway, what does ‘learning a language well’ really mean? There is no telling precisely, since this is not an exact process and a language has so many different skill areas. Yet to become a fluent speaker, most of us poor mortals normally need years of dedicated study.

Another question I often ask myself is: will you ever have the same command of the language as a native speaker, writing and speaking as comfortably, with all of the nuances? Honestly, we “normal” people never really finish learning our own language/s, do we now? And we won’t have enough of a lifetime or two to completely master them, if such a thing is at all possible, which I don’t think it is. Well, thank God for that, actually. We are never through learning and growing and that is just what makes life all the more fun! :slight_smile:

Hi Conchita,

What I meant of course was learning the basics of a language and most of its nuances. But surely not to get to the level of “native” speaking abilities…There I totally agree with you. You don’t really need to be a “genius”, as you said, to grasp “most” of the basics of a language, and I am one striking example. I’m Arabic-speaking, but I acquired most of French language basics and nuances throughout a year or so with a lot of…sweat, surely. As Bernard Shaw puts it: " Genius is 1% of inspiration and 99% of perspiration."

See you :wink:

Ajanah and Conchita, I agree with a lot of what both you have said. You are right, we would have to define the term ‘acquire a language’. As Conchita is pointing out, learning a language is a lifelong process, nobody can say that they speak their mother tongue perfectly. We did a project at university collecting information about the language skills of immigrants and one of the challenges was to determine the threshold level of language proficiency. We ended up with a clumsy description of our self-made ‘communication competency scale system’. The project was very interesting because we go access to immegration information from local authorities and we could speak to a variety of communities but a lot of time we also spent on creating definitions and processing data. To return to the initial question - based on the results of our project these factors determine how fast you can learn a language:

  • your understanding of language structures (are you aware of grammar patterns and basic linguistic items?)

  • your motivation (do you know why you want to learn the langauge?)

  • relationship between your native language and your target language (if you mother tongue is Spanish, you will learn Portuguese or Italian faster than Chinese or Japanese)

  • your personal and professional situation (how much time can you spend learning the language, do you have access to resources every day, how many people around you speak your target language, etc.?)

I think it also depends how many languages you already speak. If you are bilingual already it will be easier for you to learn a third language.

There probably are even more aspects to language learning and I’m looking forward to talking about them with you all.

Learning the basics of a language is easier but being able to speak it fluently is another matter. To be able to do that, you should speak to someone speaking the language often or if you can afford it, you can live in the country speaking that language. The amount of time needed to learn a language also depends on the person’s ability to adapt to the accent and the pronunciation of the words.

I think that 1 year is enough to learn a new language (from the basics) if you have at least 3 hours a day to study and practice. I learned French in 1 year and I don’t think I am a genious.

Hi jav_knot,

I agree with you, given the right circumstances you certainly can reach a decent level of proficiency in any language. What about you, why and how did you learn French? Any secrets?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: Methods of transportation[YSaerTTEW443543]

well, I used to listen to a french radio station everyday for at least 1 hour, I read as many french books as I could, and I always searched the meaning of every single word I didn’t know. I think the glutamic acid helped as well.

I suppose it was a French Internet radio channel you used to listen to? Also why did you learn French, I would have thought that Spanish is more widespread in Texas?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A harbour view[YSaerTTEW443543]

well, I’m a native spanish speaker. and yes, it was a French Internet radio channel.

That’s quite interesting. Do you get to use your French in your neighborhood? What lanugage do you speak most of the time, Spanish or English? As far as I can see your English seems impeccable, how did you achieve this?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A man digging a hole[YSaerTTEW443543]

Do you take supplementary glutamic acid?


Hi Amy,

Nothing to do with your answer but the look on that cat’s face is beginning to worry me! It looks at me as if it’s disapproving of all the horrid thoughts and things I’ve said about cats. Can you arrange it so that the eyes look the other way?


yes, I do, but my memory is not normal, that’s why I need it.

Don’t worry, Alan. I don’t think my cat has read any of your comments. :wink: [size=75](Pic is now gone.)[/size]

To be frank, I think you all have fallen into the usual trap of discussing childhood first language acquisition, and, to what degree we define fluency, and you should avoid that temptation.

There is a difference between someone has moved to another country and is now forced to communicate in the local dominate language, and can no longer use their native language…however, even that isn’t necessary to discuss, the question implied that you are still in your native country, using your native tongue every day, and how long does it take to acquire a second language to the level of fluency.

The answer is well over 5 years, I believe more often, more than 8 years. If you said less, you were not being honest in any way, shape or form…or you are pure genius. So either I think you are a recalcitrant liar, or a genius…take the insult or complement. But it does not take 1 year.

And I think it is quite a shame that the answer cannot be just plainly stated. Because there are lot of people who are looking to learn a language, and we should be able to give a plain answer.

5 years minimum. No shame in 8 years or more. The fact is, learning by studying 1 hour a day, is going to take a long time because you have 20,000 thousand words to learn, and very little practice to speak.

By the way, I live in an English speaking country, and I work with immigrants all the time. The story about the immigrant who came and thrived, only knowing 3 words of English…is common. What I have never heard is the story about the person who learned English first, and then moved.

While it would not be a dramatic story of survival…its telling that I’ve met thousands who have learned English after moving, and never one who learned English before moving…everyone wanted to know English before they moved…and some of them tried for years, even at a University…they all have the same story (I had to learn after I arrived).

I’m sorry I’m almost very angry at the person who said 1 year. From talking with literally thousands, I just don’t find that story to hold true, and it is so destructive to those trying to learn.

I agree with MarkTime…learning a foreign language to a fluent level takes many years…The survey says 35% could learn a language in less than a year… I’d say it depends on how you define “acquire a foreign language”. Many people would say they know a language after being able to say a few phrases…to me…you are only fluent in a language, say English, after you watch Jay Leno and get all of his jokes.

You can learn enough about a language and say and understand a few sentences in much less time than that but to be fluent is another matter. I was recently in Mexico on vacation…most of the Mexicans in their 20’s and 30’s who I met spoke some English (albeit haltingly) and they all started to learn English since kindergarten… I wouldn’t classify them as fluent in English… un poco is more like it.

Yeah, before asking that question, you have to define what you think the aquisition of English is.
There are lots of people who really believe that knowing how to reply to “How are you?” is enough and there’s no point in advansing any further. The problem is when they face a real person who speaks English from the beginning they cant understand him/her and write it off on his bad pronunciation. They never consider that their English just sucks balls.

Hi Mark, you probably know that it is possible for immigrants to live in an English speaking country without being forced to use English on a daily basis. You can well “survive” communicating in your native language all day long. You can watch TV, go shopping, see the doctor, etc. without ‘being forced to’ speak one single word of English.

Are you sure? I think we shouldn’t talk about how much time it takes to learn a language because this is a life-long process for everyone. Including native speakers. What we should talk about is what it takes to learn a language. The answer is: Determination. Knowing why you are learning the language. Most people fail because they don’t know why they should learn English and consequently they are not looking for the right methods of learning English. Also, do you have to be “fluent” in English if you want to communicate in English? As an immigrant I want to learn more about the country I have moved to. I want to learn more about the people and their culture. In order to learn more about them, I have to observe them, I have to study their way of life. Do I need to speak much if I want to see how they live? Why do I have to “be fluent” if I want to learn more about another country? What I really need is good listening comprehension skills rather than great speaking skills.

So, I have to concentrate on developing my listening comprehension skills not my speaking skills because once I understand what people say, I can learn from them and I have greater chances to be integrated into their society. I shouldn’t worry about my speaking skills because I improve and listening comprehension skills, it will be much easier for me to start speaking. As a matter of fact, if I have great listening comprehension skills, it’s very likely that I am to reproduce correct English sentences too.

How do I develop great listening comprehension skills within a year? Here is the answer: By listening to English (or the language I want to learn) every single day. If have to surround myself with English as much as possible. Do I have to move to an English speaking country in order to be exposed to English? Not necessarily. As a matter of fact, it’s probably better if I stay in my native country because here I have more freedom over my daily routines and I’m not forced to produce incorrect English sentences (which would damage my English).

Let’s say, I listen to a great variety of authentic English audio materials 3 to 5 hours every day for a one year. Do you think that after that year my listening comprehension skills will be good enough to understand English native speakers in every day conversations?


Why do I have 20,000 words to learn? What do you mean by “learn”? Do you know how many words the “average” native speaker uses actively on a daily basis?

Of course you can “survive” knowing very little English? (I doubt that there is any language that borrowed less than three words from English, so the likelihood that an immigrant knows just three words of English is very small.)

There might be a variety of reasons for that. It’s probably a fact that the majority of immigrants don’t learn the language before the move because they think they will learn it “automatically” once they arrive. Another one could be that majority of native speakers will only speak about those immigrants who are not able to learn the language fast thereby creating a picture of “immigrants unwilling and unable to integrate into our society”.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: Checking stock levels[YSaerTTEW443543]