How long for fluency?

Common question… variable answers.

It all depends on what the learner considers fluent, which language they are learning, the environment they are learning in, how motivated they are, how often they study, and so and so forth.

Let’s set the ground rules at 2 hours study per day. Not unrealistic if you consider the Borrowing Time post and the Power of the Schedule. Everybody can make at least an hour free everyday, most people can find 2 hours if they try just a little bit…. Stop reading about language study and start studying the language! ha

So, 2 hours a day = 14 hours per week = around 60 hours per month (…720 hours per year)

Using the CEFR as an overarching statement and taking what’s in the DELF/DALF site into account, along with the FSI language scales, let’s take a closer look:

  • A1 takes 75 hours (6 weeks on our study plan)
  • A2 takes 150 hours (11 weeks)
  • B1, 300 hours (5 months)
  • B2, 450 hours (7.5 months)
  • C1+, 600+ hours (10 months +)

These are estimates for what FSI call Category 1 languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Swedish, etc)… and are pretty dependent on the variables mentioned above. The most I could personally study per day is 4 hours, so that would mean the time in months would be halved….. hypothetically. There’s also the issue that some people use their time more efficiently than others. Much more efficiently.. and that can come with experience. The above is perhaps for the more inexperienced learner.

Looking at my own study methods, what used to take me 2 hours to cover is something I could probably cover in 30 minutes these days. I used to be an inexperienced learner, but now a small investment of time can yield great results. This comes with practice and through refining techniques. For myself, I guess it would take circa 400 hours to reach C1 in a Category 1 language. (I will run an experiment on this so we’ll see how accurate I am… Once my research is finished and I can make a commitment to a new language, which will leave me with Italian, Portuguese or Catalan as the only languages in Category 1 that I have zero experience with. I have a fairly limited exposure to Spanish so that may be the candidate).

Keep in mind that the language categories are directed at languages and their relationship with English, so if you know languages vastly different to English, the more difficult categories may actually prove easier. But to keep with the English monolingual theme, lets just say the following:

  • Category 1+ languages (German, Indonesian, Malay, Swahili): multiply the hours by 1.25
  • Category 2 languages (Slavic languages, Turkish, many languages of Asia): multiply by 1.75
  • Category 3 languages (Arabic, Korean, Chinese, Japanese): multiply by 2.5

Category 3 languages are supposed to take 2200 hours, but that’s extreme in my opinion, so I lowered it a bit. I don’t have a learning log but I know I haven’t studied for anywhere close to those amount of hours for Korean. And Japanese is probably only just approaching 100 hours. I don’t count conversation nor watching TV and those kind of things as study. And I have lived in Korea for quite some time. So… I’ll have to write a post about what actual study hours are I guess 😉

Anyway, what will be interesting is if I can keep a log for a Category 2 language (like Russian) and a log for a Category 3 (Mandarin), since these are both on my agenda for the near future. These will be more accurate than reckless estimations.

In any case, the above are sheer estimates and are more for people with limited language experience. What you need to keep in mind is that consistency is the key to language success; as I have written and said more times than I can remember! I’ll also say that C2 is a level that you most likely don’t need to attain and that C1 is virtually my ultimate goal in most languages. Other languages I may only wish to achieve B1/B2. And even with a B2 knowledge you can lead a pretty fulfilling life in the country.

So good luck on that road to your language dreams… remember, the time taken isn’t the most important, it’s the road you travel that is the most important.


Author: Andrew

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