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Richard-Business Eng
Professional Teacher
How long does it take to learn a new language? I think I know... do you?

Let's start at the beginning... the starting point at which you began to learn your native language.

We all began to learn our native langauge on the day we were born (at least the listening skill).

By the age of 10, we had been immersed in our first language for ten years (365 day/year X 12 hours/day X 10 years = 43,800 hours).

Yet, our language skills were only at the level of a ten year old, i.e., limited/basic reading, writing, listening, and comprehending level.

By the age of 20, our language skills were at the level of a 20 year old, good but not yet perfected (365 X 12 X 20 = 87,600 hours).

So, how long does it take to learn a second language?

This discussion is open to everyone's comments and opinions... So, what do you think?

Sep 14, 2016 6:37 PM
Comments · 16

One difficulty with this kind of comparison is that learning a language from birth is a different process than learning a second language when you are older. The brain of an adult has changed quite a bit from earlier years,

Imaging studies have shown that second languages use a different area of the brain than native languages. In fact, there have been stroke victims who lost the use of their first language, but their second-language ability was unaffected.

Almost all legitimate academic research finds that time on task is the important factor in learning a second language. Decades of teaching experience has led the State Department to come up with time frames for learning languages. The easier languages (for Americans) require about 575 hours of study, while the hardest (e.g. Arabic) require 2,200 hours of study.

Immersion is a factor too. The State Department estimate for the hardest languages assumes 88 weeks of full-time study and an additional year of living in-country.

My experience leads me to believe these are accurate estimates that could be adjusted a bit for natural ability, but I am willing to listen to any counter-argument that doesn't contain either of the words "Benny" or "Lewis".

September 14, 2016

Someone shared a saying with me:

"Language learning is a journey without destination"  

Wish all of you can appreciate it. 

September 15, 2016
If your point is that the way we learn our first language is horribly inefficient, then I agree 100%. It’s indisputable that if we want to learn additional languages, we need to be very deliberate about it. It’s not about hours of practice — it’s about hours of focused practice, using proper techniques, and governed by the right state of mind. We certainly cannot follow the advice of some hacks who sell snake-oil courses based on “learning a language like a baby does.”
September 14, 2016

People learn language all life. When it comes to learning a foreign language to me is my hobby.

Every free moment I spend on science. Mmm ,,How long does it take to learn a new language?"
 In a word I cant  definied. In language is so many different words, that we cant know them all...

September 14, 2016

I think its important to remember with your calculation of hours, that children are also learning the concepts and meanings of words, since they start from a blank state. An adult already has an adult vocabulary, and in most cases the ability to read. Within a year, most learners should be able to read a novel in the foreign language (with many unknown words, but they can get them from context), whereas that is impossible for a child.

It does take a long time to learn a language, but focus on reading and listening to things you enjoy (novels, TV series, podcasts), and speaking to people to have meaningful conversations with, and then the time really doesnt matter. :)

September 15, 2016
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Richard-Business Eng
Language Skills
English, French
Learning Language