How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language?



As I'm scrolling through the timeline, I see ads all the time like, "Become Fluent in Under a Year!" or "The Secret to Learning Languages" or "Learn ____ in 3 months!" and honestly, they always seem gimmicky to me. But I understand the need to know how long it takes to learn a new language. So what's the answer? 

It's a never-ending process.
You will never not be learning your new language. You will never be "done".

There are some things that you just can't rush. A good pie, a work of art, and learning a language. 

One factor of successful language learning is being realistic about the demands of learning a language.1  Furthermore, adults do not learn productively when they are under strict time constraints.2 And actually, you don't have to be fluent to be able to communicate in another language. 

So is your goal to be fluent in 3 months? Or is it to know intricacies in your target language? Have a long and deep connection to it? Continue learning it and continue progressing as long as you use it?

Language learning is actually a very emotional process. You will learn some things that don't exactly have a comparison to your first language, that doesn't translate easily. Hidden inside there is a different way of thinking, a cultural difference. You'll have to grapple with how that makes you feel. You'll have to find a new identity inside of the new language. You'll have to forge your own way. 

"Adults have more to be threatened about than children in learning situations because their self-concept is already well organized."3

An experience as rich and varied as learning a new language is something you cannot fast track. There are still words that I see in English that I've never heard, or ones that I've heard or read before but never knew the meaning to. At 26 years of age, if I am still learning words in my native language, I'm not under the impression that a new one will be any different. How long it takes to learn a new language is almost irrelevant!

No, when I start a new language I know that I will always be learning it. And I quite like that!

What do you think?


* Cook, Second Language Learning and Language Teaching: Fourth Edition (London: Hodder Education, 2008) p. 115
** Brundage and Mackeracher, Adult Learning Principles and Their Application to Program Planning (Ontario: Ministry of Education, 1980), p. 23
*** Cook, Second Language Learning and Language Teaching: Fourth Edition (London: Hodder Education, 2008), p. 28

Comments

  1. Hi Alison, Your blog is very interesting. You are right that learning a new language is something one cannot fast track but if the right environment and resources are there then it becomes easier to learn at a fast pace. Learning a new language is a ton of work. The process can be so overwhelming that you may not even know where to begin. But mastering another language can open up a lot of opportunities. I strongly believe that parents must start teaching kids at an early age for better and quick learning. The attitude of the learner, the time the learner spends with the language, and the learner’s attentiveness to the language are very important factors in learning a new language. Thanks for sharing a nice post.

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    1. Thanks, Rum tan! I agree with you, that there are ways to make learning go faster, at least learning the base knowledge for speaking a language. for the rest, I think there will always be more to learn. We can also think of our relationship to learning and our relationship to failure, to see how that affects it. I suspect this is why kids are better at it, they have less emotions involved with learning than adults. I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

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