How much study time is needed to learn a new language?

Learning a new language is one of the most challenging and enjoyable tasks we can undertake. And once we’ve learned it, we need to use it. 

Often! 

Otherwise, we risk having it slowly “evaporate” from our brain. 

Sure, we can quickly learn a few greetings and phrases, but to get to an intermediate level of fluency we need time and practice. 

Here’s what needs to be tackled, increasing in order of difficulty:

  • written text comprehension;
  • understanding slowly and clearly spoken words;
  • speaking and expressing at a slow pace;
  • conversing with a native speaker. 

The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center trains U.S. military and personnel from the CIA and FBI.

The Institute provides reliable estimates of the time it takes one to reach fluency—being comfortable conversing with native speakers. 

The Institute lists 4 categories of languages for English speakers.

for English Speakers

Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) Level 2 – Limited working proficiency

 Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) B2


Total Weeks Hours Per Week Class Hours Languages Total Study Hours
Category 1 Languages 26 ~20-25 575-600 French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish about 1,200
Category II Languages 34  20-25 800 German, Indonesian about 1,600
Category III Languages 48 20-25 1,100 Dari/Persian, Hebrew, Hindi, Russian, Serbian, Croatian, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Uzbek, Urdu about 2,200
Category IV Languages 64 20-25 1,500 Arabic (Levantine, Iraqi), Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Pashto about 3,000

For English speakers, languages like Spanish, French, Italian, etc. require about 1,500 hours of study (40 hours a week over 36 weeks). 

Languages like Russian, Hindi, Urdu etc., take 2,000 hours (40 hours a week for 48 weeks) and languages like Arabic, Mandarin and Japanese can take up to 2,500 hours (40 hours a week for 64 weeks). 

Even if you don’t plan to become as proficient as a US Intelligence officer, you’d still need to put in about 1,000 hours, according to language schools that recognize the European language certification. 

Many language apps promise that you can develop language skills in a couple of months with just 15-20 minutes a day. However, this brief time commitment would only allow you to learn a few phrases and limited vocabulary. The human brain is not capable of learning a language with just 60 to 80 hours of study. 

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