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How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language? Science Will Tell You

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How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language? Science Will Tell You

How long does it take to learn a language? This is a common question for those interested in picking up a second language. It’s easier to start when you know how long it might take.

Obviously, learning a language is difficult. It could take months and even years of dedicated study. And that’s to achieve a conversational level, or working proficiency. In case you want to be fluent, then complete immersion in the native country is what you will need!

Let’s get started by looking at what science has to say on the subject.

What Happens to Your Brain When You Learn a New Language?

In a recent study conducted by Swedish scientists, it was found that learning a foreign language could increase the size of your brain[1]. They reached this conclusion after scanning the brains of people who learned a second language.

The participants were classified into two categories: young military recruits with a flair for varied languages and a control group of medical science students who studied a lot, but not specifically languages.

They found that brain structures of the control group remained unchanged, while the brains of the language students showed significant signs of development in terms of size[2].

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Benefits of learning a second language

    Fast Language Learners

    A new paper published in the journal Cognition used a Facebook-quiz-powered method to understand how humans learn a language, and what impact age has on this process[3].

    The study found that you are more likely to obtain native-like fluency if you start learning before the age of 18 than if you start leaning later. However, this doesn’t mean that adults can’t attain fluency just because they started late.

    The study found that thousands of adults who started learning after they were at least 20 years old were able to attain a native-level fluency.

    Another recent study analyzed the correlation between bilingualism and learning a third language[4]. It found that students who already knew two languages were easily able to gain command over the third language when compared to people who are fluent in only one language.

    The good news is that you don’t need to have a special sort of brain when taking on a new language. In this TED Talk, Lydia Machova explains how you can get started:

    How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language?

    Undoubtedly, there are various factors that impact how long it will take, especially if you’re looking to reach a level of near-native fluency.

    There are more than 6,000 languages, and they all range from easy to difficult. Spanish, for example, is easy to pick up for English speakers, while others like Arabic and Mandarin, which make use of different alphabets and symbols could be really tough to master.

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    Learn more about the difficulty of learning different languages here: 7 Hardest Languages to Learn For English Speakers

    Another important factor that impacts the time it will take you to learn a language is how you choose to learn it. Are you going to join language classes? Do you intend to use an app or an online program? Do you plan to travel to the concerned country for a more immersive experience?

    Answers to all these questions will help you in gauging how much time it will take you to master the language.

    The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) believes that determining the difficulty of a language is essential when calculating the time it will take to learn it. Here are the categories they have created[5]:

    Category I

    This includes languages closely related to English, like Swedish, Afrikaans, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Romanian, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and the like. Mastering these languages will take around 575 to 600 hours or 23 to 24 weeks.

    Category II

    This includes the languages that are somewhat similar to English, like German, and it’s estimated that it will take 30 weeks or 750 hours of study to attain the desired fluency.

    Category III

    This talks about languages which are different linguistically when compared to English. Such languages include Swahili, Indonesian, and Malaysian. They will take you 36 weeks or 900 hours to master.

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    Category IV

    This category includes languages like Hindi, Thai, Hungarian, Latvian, Bulgarian, Bengali, Nepali, and others. Essentially, these languages have significant linguistic differences and take around 44 weeks or 1100 hours to attain mastery.

    Category V

    This includes languages that are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers. These include Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Mandarin, and Chinese. They take around 88 weeks or 2,200 hours.

    Keep in mind that these categories are just one way of looking at language learning, and there are so many factors that go into it that many people disagree with this categorization. However, this is a good place to start.

    How to Speed up Language Learning

    While it won’t be the same for everyone, there are some tips to help you speed up the process as you learn the language[6].

    1. Use Short, Frequent Study Sessions

    This will ensure that the words, phrases, and grammar stay fresh in your mind and that you come back to reinforce recently learned information without letting too much time pass. Instead of studying for 3 hours a day, do 3 or 4 study sessions of 30 minutes each.

    2. Speak as Much as Possible

    The reason that language immersion is so successful is that it forces you to learn to speak the language. If you can, find a tutor who is a native-speaker of the target language and set up weekly speaking sessions. If you can travel to a country where they speak that language, even better!

    3. Make It Relevant

    As humans, we remember more of what matters to us. Therefore, if you decide to learn a language, make sure you have a real reason for doing so. Maybe you want to travel to a country where they speak that language, or your partner’s family speaks it and you want to communicate with them better.

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    Find ways to incorporate it into your daily life. For example, you can try to read books or watch movies in that language. This will help you connect more deeply with the language.

    Final Thoughts

    As you can see, answering the question “How long does it take to learn a language?” isn’t very straightforward. However, the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll master the language.

    Learning a new language has been associated with various benefits – it can improve memory and perception and lower your chances of suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

    You can find more benefits of learning a new language in this article: 12 Surprising Benefits of Learning a New Language

    More on How to Learn a New Language

    Featured photo credit: David Iskander via unsplash.com

    Reference

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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on August 11, 2021

    23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

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    23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

    Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless. Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent, free online education awaits on the following 23 sites.

    1. Coursera

    Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

    Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

    Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups. However, the free courses are now quite limited, so you’ll have to

    2. Khan Academy

    Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well-organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

    Among the more well-known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly user-friendly, which may make it easier to keep learning goals. If you’re looking for a free online education, you can’t go wrong with Khan Academy.

    3. Open Culture Online Courses

    If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos, and podcasts from universities around the world.

    The site features a lot of material found only on universities’ private sites, all in easy-to-browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses without having to visit and search each university’s site.

    Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales, and many state universities around the United States. It’s a very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

    4. Udemy 

    Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.

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    Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top-quality content. This is another site, however, that mixes free and paid content.

    5. Lifehack Fast Track Class

    Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy, and overall quality of life.

    In this rapidly changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:

    These are cross-functional skills that work across many aspects of life.

    6. Academic Earth

    Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

    Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

    7. edX

    Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, meaning a high-quality, free online education is entirely possible here.

    8. Alison

    Unlike the previous sites on this list, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

    It’s a great option if users need a professional certificate for their learning, as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

    9. iTunesU Free Courses

    A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

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    Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

    Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including by genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos and paid content.

    iTunesU does include courses on a variety of topics, but it does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

    10. Stanford Online

    Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session-based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

    Stanford Online is a great site for high-quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. If you’re looking for free courses, make sure to mark the “free” option on the left-hand side.

    11. Open Yale Courses

    Open Yale Courses echoes Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses but learn better by watching than by reading.

    12. UC Berkeley Class Central

    Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but it includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts, and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

    13. MIT OpenCourseWare

    Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, and it includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

    14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

    Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list. However, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics, but for the topics that are covered, impressive, in-depth material is available.

    15. Codecademy

    Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.

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    The courses at Codecademy are well-written and easy to follow, and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, and it organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

    16. Code

    Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high-quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

    In addition to kid-friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics, and Javascript.

    Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

    17. University of Oxford Podcasts

    The University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

    The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. This is another great site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

    18. BBC Podcasts

    For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

    Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

    19. TED-Ed

    Another great destination for more general learning and free online education is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all-encompassing, motivational web series comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

    Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, but it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.

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    20. LessonPaths

    LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high-quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

    21. Memrise

    Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

    Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

    22. National Geographic Kids

    The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid-friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keep kids interested on this site.

    National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

    23. Fun Brain

    Fun Brain is another great option for kids looking for free online education, as it focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game-based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

    Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and it is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

    The Bottom Line

    With so many amazing free online education resources, everyone has the ability to boost their skills and knowledge. Whether you’re interested in picking up some interesting trivia for your next party, improve your resume with some coding or business skills, or become a more well-rounded person, these resources are perfect for you.

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    Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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