Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on October 15, 2020

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

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].

Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

    What Is Fish Oil Good For And Can It Give You Energy? How Fish Oil Boosts Your Mental Clarity And Brain Power The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life The Truth About the Value of Time in Life Coffee Vs Energy Drinks: Why Coffee Gives You A Better Boost

    Trending in Learning

    1 What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable? 2 7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It 3 10 Methods To Acquire Knowledge Effectively 4 The 10 Best Online Dictionaries 5 The SQ3R Method: How It Maximizes Your Learning Comprehension

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Published on March 1, 2021

    What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

    What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

    As someone on the Millennial/Generation X cusp, one of my first memories of a news story was the devastating crash of the Challenger space shuttle. I couldn’t process the severity or the specifics of the event at the time, but looking back, the Challenger explosion represents a heartbreaking example of what can happen when systems fail.

    A part of the shuttle known as the O-ring was faulty. People from NASA knew about it well before the disaster, but NASA employees either ignored the problem—writing it off as not that bad—or were ignored when they tried to alert higher-ups about the issue.[1] This is a tragic example of single-loop learning where organizations focus on what they’re doing without reflecting on how or why they’re doing it, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

    Single and Double-Loop Learning

    Chris Argyris describes the difference between single and double-loop learning with a metaphor. A thermostat that turns on and off when it senses a pre-set temperature is akin to single-loop learning. The thermostat being able to reflect on whether or not it should be set to that temperature in the first place would be more like double-loop learning.[2]

    Imagine the difference if NASA would have encouraged and addressed employees’ questions about how they were doing, what they were doing, and whether or not they should be doing it at all—you’ll start to see how an extra layer of questioning and critical thought can help organizations thrive.

    Single Loop Learning

    Single-loop learning is when planning leads to action, which leads to reflection on those actions and then back to planning, action, and more reflection. Now, you might think that because reflection is involved, single-loop learning would be an effective organizational model. However, because there isn’t room for critical questions that ask why actions are being taken, problems begin to bubble up.

    The Double Bind

    When organizations are operating in single-loop learning, they get stuck in what Argyris calls the Double Bind. Because there’s no value placed on questioning why the team is doing something, team members are either punished for speaking up or punished for not speaking up if something goes wrong down the line.

    Primary Inhibiting Loop

    When an organization is stuck in single-loop learning, the double bind leads to what Argyris calls the primary inhibiting loop. Real learning and growth are inhibited because team members withhold information from each other. This withholding leads to distrust and is difficult to remedy because even if employees attempt to become more forthcoming, lack of trust sours interactions.

    Advertising

    Secondary Inhibiting Loop

    Because information is being withheld, team members play unconscious games (not the fun kind) to protect each other’s feelings. For example, I might try to distract my colleagues from worrying about a problem in our plan by shifting the focus to another project we’re working on that’s going better.

    When you’re stuck in single-loop learning, the organization does whatever it can to continue taking action after action instead of stopping to truly reassess the bigger picture. This leads team members to hide information from each other, which causes distrust and behaviors that try to mask flaws in the organization’s structures and systems.

    Double Loop Learning in Organizations

    A common misconception is that the opposite of single-loop learning involves focusing primarily on people’s feelings and allowing employees to manage themselves. However, the solution for single-loop learning is not about doing the opposite. It’s about adding an extra later of critical analysis—double-loop learning.

    With double-loop learning, questioning why the organization is doing what it’s doing is an organizational value. Instead of moving from planning to action to reflection and back to planning, in double-loop learning, people are encouraged to reflect on why they’re doing what they’re doing. This can help the organization take a step back and reconsider what’s best for all stakeholders instead of being stuck acting and reacting.

    Ultimately, double-loop learning gives team members the time, space, and systems to ask tough questions and have them addressed in meaningful ways.

    Let’s think back to the Challenger disaster. If NASA had created an organization that uses double-loop learning, employees wouldn’t have felt compelled to stay silent, and the employees who did speak up would have influenced the process enough to reconsider the timeline and develop a solution for the O-ring problem.

    Single-loop learning is like a train with no breaks. Double-loop learning provides the extra layer of critical thought that allows the organization to stop and pivot when that’s what’s required.

    Advertising

    Think back to Argyris’ thermostat metaphor. Instead of just reacting—turning on and off when it detects a certain temperature—double-loop learning invites the thermostat to reconsider why it’s doing what it’s doing and how it might do it better.

    How to Shift to Double Loop Learning

    So, how can organizations shift from single to double-loop learning?

    1. Stakeholders Must Level With Each Other

    The first step to shifting from single to double-loop learning is for all stakeholders to sit down and talk openly about their expectations, values, and goals. These sessions should be led by organizational experts to ensure that old single-loop learning habits of distrust, withholding, and game-playing don’t keep people stuck in single-loop learning.

    One of the keys to team members leveling with each other is listening. Focus on creating an environment where everyone can speak up without fear of judgment or punishment.

    2. Create Benchmarks for Lasting Growth and Change

    Old habits die hard, and single-loop learning is no different. If systems, check-ins, benchmarks, and periodic times to reflect and reset aren’t put into place, old habits of withholding and mistrust will likely creep back in. You can guard against this by making it a norm to measure, assess, and improve how new double-loop learning systems are being implemented over time.

    3. Reward Risk-Taking and Critical Feedback

    Double-loop learning requires squeaky wheels. You have to create a culture that rewards criticism, risk-taking, and reflecting on the system as a whole and the reasons the organization does what it does. Think big picture stuff.

    This is about walking the walk. It’s one thing to tell employees to speak up and give their feedback, it’s another thing entirely to have systems in place that make employees feel safe enough to do so.

    Advertising

    Kimberly Scott’s Radical Candor comes to mind as one way to start shifting to a more open and critical environment. Radical Candor is a system that incentivizes employees and managers to start speaking up about things they used to sweep under the rug. It’s a roadmap and a way to assess and improve open and reflective feedback between all stakeholders.

    Double Loop Learning for Individuals

    Double-loop learning isn’t only for organizations. You can also apply Argyris’ ideas to your learning.[3]

    Here’s how that might look:

    1. Level With Yourself and Seek Accountability

    Instead of being stuck in a single-loop learning cycle, break out by adding another layer of critical reflection. Why are you learning what you’re learning? Is it important? Is there another way? Think big picture again.

    Become clear on what you want to learn and how you’re currently trying to learn it. Then, open yourself up to others to keep yourself accountable. Leave the door open to completely shift major details about your learning goals.

    2. Create Benchmarks and Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand

    Just as with organizations, individuals also need to create goals and continuously reflect on whether or not they’re moving toward double-loop learning. Schedule times to meet with the people keeping you accountable for your learning plan. Then, ask yourself whether or not your learning goals still make sense.

    Ask big picture questions. Are you in the right environment to learn? Is your learning plan working? Do you need to change course altogether or shift your goals entirely? If it’s double-loop learning, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and change course when the need arises.

    Advertising

    3. Value Risk-Taking and Accept Criticism

    You’re also going to need to shift your mindset from simply learning and reflecting to accepting criticism, being critical of yourself as a learner, and taking risks and experiencing discomfort as you ask big questions and make drastic alterations to your learning plan over time.

    Instead of concerning yourself with grades and GPAs, double-loop learning would mean you’re allowing yourself time to step back and analyze why you’re learning what you’re learning, if there’s a better way, and even whether or not you should be on that learning trajectory in the first place.

    Final Thoughts

    Think back to the thermostat example. Doing homework, handing it in, and then receiving a grade is single-loop learning. Thinking about why you’re doing any of that and making appropriate changes that align with your learning goals shifts you into double-loop learning, and that’s a great way to see the bigger picture and get the best results.

    Learning and reflection are two of the most important things when it comes to organizational or personal development. This is why double-loop learning is key if you want yourself or your organization to succeed.

    More Tips on Effective Learning

    Featured photo credit: Cherrydeck via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] NPR: Challenger: What Went Wrong
    [2] Harvard Business Review: Double Loop Learning in Organizations
    [3] Journal of Advanced Learning: The role of reflection in single and double-loop learning

    Read Next