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Published on October 23, 2019

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

Learning a language is not as easy as it seems. You might have spent years learning it whole-heartedly, but still, aren’t even close to mastering it. This is because learning a new language could take months and even years of dedicated study. Not to forget, this will only help you become conversational. In case you want to be fluent, then complete immersion in the native country is what you will need!

So how long does it take to learn a new language? Let’s find out.

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 although studied hard, but not languages.

It was 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.

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Who Tend to Be Fast Language Learners?

A new paper published in the journal Cognition used a Facebook-quiz-powered method to understand how human being learns a language, and what impact age has on this process.[2]

The study found that you are more likely to obtain a native-like fluency in the language if you start learning it 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 studied the correlation between bilingualism and learning a third language.[3] It was 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

According to Prof. Abu-Rabia,

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“Gaining command of a number of languages improves proficiency in native languages. This is because languages reinforce one another, and provide tools to strengthen phonologic, morphologic and syntactic skills. These skills provide the necessary basis for learning to read. Our study has also shown that applying language skills from one language to another is a critical cognitive function that makes it easier for an individual to go through the learning process successfully. Hence, it is clear that tri-lingual education would be most successful when started at a young age and when it is provided with highly structured and substantive practice.”

How Long Does It Take to Become Fluent in a Language?

Undoubtedly, there are various factors that impact how long it will take you to learn a new language.

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. 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? Or do you intend to use an app or an online program? Or do you plan to travel to the concerned country for a more immersive experience? Answers to all these questions will help you in gauging as to how much it will take you to master the language.

According to the American Council of Teaching Foreign Language Guidelines measures the time, it will take by breaking down the different levels of language learning into varied steps.[4] Foreign Service Institute (FSI) believes that determining the difficulty of a language to calculate the timings are essential:

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

Category II includes the languages which are similar to English like German and estimated that it will take 30 weeks or 750 hours to attain the desired fluency.

Category III 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.

Category IV 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 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.

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What’s Next?

If you are planning to learn a new language, now is the right time to get started. Learning a new language not only eliminates language barriers, but it is also found to be associated with various other 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

If you’re ready to take up a new language, here’s what to do: How to Learn a New Language Fast (A Step-By-Step Guide)

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 September 18, 2020

How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster and Easier

How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster and Easier

Have you ever noticed that you tend to learn certain things simply by observing others? Learning in this way is called social learning, which is one of the 6 common types of learning. It helps you learn faster as knowledge and habits are acquired easily when they are practiced by people within a certain environment.

Throughout the centuries, humans have incorporated social learning in their lives as a major learning approach. The fact that human behavior is learned has made this possible. From initially being the only way to learn, it is now the fastest and most comprehensive learning method.

In this article, you’ll find out how you can make good use of social learning and observed behaviors to help you learn faster and easier.

The social learning theory as presented by Albert Bandura is simple. It suggests social learning is based on attention, retention, motivation and reproduction[1].

While these stages seem like common sense, there is a surprisingly large number of people who go through social interactions without learning anything because they aren’t actively practicing the different stages.

Let’s get started with the first stage, attention.

Attention

Since our mind has a limited capacity for storing data, it’s the things that we pay attention to that stay with us. Giving 100% of your attention to a situation you learn from is guaranteed to help you maximize social learning.

Stay in the Moment

When you’re focused on learning from your surroundings, your mind will focus only on what it wants to learn, so distractions fade away. However, it’s very normal to be in a situation where the information you are getting becomes monotonous or you get distracted for some other reason.

Make sure you are well-rested and energized so you can spend your energy learning things that matter to you[2].

social learning theory

    Be Mindful

    Mindfulness in its simplest terms is tuning into we’re experiencing in the present rather than thinking about something that could or did happen.

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    For social learning, you should be mindful only of the conversation or activity you want to learn from, filtering out other things that don’t matter to you as much at that moment. This way, your brain can make memories of what you are experiencing at that time only, which is the thing you want to learn.

    If you find yourself getting distracted, focus on deep breathing until the distractions fade away and you can bring your attention back to the learning opportunity at hand.

    For more tips on being mindful, check out this article.

    Don’t Multitask

    In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s normal, even expected, to be a multitasker. Being amongst people and checking emails on smartphones is now normal social behavior.

    However, when you want to maximize your social learning, don’t multitask. You should focus only on the interaction you want to learn from and block out all the rest.

    Don’t reach for your device, and don’t engage in multiple conversations simultaneously. In short, don’t have your mind and other senses deal with anything apart from learning.

    Engage Actively

    Similar to the above points, learning through social learning is fast and easy if you listen, speak, and observe actively.

    When you’re actively engaged, you respond to the situation by making relevant observations, mimicking important actions, and focusing on listening so you understand.

    To maximize the benefits of learning through social learning, be attentive to those who are around and looking to learn as well. A good example of this would be medical students on clinical rotations who are actively observing and listening to the doctor they are assigned to, and responding to his / her queries.

    Retention

    Paying attention is great for learning, but what about retaining the new information?

    Our brain has limited space to store data, so how do we ensure we remember things that are important to us?

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    These tips should help increase your retention power.

    Repeat to Remember

    Our brain starts developing from the moment we are born, absorbing things from people and experiences around us. It is learning constantly, and repeated experiences help reinforce the learning.

    A new experience opens up new neural pathways in our brain, and repetition of these experiences[3] strengthens the pathways, helping us retain the information better and for longer.

    Increase Brain Power

    You can improve retention by increasing your brain power: exercise regularly, sleep well, and stretch memory muscles by playing brain games.

    Here are more ways to help: How to Increase Brain Power: 10 Simple Ways to Train Your Brain

    Make Connections

    Connect a social learning opportunity with mnemonics. Use mental images, music, and anything else you want to retain and recall information.

    Link new information with old to reach new conclusions. You can use writing and speech for this.

    Remember That Less Is More

    When you are looking to retain knowledge through social learning, try taking in information in small quantities.

    Full day conferences, lectures that last for hours, and similar learning schedules do not have the desired effect. The human mind shuts down when it is faced with information overload, and the learning from these situations becomes minimal.

    Research shows that if you are looking to retain information from social learning opportunities, it’s a far better idea to put yourself in the situation more frequently for a shorter amount of time[4].

    Motivation

    The idea of a tangible reward or the emotional high that comes with the sense of accomplishment is what motivates us to keep doing a good thing, while the fear of repercussions or unpleasant outcomes is what keeps from doing something bad.

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    When a child observes that good behavior of a sibling results in them getting a treat, while bad behavior courts punishment, the child wanting a treat will be motivated toward good behavior by this social learning lesson.

    Motivation to learn new information and habits is a critical part of social learning. To stay motivated for social learning, you can try the following.

    Find a Role Model

    Finding a role model and basing your learning on them means you are motivated to duplicate the role model’s behavior.

    The medical students example fits well here again. The students will be motivated to observe and imitate better clinical skills and patient handling techniques by observing others around them and aspiring to be as good as they are.

    Make a Note

    Write down things that inspired you, and keep going back to them to stay motivated.

    Talk About It

    Talk to your role model or peers about what is motivating you in a shared social learning environment.

    An example of this is a person in rehab who is motivated to attend meetings by the presence of others who have managed to kick the addiction and are on the road to recovery.

    This is based on reinforcement or punishment. Positive motivation is reward-based motivation (satisfied patients) and negative motivation is punishment-based motivation (absolute dependence on drugs).

    Remember, no matter which type works for you, without motivation, there is no reason for us to do anything.

    Reproduction

    In the context of social learning, “reproduction” is not propagation of the learning, but the implementation of it.

    Reproducing learned information is the last stage of social learning. Once you pay attention to your surroundings and retain what you learned in the setting, you are then motivated to reproduce your learning so you can get the reward.

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    Bandura suggests direct reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement and self-reinforcement as the different ways to reproduce knowledge gained through social learning[5].

    Direct Reinforcement

    This is when you act on knowledge, knowing the result will be positive, or avoid the act because the result would be unpleasant.

    To repeat the medical students’ example here, direct reinforcement would be one of them practicing patient handling techniques learned from their role model, with the expectation that the result would be a satisfied patient.

    Vicarious Reinforcement

    Vicarious reinforcement in social learning is the application of knowledge that has not been learned first-hand but is learned by observing the consequences of the actions of a third party.

    A good example of this type of reinforcement would be learning not to take drugs after seeing the condition of a drug addict.

    Self-Reinforcement

    Self-reinforcement is when a person decides to reward him / herself for good behavior, or bring about a negative consequence as a result of an undesired situation.

    Think of a student who has promised herself a scoop of ice cream if she gets an A on an exam she studied hard for, or decided to ask for extra coaching if she got anything below a C.

    The Bottom Line

    Albert Bandura presented the social learning theory in the 1970s, and it immediately gained popularity because of its simplicity, practicality, and immense potential for success. While the theory never went out of fashion, it is now experiencing a resurgence for all the right reasons.

    If you want to become a smarter learner, take advantage of learning experiences and the social learning theory to learn faster!

    More About Effective Learning

    Featured photo credit: Alexis Brown via unsplash.com

    Reference

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