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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
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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

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

    How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done
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    Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

    This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

    As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

    But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

    How Serious Is Information Overload?

    The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

    This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

    When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

    We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

    No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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    The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

    That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

    Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

    Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

    But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

    Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

    Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

    When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

    Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

    The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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    You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

    How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

    So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

    1. Set Your Goals

    If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

    Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

    Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

    Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

    2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

    Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

    First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

    If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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    • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
    • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
    • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

    If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

    (You’ll forget about it anyway.) And that’s basically it.

    Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

    You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

    Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

    3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

    There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

    Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

    Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

    Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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    4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

    Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

    This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

    Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

    The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Summing It Up

    As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

    I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

    I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

    More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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