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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

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 November 6, 2020

    How Motor Learning Can Help You Learn Effectively

    How Motor Learning Can Help You Learn Effectively

    Practice makes perfect. It’s a cliché saying that gets pulled out time and time again. For many, they loath to hear it, but that saying has some truth to it. After all, this saying pops up the most when we are in the midst of motor learning.

    While this saying is off, as perfection is impossible, the practice side of it is the only way for us to get closer to that level. And the only way a motor skill can get to that level is through motor learning. It’s through this concept where we can grow the various skills in our lives, but also to learn effectively by learning the right way.

    What Is Motor Learning?

    To present an example, it’s best to explain what the theory of motor learning is. For starters, it’s been described as such:[1]

    “A set of internal processes associated with practice or experience leading to relatively permanent changes in the capability for skilled behavior.”

    Our brain responds to sensory information to either practice or experience a certain skill that allows for growth of a motor task or the ability to produce a new motor skill. This happens because our central nervous system changes to allow this to happen in the first place.To see this at work, consider one of the first skills we learned as a human being: walking. While some think toddlers get up and start trying to walk, there are many complex processes at work.

    The reason people started to learn to walk was because of motor learning.

    At the base stage, we started to walk because months before even trying to take our first steps, we saw how important it was. We witnessed several people walking and understood how helpful it is to walk on two feet.

    The 3 Stages of Motor Learning

    There is more to motor learning than you might think. Over the years, the learning community has uncovered that there are three stages of motor learning:

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    • Cognitive
    • Associative
    • Autonomous

    Each stage has its own requirements for further development and what each stage brings to the learning experience[2].

    Motor learning for performance

      Cognitive Stage

      This base stage is where a lot of learning and context happens. At this stage, we’re not overly concerned about how to actually do the skill properly. Instead, we’re more concerned about why we should bother learning the skill.

      Once we’ve got a grasp of that, this stage also starts the trial and error process. You can call it practice, but at this stage, the idea is to at least try it out rather than nail it.

      This is also the stage where we are heavily reliant on guidance. We can have a coach or a teacher there, and their role is to provide a good learning environment. This means removing distractions and using visuals, as well as encouraging those trials and errors to guide the learning process.

      One example of this goes back to the walking example, but other instances are things like driving a car or riding a bike. Even when we are older, you can see this form of learning working.

      Associative Stage

      The second stage is where we’ve got some practice under our belt, and we have a good grasp of general concepts. We know what to do in order to perform this particular skill. The only problem is that we might not be able to do that skill all that well when compared to others.

      Indeed, we know what to do, but not “how to do it well.” It’s at this stage where the saying “Practice makes perfect” rings true. The more that we practice, the more we can refine and tighten the loose ends of that skill.

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      An example of this motor learning at work is seen in sports. Generally speaking, people can perform better the more that they practice. That’s because the more we practice something, the more we understand what input does to our bodies as well as where our current limits lie.

      Autonomous Stage

      At this stage, everything is more or less automatic and will stick in the long term. We can still improve, but you don’t need to tell yourself to go and do a certain task or assignment constantly. Your body has become adjusted to the idea of doing this.

      .

      An example of this learning is the skills that you use at work. When you get to work, you need very little persuasion to actually do your work. Whether that’s writing, lifting, operating a machine, or performing, there are a set of skills that we don’t think about and merely do.

      The Principles of Motor Learning

      The principles of motor learning are few and far between. Generally speaking, there is a consensus that the key to production of a new motor skill isn’t so much on the amount of time spent practicing, but the way that we practice.

      This idea was brought up in a 2016 study published on Science Alert, where scientists uncovered that making changes in your training can enhance your learning experience.[3]

      With this in mind, the core principles focus on the methodology of learning. Not only that, but ensuring they follow through the stages that I mentioned above, which are simple in concept.

      The core principle of this learning is to reinforce a skill so much that our execution of that skill is nothing but mindless consistency.

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      The study that I brought up is a new addition to that principle, as we now know that making alterations during our practice can cause new aspects of learning to grow and enrich our learning and mastery of a skill.

      How to Use Motor Learning Theory For Effective Learning

      The theory as we know it is to practice movement patterns until they become second nature and to experiment and make small changes in order to improve performance of a skill.

      How does all of that help with us being better at something? That study found something called memory reconsolidation.[4] One of the senior study author’s, Pablo A. Celnik, M.D. stated that:

      “What we found is if you practice a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more and faster than if you just keep practicing the exact same thing multiple times in a row.”

      Motor learning through memory reconsolidation

        Celnik also stressed why this is such a big deal:

        “Our results are important because little was known before about how reconsolidation works in relation to motor skill development. This shows how simple manipulations during training can lead to more rapid and larger motor skill gains because of reconsolidation.”

        In other words, by using memory reconsolidation, we can learn faster and ultimately gain the ability to perform a skill faster than by practicing something for several hours without making changes[5].

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        Why does this variation enhance practice? Because the act of recalling our memories isn’t a passive process.[6]

        Whether you are learning a new skill or recalling an event, the sheer act of recalling changes the memory itself. In essence, our memories become highly unreliable as we focus and subtly alter those memories in light of recent events.

        This is because our brain is more interested in the most useful version of the world and disregards useless details.

        Bottom Line

        In order to incorporate motor learning into your life, it’s a matter of mixing up your practice session slightly. Whatever skill it is you are trying to do, urge yourself to make subtle changes to how you perform.

        If you’re writing, try applying a new word you never used previously that you picked up.

        Are you practicing an instrument or playing a sport? Try to use a different muscle or a new movement to achieve the same sound. This can be something as simple as posture or body position.

        The idea with motor learning is to keep practicing, even if you are at the stage where your movements are automatic. This variation can very well bring you to the next level of that skill.

        More About Learning Faster

        Featured photo credit: Jordan Whitfield via unsplash.com

        Reference

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