Time Needed to Learn Languages
- 600 class hours: French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian, Afrikaans (6 months half time / 24 weeks)
- 850 class hours: Indonesian, Malaysian, Swahili (8 months / 34 weeks)
- 1100 class hours: Albanian, Amharic, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Khmer, Latvian, Nepali, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese, Zulu (10 months / 44 weeks)
- More than 1100 class hours: Georgian, Mongolian (more than 10 months / 44 weeks)
- 2200 class hours: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean (21 months / 88 weeks; 2nd year is in the country)
Esperanto is not included in their list. It takes less time to learn, and four studies have found that learning it first then another Asian or European language, is faster than starting with the target language. Inexpensive courses are available for Esperanto, like the other languages.
The hours of required time above show why most traditional courses are not enough:
- 30-200 hours in typical self-study courses
- 300 hours of class and immersion in one-month class abroad (30 days x 10 hours/day)
- 480 hours of class in 4 years of high school (4 years x 180 days/year x 2/3 hour per day)
- 400 hours of class in 4 years of college (8 semesters x 50 contact hours/semester)
- 600-900 hours of class and immersion in 2-3 month Peace Corps training (60 to 90 days x 10 hours/day)
- 15-30,000 hours of immersion for a child growing up (4 to 8 years to fluency x 10 hours/day). Lightbown says children take 12-15,000 hours to learn a language (p. 179 of Applied Linguistics 1985 6(2): pp.173-189).
Even with these learning times, you will still have a noticeable accent. Ways to reduce your accent are discussed in a separate article.
Conversation Is the Hardest Topic
For example social conversation requires distinctions among: hi, hello, hiya, hey, how do you do?, how are you?, how are you doing? what's up? howdy, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, nice to meet you, good to see you again, glad to know you, etc. Correct words depend on time of day, whether the people have met before, and context; in many languages they depend on sex or age of the two speakers.
Examples in Spanish include: hola, buenas, buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches, oye, ¿cómo se hace?, ¿qué tal?, ¿qué pasa?, ¿cómo estás?, ¿cómo está usted?, encantada/o, mucho gusto, gusto en conocerte/lo, me da gusto conocerte/lo, me alegro de verte de nuevo, igualmente, etc.
The widely known nĭ hăo for hello in Chinese, similarly changes if speaking to more than one person, or someone you do not know well (formal).
Starting with numbers helps anyone who had trouble with other courses. When a learner has trouble, good advice is to try a different approach. Numbers are a different approach.
Courses for Hard Languages
- "in highly inflected languages, such as Russian or Finnish, significant meaning is encoded at the ends of words and must be attended to. Students learning Russian must literally choose from 144 possible endings for each noun, adjective, demonstrative, and pronoun they wish to utter. . . to say a noun in Russian requires attaching a case marker"
- "To utter any word in Thai entails giving it a tone"