How much time to learn this language

How fast can I learn a new language?

Learning a new language opens up possibilities, but is usually associated with a lot of effort. The goal is therefore usually to keep the language acquisition process as short as possible. But how long does it really take to learn a new language?

First of all, the effort involved in language acquisition depends on how complicated the new language is in terms of its grammar and vocabulary. Dutch is easier to learn for native German speakers than Japanese. Linguistic affinity helps to acquire a new language through given similarities and differences. While some languages ​​are easy to learn in the basics and only become more complicated later, acquiring the basic knowledge of other languages ​​can be a major challenge. Language systems that have a different writing system are probably the greatest challenge for us.

When do you speak a language fluently?

Speaking a language fluently is a vague term as most people have different standards for it. If you speak the 300 most commonly spoken words in a language, you will be able to understand around 50% of all conversations. That sounds like a lot at first, but of course it doesn't mean that you speak the language fluently.

That is why the Council of Europe created a common European frame of reference for language in 2001, which not only gives extensive recommendations for language learners on the subject of language acquisition, language competence and language use, but also divides language skills into three areas of competence. These areas are in turn divided into two sub-areas and take into account all four sub-qualifications of language acquisition: reading and listening comprehension, writing and speaking.

This common framework, which is now very widespread in Europe, represents a common basis for curricula and qualification certificates.

Little motivation - little success

That it takes a lot of motivation to learn a new language may not sound surprising. According to Britta Hufeisen, head of the Institute for Linguistics and Literature Studies at the Technical University of Dortmund, motivation is the only way to success in language acquisition. Horseshoe even goes so far that she denies the existence of any language skills and instead speaks of a tendency to learn languages ​​that would influence learning solely through motivation. People are interested in communication for the sake of survival and that is precisely why the human brain is designed for multilingualism, according to Hufeisen, who is also represented at the European Center for Modern Language. Language acquisition would therefore not be a problem, especially for children. She criticizes the fact that there is often little motivation in school because the language acquisition often consists of grammar lessons alone. Many children consider the information obtained to be of little help and accordingly not transferred from short-term to long-term memory.

In addition, this type of language acquisition is drastically different from the natural one and does not correspond to us humans, since our own language acquisition is quite individual. In order for us to learn a language successfully, we have to motivate ourselves and actively control the learning process ourselves. Klaus-Börge Boeckmann, linguist from the University of Vienna, describes the biggest disruptive factor for this as routine and habituation. The blunt learning of vocabulary and grammar has no lasting effect for many. The learning content would have to be adapted to the reality of life of the individual so that the information learned is recognized as important and thus anchored in the brain in the long term. The best way to do this is to link new knowledge to what is known. According to Boeckmann, what has been learned is saved for the long term.


Our brain needs time - phases of language acquisition

We learn languages ​​first and foremost through decoding. This means that we decipher a language we are not familiar with and thereby make it understandable. The second step takes significantly more time. In this, new nerve tracts have to be created that are needed to speak the new language. The neural speed, i.e. the time in which these are built, differs from person to person. Each language system has different sounds, rhythms and melodies. The brain must acquire these and effectively store them so that they can be used correctly later.

Above all, the brain needs time to process what it has learned and to store it in the long term. That also has its advantages. When we learn languages, the brain continues to work, even if we have long been doing something else. Only when information has been recorded and processed does new nerve pathways emerge, and thus the new knowledge is ready for use. Once the knowledge is effectively stored, it is seldom completely forgotten. We all know the phenomenon of believing that we have forgotten our second or third foreign language, probably learned at school. But if we brush up on a few vocabulary first, speaking is surprisingly easy. “Strictly speaking, forgetting is usually not forgetting, because knowledge that has been buried can often be made accessible again,” says Britta Hufeisen.

Address your own senses in short intervals

Hufeisen continues to criticize the fact that in school too much attention is paid to the structure of the language itself, i.e. to understand its grammar completely, instead of approaching the language through practical application. In order to learn a language as effectively as possible, it pays to use your senses for help. These help the brain to store knowledge in as many places as possible. That is why languages ​​can be learned well in small intervals. Ten minutes a day are enough to acquire a basic knowledge of a new language.

Environment - the desired immersion

Lots of exercises and the recognition of relevance remain the keys to success in language acquisition. But if you want to learn a language particularly quickly, you should immerse yourself in the country's culture. This not only provides the best motivation, but you also learn to use the new language effectively in everyday situations. What better method is there than to move language from short-term to long-term memory through active use?

Social interactions continue to encourage information to be anchored in the brain because we believe it is important. When we recognize language as a means to an end, we achieve the greatest success. This method of language acquisition, also known as “learning by doing”, is known in technical terms as immersion. Language acquisition is achieved through a foreign language environment and the language is thus learned casually. Immersion is not only considered to be the world's most successful language learning method, but also promotes all four areas of competence in language acquisition at the same time, which otherwise have to be painstakingly trained individually. Stays abroad also enable contact with many people, which promotes exchange. Immersion begins and the feeling of tedious language acquisition disappears. The transfer of the new information happens incidentally, since we consider the new knowledge to be elementary. In addition, the stay abroad offers the opportunity to combine the new language with unique memories. Language acquisition without effort and combined with memories, a tempting offer.

Language acquisition remains individual

When we speak a language fluently, we always decide for ourselves, with our own standards. You have to find the technology and above all the motivation that suits you. How quickly we learn a new language system depends largely on three things: the time available, the awareness of language and our own motivation. This cannot be generalized.

The easiest and most sustainable method to learn a new language remains immersion. It is the unnoticed language acquisition that confronts us with a language in our everyday life, and thus stores the new language system quickly, unnoticed and effectively. We also associate the language with a lot of new and positive experiences. If you don't have the time, ten minutes a day is enough, for example in the form of interval training. The time in which the brain "processes" the new information can be used effectively and the learning time is almost doubled. Because the brain continues to work on average for around 7 minutes. And who knew that the basics of some languages ​​can be learned in just 2 weeks if you do about ten shorter units a day. And for further motivation: According to this calculation, the A2 level can be achieved after 25 weeks and the B2 level, which certifies independent language proficiency, after just under a year - happy language learning!