Sunday, January 24, 2010

how many hours does it take to learn a language?

Did you ask yourself that question? Did you even stop to think about it before you jumped into learning Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or whatever language you are learning? How many hours is it going to take to learn a new language?

There are more people who know WHEN they want to be able to speak a second language than those who know how long it takes to reach that point. They want to speak NOW.  Or they say want to reach basic fluency by New Years. But they haven't even researched how much time it takes.

If you don't know how much time is required to reach your goal, how do you know if you are putting in enough time each week to reach it by your desired date?

Do not most language learners underestimate the amount of time necessary to learn a language? After all, it is not an endless process. Not being able to see the end in sight is a sure way to lose your passion. It leads to lost motivation and time spent away from doing what it is you need to do to learn that language.

The time required is different for each person because it is based on linguistic as well as cultural factors. I have found many references that state it takes 2,000 hours to learn a language like Chinese for a native English speaker.  ALG World found that it takes about 1800 hours for Thai (if you do it correctly) plus a year of partial immersion in the country.

Will the TV method be the same? I can't say. But I have set my sights for 2,000 hours.  Until I reach that figure, I won't be worrying about speaking or fluency. I hope that will take me above 90% understanding of the language while watching TV dramas. If not, I will just keep watching and I will let you all know when I get there. At that point, I will seek out opportunities to speak.

For sure, I haven't grossly underestimated the time it will take. Such as thinking that it's only going to take 300 hours, and thinking that I can put just 1 hour a day into it. When you realize that it's a big project, then you have a better chance of reaching your goal.

Another thing that helps is when you feel that this language learning is the most important thing you are doing in your life and you don't want to let anything get in the way. If you don't feel that way, then surely life will get in the way.

At some point, you can reach fluency in the language. You may not know every word you read, but you will have the knowledge you need to fully participate in that language. At that point, language learning is not so important and you can let something else take precedence.

So, do you want to be learning this language for decades? Or do you want to put your time in now and get it done sooner? 2,000 hours can be completed in just 2 years with a solid commitment of 2 and 3/4 hours a day, every day.  Or you can reach the 2,000 hour mark in 1.5 years with a daily time requirement of 3 and 2/3 hours.

If you are learning a difficult language and say that you haven't enough time to devote to it, then perhaps you would save yourself many hours of struggle by quitting now. If you cannot quit, then you can save yourself many decades of suffering by doing it right and putting in the hours necessary up front. It does take a lot of input. Native input produced by native speakers.

Remember, there's a right way and there's a wrong way. And then there's MY way.


  1. Apparently I'm different from most other people out there, because I realized it would take hundreds or thousands of hours of learning Japanese before I'd be where I wanted to be, but I didn't have any real time-related goals in mind. Here I am, 2 years later and nowhere near 2000 hours... In fact, I'm probably closer to 800 hours. (1 hour a day, on average.) But that time is split between studying and immersion, like reading a manga or watching TV (with subs, though) so probably isn't a really useful number.

    What I've found was that there were actually mini-goals along the way so far and they've enabled me to enjoy the language and not burn out. I continue to grow daily, but at an erratic pace.

    So judging by the numbers in the above post, I've got another 3 years or so before I get good at Japanese... And I'm okay with that. I'm actually rapidly approaching another of my mini-goals and it's giving me a lot of adrenaline.

  2. Hi Keith, this is a very interesting topic.
    Few years ago I wandered through the web searching for a rough estimation about how many hours will take to learn a language, especially a difficult language. Most of the websites use the FSI estimation ( which is for their Audio-lingual method, something completely different from TV method that you use or ER which I prefer.
    Luckily few months ago I've discovered a very useful table ( - Table 1), and after doing some calculations I came up with these conclusions:
    1)I need about 10,000 words to reach high level in the language ( ;
    2)In order to learn those words I assume that I need to read about 12,657,895 words (
    3)The reading speed for a language learner is from 100wpm at the beginning to 200 wpm at the end, so I took 150 wpm as an average (which is rate at which people comfortably can hear words and is generally the recommended rate for those who are preparing “books on tape,” or for narration in videos. May be interesting for your method)
    4)12,657,895 words : 150wpm = 1688(50-minute) reading classes.

    So I guess that 1688 hours will be necessary for doing the reading part which makes maybe 75% of my language studies. You can add here the time necessary to learn the basic vocabulary at the beginning and of course the time for at least some EL which in this case is not that important for the vocabulary growth and grammar acquisition but is crucial for the pronunciation and the listening skills.
    These are my "naive" estimations, but I think it's much better to have some clue instead of wondering all the time about time needed or following a estimations like that one of FSI which is impossible to implement on different methods.
    Pardon me for the long post, I just find this topic thrilling and hope that my way of reasoning will wake up some smart ideas in you which we can share in future.


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