Thursday, January 05, 2012

how many hours are in 3 months?

If you were going to try to achieve some kind of significant level in a new language in 3 months, how many hours would you put in? What could you accomplish in 3 months? What kind of fluency would you have, if any, after 3 months?

I'm asking the questions here, so feel free to give me your ideas. I won't be answering my own questions today, but I'd like to think about it for a moment.

Let's break it down into some different hypothetical situations. Three months is usually about 91 and 1/4 days. That makes a full 13 weeks.

Scenario A

If you studied for 1 hour a week, you would have put in 13 hours in 3 months. In this scenario, you would be forgetting most of what you had studied the week before and would need to spend a lot of time reviewing, unless you divided that 1 hour up evenly over the 7 days of the week. That would be roughly 8 minutes and 34 and 1/3 seconds a day. With just this much time, pretty much everybody has the time to learn a language.  How much would you learn in 8 minutes? Since this slice of time is really small, you wouldn't have any extra time to spend on planning each day. You would need to know exactly what you were going to learn and where it was. I think I would suggest learning one new item each day. That should take 2 minutes or less. The rest of the time could be spent on having conversations. Just kidding about the conversations! What I meant to say was, the rest of the time could be used to review recently learned items. An item could be a word, phrase, or sentence/question. If more than just a word, I would suggest no more than one new word in the new sentence, at least in the beginning.  After 3 months, you should know at least 91 words by heart, and having full conversations. Yeah right!

Scenario B

So, let's say you are a little more ambitious. If you studied for 1 hour a day, you would have invested 91 hours of your life in a new language. That's 7 times more time than in the previous scenario. Now you know what 7 x 13 equals. 7 times as many words means you should know 637 words or phrases after 3 months, right? Is 637 items enough to become conversationally fluent? I thinks it's surely enough to make you look fluent. All you have to do is utter them fluently. I have no doubt a skillful person could communicate reasonably well enough in most daily situations.

Scenario C

Next, let's move you up to super ambitious, full-time scholar of the language arts. If you studied for 7 hours a day for 3 full months, where would you get? Well, let's see. Again, it's 7 times more than Scenario B, so that would make 4459 words! Remember, that's just 7 items an hour. With one new word per item, you would be the master of 4459 words in a mere 3 months. Not surprisingly, it's 637 hours too! Surely you could pass for conversationally fluent with four-thousand-and-fifty-nine words?

I guess it also depends on the language.

Scenario D

Take Scenario C and multiply everything times 2.  Then round up. Learn 100 words a day for 90 days and now you've got 9,000 words. Congratulations! In a mere 1365 hours, spread out over 91 days, you now know 1/3 as much vocabulary as a native speaker. And that's only 7 words an hour. I hope you've been using those words or they'll soon be forgotten.

In Conclusion...

Now you can see how a bunch of words can be learned in a mere 3 months. And hey, it's not like 3 months is all that large of a slice of your life. For those of you who have never learned a foreign language before, I have to warn you, language learning is not only about learning words. It does take more to become skilled at using the language and communicating in a foreign culture.


  1. Or you could immerse yourself and "live" the language every day. This could include some study time, but also a lot of interacting with people in their language as you go about your daily activities. This means that almost every waking minute would be part of your "learning". That's probably double your scenario D in hours, but then the hours aren't as important as the focus and engagement, right?

    I'd call the level you could achieve "good conversational" but different people have different opinions on the definition of fluency...

  2. Seems you just analyzed this crazy and impossible endeavor:

  3. @YAL, How could it be possible to double the hours of Scenario D? 14 hours a day is pretty much the most any superduper learner could do. According to my knowledge, there are only 24 hours in a day, so 28 just wouldn't fit in. Plus, you've got to sleep too. Using the brain takes a lot of energy.

    Even living in country does not make it easy to make every waking minute part of your learning. It still requires a herculean effort to take advantage of your surroundings. I've been there. In fact, I still am there.

    But the vast majority of learners are living in a country where their target language is not the dominant language.

  4. Hi Keith, how are you?

    I wrote a "three months" post too

    and than I saw this one. :) It must be contagious that 3 months thing, all of a sudden everybody talks about it :)

    @LWTProject: Great program.


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