¿Cuánto tiempo me llevará aprender un nuevo idioma?

The internet nowadays is full of adverts such as ‘Learn English in 15 days!’ or ‘Speak like a native in 6 months!’. Attention grabbers like these, similar to the get-rich-fast adverts, are almost never true, unfortunately. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be very attractive if this question was met with ‘it depends…’ but the truth is that it does depend on a lot of factors.

How fast you acquire a new language depends on factors such as:

Below, I will show you how each one of these parameters influence how fast you will learn a new language:

 Level of fluency 

It is not the same to be fluent enough to introduce yourself to someone or to give directions, and to talk about complicated topics such as global warming or the meaning of life in a foreign language! How long you need to invest in learning a language depends on your fluency goal.

More specifically, linguists have identified six stages people go through when acquiring a new language. These are: the ‘pre-production’ stage or ‘silent-stage’, ‘early production’, ‘speech emergent’, ‘beginning fluency’, ‘intermediate fluency’ and ‘advanced fluency’.

During the Silent Stage you will normally just listen to and observe the language without producing any. It is perfectly normal to not produce language at this stage. This is what babies do before they start to speak. This period lasts about six weeks or longer, depending on the individual.

During your Early Production stage you will begin to use short words and phrases but the main emphasis is still on listening to and observing the language. You will make mistakes but that is very natural and it is actually encouraged!

When you’re Speech Emergent, you start producing language more frequently. Your words and sentences may be longer but you will rely a lot on familiar  topics and context to understand what you read or hear.

During your Beginning Fluency stage you will become more fluent in everyday social situations and you will make less mistakes. It may be difficult for you at this point to talk about more complicated topics and you will find that you keep searching for the appropriate vocabulary to use in each situation. Don’t worry! This means you’re improving!

During your Intermediate Fluency stage you are very fluent in social situations and almost fluent when you need to talk about a topic that is new to you or when you need to talk in an academic setting. You will make even fewer mistakes than before and be able to express your opinion or analyze a problem in the new language.

During your Advanced Fluency stage you will still make mistakes from time to time – nobody is perfect- but you will be able to communicate fluently in all contexts and it will be comfortable to express yourself in the language. 

As you can see, there are quite a few stages to go through and it usually takes people about a year or more to complete each stage with the exception of the silent stage which is normally completed within the first couple of months of exposure to the language.

So ask yourself what level of fluency you are aiming for? If you are looking to learn a language in order to be able to express yourself in a professional or academic setting in the country where that language is spoken, then prepare to invest the appropriate amount of time that corresponds to completing all stages. Here it is also important to note that people who are aiming to take one of the language exams for university entry or for emigrating to another country need to invest in extra exam preparation training where they will be thoroughly trained in the academic use of the language. However, if you only need to learn English in order to communicate basic needs when traveling for example, you can reach that goal in a year’s time or less. If your goal is to live in the UK for a year and make friends, then more than one year of study will be needed as you have to at least reach the ‘beginning fluency’ stage.

Your first language

Languages belong to certain language families. For example languages such as Spanish, English, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese and Russian are all Indo-European languages and since they belong to the same family, they have some common roots and features. It is much easier, and therefore faster, for a native Spanish speaker to learn Portuguese or English than for the same person to learn Chinese. This happens because of mutual intelligibility, a concept which refers to the ability to recognize similarities between languages and therefore help you learn faster.

Speaking multiple languages

If you know two languages, the ones you learn afterwards will be easier for you to learn, especially if they belong to the same family of languages.

Again, due to mutual intelligibility, it is  easier for someone who has learnt one foreign language to learn a second or third as they can not only  ‘decode’ similarities and differences in the languages but they also know what to expect and what learning strategies work for them when learning a new language.

How well you know your first language

This is a surprising one for many people. However, it has been shown through numerous studies that the better you know your first language, the more likely you are to be able to understand new language structures easily and progress faster. If you have grammar gaps in your first language or if you have grown up saying certain things wrong, the more likely you are to struggle when learning a new language.

Your environment

Learning a language only from a book is not the same as learning a language the way it is lived.

Your environment undoubtedly plays one of the main roles in how fast you will learn a foreign language. Babies learn their first language because of their environment. They don’t know anything about grammar or structures. They just listen and replicate. Likewise, when you’re in an environment where you are forced to speak the new language, you will progress faster. This is why you often hear things like ‘If you want to learn a language you need to live in the corresponding country’. While this is very true, and, statistically, people who spend time in the country of the language they are learning do progress faster, you can also ‘create’ your own language environment. Things like reading books, listening to songs, watching movies in the new language as well as joining tandem groups and making friends with people from the country whose language you’re learning, all help to create an environment more or less close to the one you would have if you lived in said country. A good teacher will also create life-like situations in class where you will need to communicate as you would in the foreign country in question, making the language learning process more pragmatic, useful and at the same time engaging.

Your history with the language, attitude and mindset

Coming back to a language after a bad experience is not the same as learning for the first time from a place of positivity and curiosity.

Some people have negative associations with learning a new language which impedes them from progressing smoothly. This could be because they were forced to learn at school when they really didn’t want to or didn’t understand why they had to learn a new language. Maybe they had past teachers who made class unappealing and/or didn’t encourage students in their learning experience. Maybe the teacher aggressively corrected every little tiny mistake the student made which made them feel like they couldn’t learn. People with a background like this normally take a break from learning a language for a few years and when they come back to the classroom all these negative feelings rise up again and they start classes from a place of anxiety rather than a place of curiosity about the language.

This, together with the extended break from the language can impede performance. If you belong to this group of people, know that it is more common than you think and that it is possible to learn again without feeling bad. Talk to your teacher about it and you can come up with a plan together that will help you to see this language learning process in a positive light. A big part of language learning is attitude.

Also, bad grammatical or syntactical habits which have fossilized over the years can inhibit the speed of your learning process as you will most likely need to take a few steps back to fill in the gaps before you continue advancing to a higher level.

Learning to embrace challenges and adopting a ‘growth mindset’ is critical to learning a new language. When learning any new skill it is normal for people to at some point feel that it’s a lot more repetitive, technical or perplexing than they realized. Those who succeed know that in moments like these they need to find their curiosity again, stick to the plan and trust that they will not only overcome the difficulties but come out as stronger people.

Time you invest in studying the language

Someone who only attends class and does nothing else about their language learning will not progress as fast as someone who spends extra time studying and practicing the language in different situations outside of class as well.

Studying the language can take many forms. Some of these are your classes, doing homework after class, practicing speaking the language with natives and non natives of the language, purposefully reading in the foreign language or watching a film without translated subtitles, writing emails etc… The more you learn and the more you practice, the faster you will progress.

As you can see, you have some control over how fast you learn a language. So, start your language learning journey from a place of positivity and curiosity and set a time every day for you to study or practice the language
To conclude, there’s no one correct answer to the question ‘How long will it take to learn a new language?’. However, at Start Speaking today we have qualified native and non-native teachers who create the environment you need to learn a new language and will personalize classes for your specific needs in order for you to achieve your language learning goals. Moreover, we teach three languages English, French and Spanish in case you feel like training your mutual intelligibility muscle!

¡Stop thinking in time, and start to learn!

WhatsApp +52 1 56 2821 6106 contacto@startspeakingtoday.com.mx

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