Five weeks is no time to learn a language. With that said, huge progress can be made in that time.
It takes different amounts of time to learn different categories of languages. As English speakers, the languages that take us the least amount of time to become functionally fluent in are the ones most closely related to our language. Think about England’s neighbors: French, Spanish, Dutch, etcetera. Languages that are much more difficult to learn — think farther away from England and completely different linguistically and culturally- take three to four times as long. Think languages that have different writing systems, like Arabic or Japanese.
The Foreign Service Institute has done a lot of research on how long it takes people to learn these different categories of languages. They’re heavily invested in this. The amount of time it takes people to learn languages is the amount of time they’re going to have to invest in training people to work at consulates and embassies all over the world. Those category one languages can often take people about 750 to 1000 hours to hit that functional fluency level. Those category three and four languages we talked about will take three or four times as long.
Two hundred hours is a great amount of time to invest in learning a language. When you’re moving through the novice level, you can make rapid progress. Think of going from nothing to being able to make your own phrases and sentences with the words that you’ve learned. That can easily take a couple of hundred hours, and you will feel yourself progressing quickly. Get up to that next level-think B level/ACTFL intermediate range- and those two hundred hours will see you make half the amount of progress. Simply put, it just takes longer to move into that next level the more you advance.
Moving from that intermediate/B level up into that advanced/C level and beyond takes longer yet. It’s not going to feel like those two hundred hours making as much of a dent in your goals. While you’re still making progress, it’s all about refinement. It’s going to take longer to really feel your investment pay off. At the end of the article, there are some links for you to see and hear, in English, what those levels sound like.
This year, I’ve made it my goal to be a little bit less rigid in my language learning, yet still make progress. I love to commit to two hundred hours at a time, because I feel that it’s a great way to make some tangible progress. If I’m a beginner in a language, I can feel myself go from nothing to being able to do something. If I’m in the intermediate range, I can feel my phrases and sentences start hitting the paragraph level. In the advanced/C range, you feel those two hundred hours really help your confidence increase. Two hundred hours can provide a really measurable, tangible difference in skills.
This year was one of my funnest language learning years ever for me. I decided to work on my French. I began the year listening to stories on my iPhone/portable language lab. With the Audible app, it’s possible to listen to stories in so many languages. I listened to this great series of short stories in French for learners, as well as a couple of novels. That was my first five week period. You can listen to these audiobooks while you’re walking and trying to lose weight, getting some exercise, cleaning your house, doing errands. There’s commuting. It’s a great way to transform time you already have doing other things into stimulating learning time where you’re improving yourself.
My second stint was five weeks of working on my French in Paris. It was my first experience in a French language school. I went to school for four hours a day for five weeks, and I spent the rest of my time out touring, speaking to people, reading, listening, and going to the movies. My third five week period was summer reading. I think reading is one of the best ways to learn a language. Once you’ve got some basic rules down, all of that reading serves all the vocabulary and grammar you could ever ask for, all completely in context. Add it to something that you find interesting. I read graphic novels, I read tons of magazines and easy to read books.
The next five week stint was commuting. I turned the hour a day I commute into language learning time. I listened to several great novels, all available on Audible.
My last five-week stint in French was binge watching. I love to binge watch. Amazon Prime, Netflix offer fantastic series and films in French, and in many other languages. I love putting my pajamas on, having a cup of tea, and just watching enjoyable stuff. It’s a language lover’s dream.
I also invested heavily in Yabla. I absolutely love Yabla. There are thousands of short videos. They have a patented player. They’re subtitled, captioned, and with translations. Tons of games, too. Just fun and addictive. You can see music videos, news reports, interesting interviews and tours around the country. Absolutely amazing. I highly recommend it.
Here is a link to my first recording in French this year, and the last. The recordings have uninteresting content. You’ll hear loads of mistakes, too. I am almost embarrassed to share them! With that said, my purpose in sharing them is three-fold. Firstly, it serves as a great way to document progress. Record yourself regularly, and you will be astounded by the progress you make. Secondly, it provides a great context for you to practice speaking. Lastly, you won’t hear as much progress at this level as you will hear in the A/novice level. It takes much longer to make noticeable progress.
Here are the descriptions and videos I mentioned earlier. They provide a concrete way to see what to expect from each proficiency level. ACTFL Proficiency Levels
There is also a growing library of examples in other languages, too!