Time and Learning Languages


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Learning languages takes time. This is not what we want to hear. There are so many promises made on how we can learn languages fluently and quickly. While I believe in making the process as efficient as possible, I also believe in being realistic about the fact that it will not happen overnight.

Obviously, some languages take more time to learn than others. Languages with close links to English (i.e. Italian, Spanish, French) can be learned (reasonable fluency) in about 1000 hours of meaningful time on task (from Language Testing International). Languages and cultures a little more different from English (i.e. Russian, Lithuanian) are a little closer to 2000 hours. Languages significantly more different (i.e. Chinese, Korean, Arabic) are all closer to 3000 hours.

Want to learn a language? Here are my tips:

1. Be realistic. Don’t expect miracles overnight.

2. Be willing to make a fool of yourself. Successful language learners take risks.

3. Always focus more on understanding. People learn languages by understanding messages (Krashen). Creating with language happens during the intermediate level (ACTFL) and beyond.

4. Think in terms of relevant tasks. I keep notebooks. When I was a formal student of languages, I kept vocabulary notebooks. Now, I recommend task notebooks. For example, what are the words and phrases you might need to complete a transaction at a store? Keep them in the notebook.

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