How many hours does it take to learn a new language if you are a native English speaker?

How many hours does it take to learn a new language if you are a native English speaker, how long before you achieve fluency in a foreign language?

How many hours does it take to learn a new language if you are a native English speaker?

English is the most international language on the globe. If you are a native English speaker chances are, you can get along quite comfortably in most western countries without learning a word in another language. In Europe especially, with enough luck, someone out there may know enough English to initiate and sustain basic communication situations.

But of course, for various other reason either personal, cultural or work-related, you will find yourself in need of learning a foreign language. The next natural question after deciding to learn a new language is: how many hours does it take to learn a foreign language and achieve fluency?

It depends a lot on how motivated you are and how much time you have at your disposal for such an endeavor. Depending on these two factors the time spent learning a new language vary greatly.

Interagency Language Roundtable scale or the IRL scale

It is grading scale used by the US government to scale employees and diplomats working for the FSI (Foreign Service Institute).
You’ll find this scale to be the most accurate when it comes to native English speakers learning a foreign language.

Level 0No proficiency
Level 1Elementary proficiency
Level 2Limited working proficiency
Level 3Professional working proficiency
Level 4Full professional proficiency
Level 5Native or bilingual proficiency

 

Fluency is practically reached at level 3 (professional working proficiency), so basically, this level will be our main benchmark.

But first, we need to clarify a certain aspect of learning foreign languages as a native English speaker: some languages are more difficult to learn than others.

Why? Because English and some languages haven’t been in contact with one another for thousands of years and evolved in a totally different way.

Easiest language to learn for English speakers

The data presented below reflects a study held by FSI (Foreign Service Institute) of the US government. Again, this is probably the most accurate data regarding how much time takes for a native English speaker to become fluent in a particular new language.

The FSI has over 800 language learning courses in more than 70 languages with more than 70 years of experience in training US diplomats and foreign affairs employees.

Tier 1: Let’s start with the languages that are most closely related to English

Germanic languages

Afrikaansabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Danishabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Dutchabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Norwegianabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Swedishabout 575 hours or 23 weeks

 

Romance Languages

Frenchabout 600 hours or 24 weeks
Italianabout 600 hours or 24 weeks
Portugueseabout 600 hours or 24 weeks
Romanianabout 600 hours or 24 weeks
Spanishabout 600 hours or 24 weeks

 

Even though FSI classifies all the above languages as having the same difficulty score and the same average time of learning (575-600 hours) it only makes sense that Germanic based languages like Danish or Dutch to be generally easier to learn compared with any of the Romance languages like Italian or Romanian.

But most of the languages above are highly easy to learn for very good reasons:

  • use the same alphabet as English
  • comparable stress and intonation patterns
  • already share a number of vocabulary words

Tier 2: Similar to English

German750 hours or 30 weeks

 

Even though German is the most Germanic language of them all, it doesn’t come very natural to learn for native English speakers.

The grammar is more complicated and difficult to understand, hence German gets a tier 2 difficulty score, but of course, there are other Germanic languages out there that are much harder to master, like Icelandic.

Tier 3: Languages that may have cultural and linguistic differences compared to English

Indonesian900 hours or 36 weeks
Malaysian900 hours or 36 weeks
Swahili900 hours or 36 weeks

 

Tier 4: Languages that are profoundly different from English

Polish1100 hours or 44 weeks
Croatian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Latvian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Greek1100 hours or 44 weeks
Turkish1100 hours or 44 weeks
Icelandic1100 hours or 44 weeks
Finnish1100 hours or 44 weeks
Estonian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Hungarian1100 hours or 44 weeks

 

Above are just a part of the European languages classified as tier 4 FSI. The list goes on with other languages from all over the world, like Mongolian, Nepali, Thai, Xhosa, Zulu or Hebrew. All of them taking about 1100 hours or 44 weeks to become fluent in.

Hardest language to learn for English speakers

All of the tier 5 languages are highly sophisticated and complex compared to English having an average learning curve up to 4 times the period it takes for the average English speaker to learn Dutch for example. So arm yourself with a lot of patience and plenty of determination.

Based on all the data and testimonies English speakers made over the years, the hardest language to learn award may go to Japanese due to thousands of characters you need to memorize while having three different writing varieties.

Tier 5: Extraordinary level of difficulty

Arabic2200 hours or 88 weeks
Chinese2200 hours or 88 weeks
Japanese2200 hours or 88 weeks
Korean2200 hours or 88 weeks

 

But don’t let all these statistics scare you! People around the world are learning and assimilating new languages every day. Besides, these are still human languages; it’s not like you need to decipher an alien dialect. All of the above are languages made up by humans, and with enough determination and willpower, you can learn any language on this list.

Mondly 1000 daily lessons for free

The above FSI statistics don’t include the help of modern language learning aids like apps on your smartphone can bring to the table. In theory, today you can learn a foreign language much faster.


Mondly is one of the most popular language learning apps out there, offering courses in 33 languages, including all languages from tier 5 category. With Mondly you can greatly reduce the total amount of time it takes to learn a new language by practicing daily whenever you feel like it because everything is right there, in your smartphone, at all times.

60 comments on “How many hours does it take to learn a new language if you are a native English speaker?

  1. Very good article Cristian, thank you!
    I’m starting to learn Dutch and I hope it won’t take so long.
    Thiago

    1. Please Thiago I am losing my mind, inform us ASAP how you are doing with the Dutch.

    2. Cass, Billy, and I are all waiting to hear how your Dutch is coming along. Do not leave us in suspense Thiago

    3. You guys are too funny 😂 I love it. But on a serious note: THIAGO I’M BECOMING INCREASINGLY IMPATIENT WITH YOU. I HOPE ALL IS WELL WITH THE DUTCH LEARNING THOUGH

    4. Hi, fellas! I know Thiago. He told me that until the 22nd week, he barely could speak or understand anything in dutch, but he held on and then, in the week after, something clicked in his head and he was finally able to watch the news and talk about quantum mechanics and international politics with people.

    5. Look Thiago this isn’t funny anymore. I’m starting to get worried that maybe your Dutch isn’t getting along as well you hoped? Please contact us as, make a youtube video, a tiktok, anything. Just please i really need to know how your dutch is coming along.

    6. Thiago, vertel ons alsjeblieft je vorderingen in het nederlands, je kunt dit misschien niet lezen omdat ik google translate heb gebruikt, maar ik kan het hopen.

    7. Thiago, how could you? You have to give us good news of your experience with the Dutch language. I await and long for your reply.
      Don’t fail us, Thiago!

    8. Thiago, please, put us out of our misery and tell us how your Dutch language learning is going? We’re in complete agony not knowing:’(

    9. thiago PLEASE i am beginning to lose hope that there is any possibility i, or anyone for that matter, will be able to learn dutch given that you have not yet updated us on your endeavor

    10. I kinda wanted to go on living but without knowing how far along is Thiago’s progress with learning Dutch I don’t see the point anymore

    11. Hi Thiago, I’m really invested in your story and waiting here in pain and agony for an update…We simply need to know how well your Dutch is now. Please don’t leave us hanging, we truly need an answer…

    12. thiago we are going to have to send out a search party if you don’t tell us how the dutch is going i mean are you fluent now or has the language consumed you

    13. Thiago, I swear, bro, I miss you, please; I need to know how your dutch studying is going.

    1. Wait! Are you saying Thiago is no longer in this world with us?

      I will hold a vigil in his honour.

      #neverforgrtthiago

    2. Cica I was searching for the details on the vigil. I spent 540 to 920 hours looking then I realized I had a typo in the hashtag I hope I haven’t missed it. #neverforgrtthiago

  2. Cass, Billy, Sean, Paul, and I are all waiting to hear how your dutch is going. I implore you, Thiago, tell us.

  3. Thiago, it is imperative that you immediately inform Cass, Billy, Sean, Paul, Geronimo, Max, Rowan, Ashutosh, Bob, and me of your progress on learning Dutch and if you are fluent now, for we are all waiting on the edge of our seats for your reply.

  4. Thiago, don’t be an arse, how did your dutch go? We’re eager to know. We’re willing to go another 3 years, Thiago.

  5. 😂 hahaha I think Thiago in Netherlands and he married a Dutch girl there.

    The only reason he may not reply to the comments and curiosity of Cass, Billy, Sean, Paul, Geronimo, Max, Rowan, Ashutosh, Bob, James and me there is high possibility that during his Dutch learning he lost his ability to speak English so now if we would like to have reply from him the only possible was would be that we enroll for Dutch for 24 weeks to attain fluency and then we can come here and write comment in a language he understand (i.e Dutch)

    All the best to all of us the other who will join us in the future. :p

  6. For F**k sake Thiago, my whole career is revolving and is hanging around your answer. Please reply sir!!

  7. Thiago – seriously dude. You’ve got to tell us how it’s going. Cass, Billy, Sean, Paul, Geronimo, Max, James, Al, Dan, Rowan, Ashutosh, Sarcastic Bob, Bryan, James, Jose, Calvin and I are all going to hunt you down if you do not inform us of how your Dutch language learning is going. Don’t make us find you.

  8. Dearest Thiago…
    Do you get pleasure from our desperate pain? How dare you torture Cass, Billy, Sean, Paul, Geronimo, Max, James, Al, Dan, Rowan, Ashutosh, Sarcastic Bob, Bryan, James, Jose, Calvin, Brennan, and I as we thirst in the dessert of mondly for your response. We are starting to become very impatient this year. We must know of your progress at once.

  9. Thiago,

    I am looking to follow in your footsteps and learn Dutch. I need your wisdom in these trying times so I can learn under the one and only Thiago.

    1. Dear Thiago,
      HOW HAS YOUR DUTCH BEEN PROGRESSING?
      Give us a ray of hope…

  10. Thiago, my friend. I am afraid we are growing desperate here. If you are unable to provide an update on your progress with Dutch, we will have no choice but to lose faith all together. Please, for all language learners alike – enlighten us.

  11. Cass, Billy, Sean, Paul, Geronimo, Max, James, Al, Dan, Rowan, Ashutosh, Sarcastic Bob, Bryan, James, Jose, Calvin, Kev, Cletus, Ayko, Dude_1, Annako, and I are extremely worried for your well-being. Is Dutch really this difficult to learn? Please do not be the barrier between me and learning Dutch, Thiago. We await your response to the following question… Is Dutch this deadlier than COVID-19?

  12. Thiago, please, I beg you, let us all know about your Dutch learning, we cannot possibly wait any longer to know how you’re doing. I come in the name of Cass, Billy, Sean, Paul, Geronimo, Max, James, Al, Dan, Mackenzie, Navya, Missy, Alice, Noob, Rowan, Cica, Goiaht, Ashutosh, Bob, Bryan, Essa, Jose, Calvin, Kris, Brennan, Kev, Cletus, Ayko, Dude_1, Annako, SDE, RazK and many others that are coming in the future. Please don’t leave us hanging Thiago.

  13. Thiago(my old name) here guys….

    After learning Dutch I had to change my name and re-learn English.

    I do not wish this path for anybody. I lost my job, got divorced and had to relocate to the Netherlands as no one understood me, not even my dog Max!

    3 years later I’m back and now I can safely say stick to English! please!!!

  14. Thiago, I had considered embarking on a new venture. And for a time I believed that to be learning Dutch.

    But now, I have become quite concerned as I’m afraid the process may have consumed you.

    I am sending out an SOS 🆘

    Please, I will not be able to move on with my life until I know how you fared with the learning of the Dutch language.

    Yours in waiting,
    ❤️

  15. Due to Thiago evidently being consumed by the Dutch language and forgetting all English, I have made the noble journey to learn a language that is almost the same yet not all consuming– Afrikaans. I will attempt to make first contact by begging and pleading with him in this language to give us a sign of his Dutch progress. Hopefully he will be able to understand…

    Thiago, ek kan nie Dutch praat nie maar ek kan Afrikaans praat wat amper dieselfde is. Omdat jy nie meer Engels kan praat nie, ek hoop jy kan my Afrikaans verstaan.

    ASSEBLIEF THIAGO, STUUR VIR ONS ‘N TEKEN, STUUR VIR ONS HOOP, HOE GAAN DIT MET DUTCH?! MENSE MOET WEET OM WEER GELUKKIG TE WORD!
    ASSEBLIEF!

  16. Thiago, if you don’t respond to this thread, I will have no choice but to contact Interpol. I think you need a welfare check. We are all very concerned. I also need to know how you’re getting on with your Dutch.

  17. How did this article suddenly turn to be about finding Thiago. Oml! You’re all killing me! Anyways July 22nd , any sign of that Thiago?

  18. Thiago I have been unable to sleep for weeks as I have been refreshing this page to see how your Dutch is going, my wife is considering divorce thanks a lot.

  19. Thiago, it’s been 3 years.. I need to know. Have you learned Dutch yet? Cause in the article it just said it would only take 23 weeks.
    Your brother, Chiago
    p.s. please come home to Chicago your family misses you very dearly, you’ve been in the Netherlands far too long.

  20. Thiago, we need to know how the Dutch is going. I thought it was only supposed to take 23 weeks. Is it really this tough? Should I learn Greek instead, as I am starting to? Please. WE need to know how you are doing, SO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHERE THE HECK ARE YOU?!

    P.S. We miss you here in Chicago. You’ve been away for way too long so COME BACK!- Your loving sister, Miago B.

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