How long did it take you to learn a language?
For me it was about six months before I could comfortably listen to music and intermediate podcasts. At nine months I could understand the news somewhat. And now at a year and a half I can understand a lot of El Dollop, a podcast about weird American history in Spanish that's for native speakers. Almost all of this through primarily listening. I did maybe ten minutes of study a day and then listened to How to Spanish pretty much the rest of the time. I would lay in bed, get high, and listen to it for hours. I really didn't use LingQ. But now that I've been using it for the passed few months and also reading novels my learning has accelerated pretty significantly. I've made more progress in a couple months using lingQ and also reading and listening while forcing myself to NOT translate in my head then I ever did in a year and a half. And now I'm also learning Mandarin using LingQ and focusing on reading at the beginning and I'm confident I'll be much farther along in it than I was in Spanish in the same period of time regardless of the difference in difficulty.
Also, I gave up marijuana. It made it easy to stick with Spanish because I just enjoyed listening to the sounds. I could listen to music all day in Spanish without caring that I didn't know what they were saying. But now that I'm over the hump of getting comfortable in a second language I know it was doing more harm than good.
My advice overall. Use the mini-stories here and learn songs. You need short material that will stick in your head. I don't know what type of music you like but Daniela Romo, Amanda Miguel, Yuri, and Jeanette were what I mostly listen, and Manu Ciao. And How to Spanish Podcast, of course. If every language had its own How to Spanish type podcast I'd be in heaven now that learning languages has become more of an ongoing hobby for me.
I shifted my focus from reading to speaking and listening. In addition to what I study here, I meet with my Russian teacher twice a week. I am comfortable with simple conversations and I am challenging myself to talk about more complex topics.
Specifically for Spanish:
With about 2-3 hours a day of equivalent to watching easy youtube videos plus anki it took six months till I could understand slowly spoken Spanish and speak very simply. At that stage if anybody spoke at normal speed with normal language I was lost. I also could not understand movies at this point. I'd say I was at about high beginner at that stage.
Then after about another six months of practising an hour daily (ish) with very patient native speakers and (trying to watch) telenovelas I could more or less hold a conversation as long as it didn't go into anything technical. I still couldn't understand movies.
After about a year of telenovelas (1-2 hours a day) and at least another 5 hours a week speaking practice Spanish was more or less burned in to my brain.
So about a year and a half to "learn" the language with 1-2 or 2-3 hours a day of effort.
BUT... I still couldnt understand movies.
I kept up the speaking practice (around 5 hours a week) for about five years more or less at which point I could have conversations about anything AND watch movies.
I do not think time is a useful measurement in the terms of months, years or decades...
For me the measurement that matters is:
How much time did you spend engaged with the language where you just slightly out of your comfort zone? In that context, I started to feel comfortable in regular conversation at 500 hours, and at over 1.000 I am totally comfortable listening and speaking.
I'm a bit lazy so it's taken me ten years to learn Arabic, although Lin has made it abundantly easier.
Honestly, that's not lazy. We all define 'learned' differently. There are people who will tell you they learned Arabic in 18 months, but their "learned" is no more than a weak B1 (at best). As a native English speaker, I'd imagine it'd take many thousands of hours to learn a language like Arabic, maybe even 10k? So yeah, 10 years sounds about right if you're being consistently exposed to it.
Right. I decided to learn either Russian, Arabic or Mandarin. I
figured that it was Russian, Mandarin and Arabic in that order of difficulty.
Respect is due to anyone trying to learn Arabic.
For a beginner Mondly is far better than Duolingo. I will say Duolingo can supplement courses and other ways of learning, but I met a guy who completed DuoLingo in Swedish and he really struggled. It took him four years! He would have been far better off taking an online course, getting some books for learning Swedish, then finding an interest he has that he wants to pursue in Swedish. For the time put in, Duolingo gets very little real results.
Spanish is so simple to learn when it comes to resources, you have BBC Spanish service, you have culture like THOUSANDS of songs, you have books, and you have a native speaker population who aren´t really annoying when it comes to you making mistakes. Some people say "oh you can learn Spanish really quickly" but that is nonsense, it is a really complicated language, but due to Spanish speakers generally being friendly, happy you have an interest in their language and kind hearted, they make the effort to think "what they probably mean is..."
If you have hobbies that go alongside Spanish culture like dancing or music it will make it about 10 times easier.
When it comes to Lingq you need to decide what you like in your native language, then find articles (wikipedia, how to guides, www.youglish.com/spanish) and really start hitting the subjects you already have some understanding of. That makes it so much faster than getting involved in abstract subjects.
Don´t get too caught up in the grammar until you have a good understanding of vocabulary, otherwise you´ll be hitting your head into a wall for a long time. I had an ex who was Spanish and her English sometimes got held back because she was really stubborn when it came to why Spanish grammar rules didn´t apply in English. Something about the verbs to be and why English says it is. It took her ages to get to grips with "it is, it´s, its" but when you let go of these small things you will progress to a point where later you can answer these questions.
The problem that I had with Duolingo is that I was trying to learn Hebrew, Hindi, Chinese etc, y'know languages that use different scripts andromeda the first quiz, it was testing me on characters that it hadn't even taught me yet and then penalised me by removing my hearts/lives when I made a mistake, as though they think I'm stupid enough to purchase more hearts/lives, so I gave them a one-star rating.
that is why it is good if it goes along with a course
"but I met a guy who completed DuoLingo in Swedish and he really struggled. It took him four years!"
This might be saying more about him than Duolingo :-)
I don´t know! If you´re English and you languages are seen as a punishment at school, it is very hard to find a language course as you have no idea what to look for. All of a sudden people suggest Duolingo as if it will replace a language course and you think, "Why not?" but it really doesn´t. In his situation his wife was Swedish but had almost no understanding of Swedish language rules so couldn´t explain anything and didn´t know what to recommend. It isn´t the end of the world, but to put four years into an app and never get a book/language mother you will end up with very strange results.
I think it can be the same in all extremes, I asked someone with a really massive word count on LIngq how their language skills are and they said "Well, I am good at reading." People need sparring in order to learn a language and duolingo doesn´t provide that.
Maybe you don't know but I do!
As I said, it says more about him than Duolingo.
If people navigate the world blaming others for their own lack of success, they run an even greater risk of losing their way. Blaming the educational system at school when he was a boy, his Swedish wife now that's he an adult, his 4-year use of the Duolingo app, sounds like he is not taking responsibility for his own actions, his own learning.
For a native English speaker, Swedish - like Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese - happens to be one of the easiest languages to learn.
You mention he spent 4 years on Duolingo, do you have any idea how much time per day or week he spent? Are we talking about an hour a day five days a week? Several hours a day? An hour a week? Many hours in one year and relatively few in the next?
I'm new here - but I'm not new to language learning. I've been learning Russian for three years with poor results. I decided to ask my language exchange partners for the secret: how long did it take them to learn English and what precisely did they do...
1. Roman - Businessman
- Time to fluency: 1 year to fully fluent conversation in English, listens to any podcast and understands most words, can't write in English, still getting to grips with sayings/slang.
- Method: Every evening after work he read a book on politics for two hours and he didn't care that it wasn't a beginners book. Then at 3 months he listened to an interesting podcast on politics every night, and continued reading. At 1 year he speaks with a conversation partner in English, every evening for one hour, with a full afternoon of back to back conversation on Sunday (not sure how long this phase was, but I started speaking to him when he was one year in).
2. Igor - School teacher
- Time to fluency: 1 year to fully fluent conversation in English, listens to any podcast and understands most words, can read and write in English, still getting to grips with sayings/slang.
- Method: Every evening after work reads a history fiction book, particularly likes Bernard Cornwell Warrior Chronicles, and started with this series as a complete beginner. Then at 3 months, spoke with 2 - 3 conversation partners per evening and if free time, also on a weekend.
3. Nikolai - IT Technician
- Time to fluency: Set a daily schedule to learn English when he found himself out of work. Six months to fluency.
- Method: Morning routine - grammar book. Achieved B1 at 3 months and B2 at six months. Afternoon - reading a variety of interesting books including novels/detective stories. Spoke to 2 - 3 English people per day, noted down all phrases he didn't know, put them in flashcards, and knew them for the next speaking session. Now works as an English speaking IT technician...
4. Dima - Full-time PhD student
- Time to fluency: 18 months to conversational fluency. Enjoys reading, can watch most movies and listens to podcasts.
- Method: Likes to read English boy stories such as Gulliver's Travels, but also loves reading Harry Potter. Watches USA videos about air/car/boat crashes obsessively (no idea). Watches quiz shows, favourite is 'The Weakest Link'. Also likes to read about IT and goes to sleep every night clutching an IT book in English... Speaks with a language partner every evening and hates writing in English.
I noticed my language exchange partners placed a high importance on lots of reading, and using real materials that interested them. I decided in January 2023 to do things differently after seeing my language exchange partners excellent progression. I read about language learning theories, which led me to this site. And I'm also copying my Russian language exchange partners methods beginning with reading real stuff. I'm excited about the next stage of language learning and I'm feeling positive about achieving my goals. I hope this post is useful :)
Thanks for such a thorough response! It looks like they all have reading and speaking with someone in common!
This is so useful! Thanks for this!
Interestingly I notice that half of them listened to a bunch of podcasts.
Hello. i have been using duo lingo on and off for years for spanish. I then switched to german. i did Duo every day for 1 year without missing a lesson. I can have a conversation at a low level with native speakers. technical things are still very hard but restaurants and bars are no problem.
I will tell you that the low level repetitions are good for your brain because it means you are accessing that information without having to think about it or translate it first.
on the other hand this App and software is the best i have used and i have used many over the years. rosetta, babel, furo, duo, lingo deer etc.... in the last month this has seriously boosted my comprehension and use of the language... while not perfect i can speak german confidently in most situations after 1.5 years.
also consume as much content as you can at all times. even if you cant understand whats being said your brain will make connections and hearing words you already know will strengthen that bond. also hearing the correct way sentences are constructed helps.
there is nothign that will fast track you. you have to keep at it everyday.
Thank you !!
Keep it at everyday. That is the key.
You gotta stay focused on what's relevant,
Learn the words and phrases that are prevalent,
Immerse yourself in the culture, that's the key,
And don't be afraid to make mistakes, you'll see.
Probably, unless you're one of the rare super-learners, it's going to take you longer than you expect. Give yourself say 2-5 years, and just learn to enjoy the journey.
I've been at Japanese for a little over two years now, and I've tried various things, some more effective than others. I think I spent too much time using tools that were less effective, and using other tools less than effectively. Don't be afraid to change things up if you feel it's not working, or if you think there's something better you can be doing.
But at the same time, progress is probably going to feel glacial, so be patient with whatever technique you're using and give it time to see if it's actually working for you.
And spend as much time as you possibly can in the language. That's really the bottom line.
Thank you !!
I don´t know! It is about numbers to a degree, how much "load under pressure" do you actually have and how interactive is it. I have seen students picking up languages really quickly depending on how they do it and what their motivation is. The more abstract the harder it will be. If you have a student who moves countries, lets say to Germany and they then have 5 hours lessons a day 5 days a week, that is 25hr minimum of contact time a week, with your sole purpose to learn the language. If you compare that to people who take a class at work 1-3 hours a week, the student has done 1000 hours a year (at least) and the 120 with no guarantee they do anything in the language outside of lesson time. That means in half a year the student has got about 500 hours, something it would take the office worker about 5 years to do!
Right. Numbers absolutely do mean something. The FSI says it takes about 500 hours of effort for an English speaker to learn Spanish or French. It's 1100 to learn Russian and 2200 to learn Arabic.
Bear in mind some languages are easier than others for an English. Spanish is way easier than Japanese.
Welcome to the language learning world!
You're gonna get wildly differing answers. For one, no one will be able to agree on what "fluent" means or what "watch a movie and understand it" means. Understand basically everything(~98+%)? Understand "most" of it(~90+%)? Understand enough to generally follow the story(70-80%+). I just kinda picked some numbers, we won't end up agreeing on these numbers either lol.
If you do things "correctly", with Spanish, after 2 years of 1 hour per day, you'll have made major progress and can probably more or less be able to communicate, probably in a kinda rough fashion. Luckily with Spanish, a lot of the vocab is very similar to English so it'll be easier. You won't be "fluent" in that time (whatever fluent means, but most people would say not), but you'll probably be able to "get by" more or less... All this is kinda vague, see what I mean? Languages are massively complex... By "correctly" (I don't want to open a can of worms here) I just mean do a comprehensible input based approach. Views differ on exact methods and I'm not excluding some grammar study or saying I have the one true method. Just don't do things like take school classes and spend your time doing worksheets. You can take many years of school classes, waste hundreds of hours, and not even be close to "getting by" in the language.
It's a long process that for most of us is never ending, we love it. We get a kick out of learning something new in a language, even if we've been familiar with the language for many years.. You'll always be learning a new word or phrase here and there for a *very* long time. You don't realize how many words there are until you try to learn them all. You have to enjoy the process.
Lastly, content is king. Find content you enjoy and consume a LOT of it. Might I suggest Destinos for a Spanish beginner?
Thank you !! Yes I see a lot of people are consuming books or movies/content. What is Destinos? I wanted to start watching this 90s spanish show my friend recommended but I can't find it anywhere !
That's probably Destinos that your friend recommended. It was made sometime in the early 90's (so the fashion styles are funny, which is hilarious to me, and the video quality isn't very good, but that's not important). It's a 52 episode Telenovela, each episode is 26 minutes with a review episode every 10 episodes. It's all in Spanish (except for a little bit early on explaining what it is). It starts out with simple Spanish and deliberately creates strong context so you can understand what's going on. The Spanish gets more complicated as it goes on... I watched the entire thing through 4 times then branched out from there(I understood more each time though. But there wasn't lingq back in those days with lots of good beginner content). But I could already understand French and Spanish is very similar. You might want to watch 10-20 episodes, then start over. Start over if you ever feel like you're totally lost and not getting anything out of it, that's how I would approach it (but you come up with your own way, be sure to check out the lingq library). You can find Destinos either on learner.org (it's official home) or on youtube here
You can find the transcripts here
They're in a weird format, so it might be "fun" importing them into lingq (Maybe I'll give back to the community and try to import them and share them, if I find the time).
At some point you'll definitely want to do the lingq ministories, they're excellent.
Look up Extr@ Spanish on youtube. Also look for "TPRS Spanish". Do those first. When your done a big chunk of TPRS find youtubers with "Slowly Spoken Spanish".
Do it in that order.
PS: Note that "destinos" looks similar to Extr@ so do that along with the TPRS.
It depends on how you define 'learn a language.'
Honestly, I'm not sure we ever reach the level of fluency we'd like to be at, because as we improve, we shift the desired standard to higher and higher levels.
The idea of 'fluency' to a beginner is a totally different thing to that of an intermediate/high intermediate learner. I'd imagine that those at C1 are just as keen to improve to higher levels than those at A1.
That's been my own experience, in no small part to realising just how much there will always still be to learn, no matter what level I'm at. Because we compare ourselves to natives (we shouldn't but we do), the bar will always be out of reach.
So true. I wish I could learn like 4 other languages right now, but I know I'm never going to feel good enough at Japanese to think I'm ready to tackle another one. :-(
Thank you !!
Ha Ha yeah.
I'm some in intermediate land with Russian.
And it is not good enough for me.
Chinese Conversational: 1.5 years, 8 hours/day,
Chinese Full Fluency: N/A
holy shit, that's almost 4500 hours and you wouldn't even consider yourself fluent? Of those 8 hours/day, what part was active study and what part was passive/active listening?
2 hours active - 1 active listening/1 hour hunting for known words
6 hours+ passive listening to content that I already actively listened to.
In the reality, it would take about 4x the amount of work just to get a 1x amount of result in a easy language such as spanish for ex. In this case, I probably have to reach 10,000 hours total if I want full fluency in the major areas:
Speaking fluency - low intermediate (just started italki)
Reading fluency - low advance
Listening fluency - low advance
Writing (typing fluency) - high intermediate
I'm interested in hearing how those hours are spent, too. I'm studying Japanese, and can really only manage about 4.5 hours a day, and besides work, it's about all I do anymore. Wishing I could spend more time in the language...
2 hours active - 1 active listening/1 hour hunting for known words
6 hours+ passive listening to content that I already actively listened to.
I listen while I'm at work too so that's how I get the 6 hours
damnnnn 8 hours a day!! good for you!
If I'm only counting the months that I was learning German, I would say it took me around 3 years to reach a low level of fluency.
There are a lot of variables at play here, so it is difficult to give a direct answer but I would also like to avoid giving you an over-nuanced one.
I would say you should be able to understand and engage in meaningful but not necessarily perfectly fluent, subtle or natural conversation after about a year of 2-3 hours a day of learning Spanish.
To understand a native Spanish movie (dubbed is considerably easier) entirely with all of its nuances requires a significantly higher level of competence. The same of course would apply to nuanced and highly fluent communication. I would agree with alex1029 here in that it takes at least a few thousand hours.
I also think it depends how "hard" the language is. Because even i did everything over and spent the same time with say arabic or japanese i dont think id be fluent by now. I think id need a lot more time.
Thank you !! Yeah my reading is pretty good but then I put a movie on and they talk so fast I can barely catch anything LOL
This is my experience. Being able to "speak" the language takes exactly this amount of time. Movies is the pinnacle.
I'd go for a much lower target.
In Russian for example my target is very, very specific:
I want to be able to understand two TV shows on netflix.
I'm not even attempting movies.
id say 3 years of like 8ish hours a day for me to become "fluent"
portuguese. Which now that i know more about languages, isn't a language to distant from english.
learning Portuguese shouldn’t take you that long to learn lol
That is some serious dedication by the way, respect!
May I ask what variation of Portuguese you learned?
How much of that 8hrs was active vs passive?
Brazilian portuguese, but I can understand european portuguese, spanish and a little italian now just with my brazilian portuguese.
I did like 2 2 hour sessions of studying a day, and about 1 to 2 hours of anki flashcards, about 3 italki lessons a week, and then listening all day probably about 4 - 6 ish hours of listening.
Have any tips to activate passive vocabulary to usable active vocabulary more efficiently when you're speaking with your Italki teachers?
I know this place is anti anki, but for real with anki i got fluent way faster.
If you can understand a word when listening or reading but cant remember it when speaking that means you need to practice from your native language to your target language. Basically doing flashcards that way will force you to create the language in your brain when talking.
As far as italki lessons go I tell every teacher to correct every little mistake and word im looking for, and then make flash cards for both. And then obviously you just need to practice speaking them. I speak every one of my flash cards.
Doing this for about 3 ish years has made it so i have zero fear talking to people and can talk almost about anything.
hello, since you picked a language that is closely related to English it won't take you as long as the other language. According to the FSI (foreign service Institute), if you chose Spanish as a foreign language to learn it will take you up to 600 to 700 hours to achieve basic fluency which is B2 level or upper intermediate, so if you put at least 2 hours studying Spanish everyday you should get there 10-12 months. If you learn languages like Chinese or any other that's not related to your native language it will take you twice as long or even more. In conclusion, it depends if the language is close relate to your native tongue because it'll make it easier for you to retain the unknown words in the other language, for example Spanish is closely related to english so it'll be easier for you to retain the words in Spanish. If you're learning Mandarin Chinese, then that's a whole different story.
Thank you !! Yeah I find a lot of words are similar & I took French in school cause I'm Canadian & even though I'm not fluent, a lot of words overlap !
I'm reading 3000 words of Harry Potter a day in sentence mode with subtitles. Every 100,000 words make a noticeable improvement in my Greek. It's a long road but I'm happy I see regular progress.
Thank you !! That's amazing! Do you import the words into LingQ? Or how do you read "sentence mode withsubtitleS?
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