People ask us all the time, "how long does it take to learn a language abroad?," and while the answer varies from person to person, certain factors can speed up or slow down how quickly that lovely new language sticks in your brain!
Keep reading to learn about the factors that can influence how long it takes to learn a language, which languages take the longest to learn, and tips for learning a language quicker.
Learning a foreign language abroad: the basics
We've all heard about the benefits of learning a foreign language abroad, but for those who haven't traveled extensively or studied abroad yet, it can seem like a daunting task.
The most significant benefit of studying abroad is that you'll learn faster than if you'd stayed at home and learned online or in a classroom.
“Studying a language through immersion helps students in forming relationships and memories within the language, which aided in the creation of a new language self.”
You'll have real-world interactions with native language speakers regularly. This will help accelerate your progress with spoken communication because you'll hear native pronunciations, which cannot be replicated by computer software, and see how others use their grammar skills in everyday situations.
While the level of effort and your surroundings can undoubtedly affect how long it takes for you to pick up a language, some languages just take longer to learn than others. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has broken down the most popular world languages into different categories of difficulty for English speakers to learn.
Languages such as German, Haitian, Creole, Indonesian, Malay, and Swahili are estimated to take around 36 weeks to learn or 900 class hours.
Factors that influence how long it will take to learn a language abroad
Learning a language abroad combines the best of both worlds – you're in an environment where you’ll be challenged to practice your target language, but you also likely have access to an English translation if things get too difficult. That said, many factors determine how long it will take for you to become fluent. The following are just some of them:
The younger you are, the more information your brain can absorb like a sponge. This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to learn a new language when you’re older. It just might take a little bit longer.
Your motivation levels are significant because they affect how engaged with learning another language they'll be—and how quickly you’ll progress through each stage of development (from beginner level to intermediate).
Your learning style
Some people are visual learners, and others are auditory; some like learning from talking with others, while others prefer studying alone. Your individual preferences will determine the pace at which you learn new material, so it's important to find out what works best for you.
Some people have an easier time adjusting to new environments than others, or they may be better at coping with mistakes and failures—or even just getting up early in the morning! If your personality is suited well for studying abroad, then completing a language course abroad can come naturally to you.
It's hard to say how long it would take to learn a language abroad because so many factors are at play for each individual. However, keep in mind that the amount of time it takes to learn a new language is not an exact science. How long it takes to learn a language abroad will vary based on your background, the language you are trying to learn, and where you are studying!
So, how long does it take to learn a language?
According to Cambridge University Press, the amount of time it takes to progress to each level of language learning below is determined by your desired learning goal and your learning environment.
The chart above shows how different language learners progress through the CEFR framework. This European framework describes what language users – who have acquired a new language – can do and how well they can carry a conversation in that language.
What level of fluency are you trying to achieve?
Are you trying to reach near-native fluency? Do you need this language for a job abroad? Or are you just trying to get fluent enough to order meals without embarrassing yourself and perhaps make some small talk?
The lower the level you're trying to achieve, the less time learning and practicing it will take for you to reach that level. But, as we mentioned before, the above estimates are for getting good at a language. Like, work at an embassy abroad type good.
If you're just trying to be conversational, estimate about half of that allotted time. This means that after 3.5 months of constant Spanish study in an immersion environment, you'll be confident enough to get by, order meals, ask for a hotel room and directions, and even make a friend or two!
Many people are thrilled simply to converse in a foreign language and do so in a foreign country! To these people, I say you'll feel pride in learning a language faster than you expect!
Consider a language immersion program
A language immersion program is one of the best ways to learn a language quickly. Although you’ll also be taking classes and using language-learning apps, your days will be filled with exposure to the language as much as possible, which will help you get fluent in it. You’ll begin by learning some basics about the culture and history of the country where you are living, but then spend most of your time speaking with locals in their native language.
“I came to Tico Lingo knowing little to nothing when it came to speaking the language and left being able to hold conversations with my host mom and most of all, I had much more confidence in starting conversations and in continuing my studying of the Spanish language.”
Typical language schools class setup
Most language schools’ curriculum follows the following typical class schedule:
- Two weeks are spent on the fundamentals of the language and how it sounds.
- Three weeks are dedicated to grammar, reading, writing, and speaking. In some cases, this section may be taught in blocks; each day, you would learn one aspect of language learning – listening comprehension – for an entire week before moving on to another topic – speaking.
- The final three weeks are split between more grammar-focused classes and discussions about cultural topics relating to the country where your program is located.
Cultural activities can also take place throughout your time abroad for students to get used to living with other people from different backgrounds. This is a crucial part of any language course because it helps students feel comfortable communicating with native speakers outside school hours!
Tips for learning a language abroad quicker
The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the culture and language of the country you are visiting. This can be done by:
- Joining a local sports team or club with players from different ethnicities and nationalities (and therefore different languages). This will also allow you to meet people with similar interests; plus, it’s a great exercise!
- Learn from residents: This might mean asking many questions about how things work, but if done in moderation, it can help you speak like a native very quickly! This also means trying new foods, which is always fun. And even better? Learning some slang words or phrases helps break down barriers between cultures too! So keep an open mind when meeting new people and remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Learn the alphabet: Learning how letters sound and look can help with pronunciation later down the road and increase vocabulary skills. In addition, having prior knowledge of letter sounds will make it easier for learners later on when trying out new words or phrases because they have already been exposed to them through this initial step.
- Practice reading aloud daily: Reading aloud helps reinforce pronunciation while also increasing vocabulary knowledge by exposing learners through practice.
- Start writing short sentences daily: Writing helps strengthen spelling abilities while building up confidence in speakers who may otherwise find speaking difficult at first.
- Listen attentively whenever possible (and repeat): Listening carefully when someone speaks gives people more time than just listening quickly without understanding anything being said; this allows them time for comprehension and retention later on down.
How much time are you willing to dedicate?
So there you have it! The best way to learn a new language is by immersing yourself in it. There are many different ways to do this and various programs available, but they all take the same principles of language learning and use them to help you achieve fluency as quickly as possible.
How much time you're able to invest in your language learning abroad obviously depends on how much spare time you have to spare. Hopefully, you'll be able to work something out that works with your schedule -- and don't discount the importance of working on your language retention once you're back home.
Whatever your reason for learning another language, whether that's because you have an upcoming trip planned or simply want some more options when communicating with others around the world at work or school - we hope that this article has given some insight into how long it will take before you're ready!