December 18, 2023

How long does it take to learn a foreign language?

by Anna Zielazny

I started learning English when I was still in elementary school, but it took me a long time to achieve fluency. I even had private lessons, yet some of my friends mastered the language much faster than I did. At the time, I thought I simply didn’t have a predisposition for the language, or that my friends who did better had something I didn’t have. Later, however, when I was in high school, I started learning French, and that’s when the situation reversed – I was in the minority who started speaking quickly, while others had considerable problems. However, this does not mean that I had talent, or lack thereof. The truth is quite different: it is not really known how long it takes to learn a foreign language. After all, success depends on many factors, including character traits, but it mostly depends on the techniques one uses to learn. 

Two things are certain, however – learning a foreign language is not a trivial matter and no one will learn it for you. You are the one who has to apply yourself to the task and put in a lot of effort, work and also time. There is no secret titled “fast language learning,” nor is there a magic answer to the question “how can you master English in 15 minutes a day?”. However, if you undertake the task, we can assure you that there will be rewards waiting for you: immense satisfaction, expanded horizons, a new outlook on the world and the opportunity to make friends with people from other cultures.

There is a myth according to which learning a foreign language is very difficult and achieving proficiency is almost impossible or achievable only by a few. Actually your results will depend on many factors, but the use of correct methods and tools will accelerate your learning. 

Read this article to learn them. You will also find advice on what methods will help you speed up your learning process.

What is the problem?

Learning any foreign language is quite difficult, because the human language is a very advanced system. Each language has tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of words. According to research, in English alone you can find 170,000 words (despite this, native speakers use only 15–30 thousand of them). Without words, of course, you can’t express anything, including your views. Nor will you be able to understand what other people are trying to communicate. 

To be able to talk about a non-trivial topic in a foreign language, you need to know about 3,000 words. Although this is a very small percentage of all words, it can be very difficult to remember what they mean. What’s more, in language, words rarely occur on their own. Words combine with others to form sentences. As you might guess, not every combination of words will be correct. If you want to be able to carry on a conversation, you also need to know how to combine whole phrases into sentences, and further, sentences into conversation. Only specific combinations of phrases and words are correct. If you can’t build sentences, you won’t be able to speak. 

In order to speak fluently, you must not only memorize words, but also be able to “process” them at a rate of about 120 words per minute – of course, in the right arrangement and combination. What’s more, you must also pronounce them in the right way. 

Unfortunately, there is no solution that will allow you to magically learn a language in a month or two. Anyone who claims it’s possible is passing the buck.

How long does it take to learn a language?

As I mentioned in the introduction, it’s impossible to say exactly how long it will take you to become proficient in a language. Each person will learn differently. So we can’t tell you exactly how much time you need to learn a foreign language. However, we do know average values that indicate how long it takes to master English at each level. It’s worth noting here, however, that there are many such lists, and the timeframes are somewhat different.

Learn some of the ways to determine language proficiency, as well as what language levels mean.

According to the Cambridge English Language Assessment (CELA) exam board, for example, it takes 80 to 120 hours to master a language at A1 level; at A2 level it takes 180–200 hours, B1 350–400 hours, B2 500–600 hours, C1 700–800 hours, and C2 1000–1200 hours.

According to Education First (EF), on the other hand, the time needed to know a language is:

  • A1 – 70 hours
  • A1 to A2 – 150 hours
  • A2 to B1 – 300 hours
  • B1 to B2 – 200 hours
  • B2 to C1 – 200 hours
  • C1 to C2 – 200 hours.

The Council of Europe, on the other hand, specifies that to master a language at the A1, A2, and B1 levels, one should spend 120 hours for each level, and at the B2, C1, C2 levels, about 240 hours for each level. 

Most organizations agree that it takes about 600 hours to acquire the B2 level. We have observed the same in Taalhammer. This is due, among other things, to the research and conversations we have had with Taalhammer employees over the years – it took our employees just that long to master English. What’s more, we closely monitor the statistics of our users using our app. We also talk to people who have reached a high conversational level. We have no doubt that the results are due to the effective learning methods used.

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Factors that affect learning time and how to use them to your advantage

Motivation and goals

Personal motivation is one of the most important, if not the most important, factor for success in learning a foreign language. Learning a language is a long and monotonous process. The results come only after some time. You need to find a lot of motivation to get through the periods when there is no progress, or progress is hard to see.

Willingness to learn a language, based on individual goals and needs, can significantly affect commitment and persistence in learning. Sometimes people learn a foreign language for external reasons, such as educational, professional or social requirements. While these factors can be important, personal motivation is often a more effective stimulus – for example, you may want to learn a language to impress a loved one.

To make the most of your motivation and not lose it, try to set specific goals. They can give you clear direction and help you determine exactly what you want to achieve. As a result, they can increase your commitment, consistency and persistence in learning. If you set specific milestones, it will be easier for you to monitor your progress. It’s worth using the so-called SMART technique, which assumes that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Realistic. Dan Aurelii also writes about the power of goal setting in his book Irrational Predictability.

So don’t assume that your goal is to become proficient in a foreign language – such a goal is too general and it’s not clear how to measure it. Be precise and include your overall goal and language motivations.  

  • If you care about communication, for example, a good goal is to have three conversations in the language you’re learning, of at least 15 minutes each, about the holidays. 
  • If you are lacking in vocabulary then learn 20 food-related phrases by, say, next Saturday, so that you will be able to translate them all flawlessly from English to the target language. The more specific the better. 
  • If you want to become a foreign language teacher, explain the difference between past simple and present perfect to at least 3 people in a month, and ask them to explain it back to you after a week.

Of course, these are just examples; the point is to make your goals specific. That way it will be easier to stay motivated, and to notice your small successes. 

It’s worth remembering that motivation, while important, is a fleeting thing. Often people get discouraged, especially if the time it takes to master a language is longer than they expected. If you feel that your motivation is fading, it’s worth reminding yourself of the goals you’ve set. Also, try to make your language sessions more varied so that you can attend to them more easily.

Use of appropriate memorization techniques

Intensive study of a foreign language does not always bring the expected results. Many students get discouraged because, even though they spend time studying, they don’t see results in learning a foreign language. The problem is that how you learn has a huge impact on the results. 

Taalhammer uses special language learning methods. There are a group of techniques that we have been testing for years and which are used in the application. In particular, the methods of storytelling, mnemonics, and spaced repetition are effective; you will learn more about these later in the text. 

If you want to learn a language quickly and effectively, without having to search for the best methods, use the Taalhammer app. It is designed to bring the best possible results. With its help you will learn the language effectively, memorizing phrases and whole sentences for a long time. The techniques used in Taalhammer, such as spaced repetition, enable you to store information in your long-term memory, allowing you to quickly recall it when you need to use the language, such as during a conversation.

Regularity and intensity of learning

Every subject is worth learning systematically. In the case of foreign languages, however, regularity is key. Studying a language intensively for five hours once a month will not give you any results. A shorter but regular exercise will be much better. However, it can’t be just 5 or 15 minutes a day, as, for example, the developers of other language learning apps suggest. Such short sections can be helpful at the very beginning, when you want to build a habit and get “rolling.” Pretty soon, however, you should spend about an hour a day learning to see measurable results. 

To learn a foreign language quickly, you also need to adjust the level of difficulty and intensity. The material can’t be too easy, so that you don’t get bored but instead make progress. On the other hand, it can’t be too difficult either, as this can discourage you and also block your progress. 

In Taalhammer, our algorithm determines your level of language proficiency and adapts the materials and exercises to it, also analyzing the speed of progress. This way you achieve your goals and see the results. Only by seeing results will your motivation and desire continue.

Possibility to use the language in practice

People who put language into practice as early as possible learn faster. An app alone, even the best one, although a great support, will not teach you to communicate in a language. It will be great preparation for real conversations and will boost your confidence. However, for language acquisition to actually happen, you need to start using the language in real situations. Eventually, you have to start talking – if you only use the app all the time, you will certainly become a taskmaster with the app. However, to become a master of conversation, well… you have to start talking. 

An online foreign language course with a native speaker, or a language tandem, can be a great place to practice your language skills, especially speaking. Using the language on a daily basis will accelerate your learning. 

I know this from experience. After college, I went on a three-month internship in Murcia. I had never studied Spanish before and tried to learn it as quickly as possible. Besides, I didn’t have much of a choice, because almost no one in the city spoke English. Since I had to use the language every day, within three months I was able to communicate with Spaniards in everyday situations.

Putting yourself in situations where you will be forced to talk is an ideal way not only to practice, but also to see how your learning so far is working. A successful conversion is the greatest reward and proof that your efforts are paying off. This way your motivation will increase, and you will understand even better the need to speak as much and as quickly as possible in a foreign language. If you’re learning with an online tutor, it’s essential to find a tutor who will only communicate with you in the language you want to learn. It’s best if it’s a native speaker; that way you won’t have the option of resorting to English – when you’re forced to talk in a foreign language, you’ll quickly realize that you can do more than you thought. 

As a person who has been learning various foreign languages for years, I have a piece of advice for you: accept as soon as possible that for a long time you won’t be able to speak in a foreign language as eloquently as in English. I myself very often felt downright stupid when I tried to put sentences together in Portuguese (and before that, in English). Despite my embarrassment, I continued the conversation. There is no choice but to use these embarrassing situations to your advantage. Believe, too, that native speakers are impressed that you are trying to express yourself in their language.

Understanding the context of the language

The more you understand the linguistic context, the easier it will be for you to master a foreign language. Focus on those phrases and expressions that will be useful to you in everyday life. For example, if you are a surgeon who goes to work overseas, your range of words will be quite different from someone who specializes in floristry and wants to learn the names of plants and flowers in a foreign language…. 

Almost every language has tens of thousands of words to master, which of course you won’t be able to memorize. Even in English, there are thousands of words that we have no idea about. Unless you are an art historian or an applied arts enthusiast, you probably won’t know what geridon is. To communicate at an intermediate level, you only need 2500–3500 words!

At Taalhammer, we know from experience that sometimes you need to learn a language in a short period of time. We want you to be able to focus on the aspects of the language that are most important to you at any given time. That’s why you can easily create a collection of your own words and sentences to repeat later.


For some people, age can affect the speed of learning. Does it seem to you that your child is able to learn a language faster and more efficiently than you? 

Think of it this way. A 10-year-old child speaks his language perfectly, certainly when it comes to convincing a parent to buy him ice cream or a new phone.  But does he or she have something specific to say about a non-trivial topic? I bet you can learn to talk about politics or sports history, for example, faster than in 10 years.

As an adult, you can enjoy various advantages that come with age, such as the ability to think logically, access educational resources, and employ analytical skills and experience. Learning for adults is not only effective, but also interesting, for example because it brings a greater understanding of culture and language context. 

In the case of adults, of course, it is necessary to adapt learning practices and methods to bring the best results. If you want to know more read our article about learning a language at an older age.

Knowing other languages

If you already know a foreign language, you may be able to learn a new one quickly. Of course, it depends if the language you know is at least somewhat similar. When I started learning Portuguese, I already knew English quite well. Although the two languages belong to different language groups, I mastered nouns in Portuguese quite quickly – many of them sound similar, only the endings change. 

Research shows that the time it takes to master a new language can be reduced if the learner already speaks a foreign language. What’s more, if the language you want to learn is similar to your native tongue, things will also be somewhat easier.

Accelerate effective language learning with Taalhammer 

Many people like to learn at their own pace, so online learning is ideal for them. You can find an almost endless amount of language learning materials on the Internet. Be aware, however, that not all of them are adequate. 

How long it takes to learn a foreign language depends on so many factors that it’s impossible to determine how many hours you’ll have to spend studying. However, there are effective methods that will allow you to master the language so that you will be able to use it later. So what if you spend 500 hours studying if you can’t put a sentence together in a foreign language? 

If your goal is to start using your target language in everyday situations, check out the Taalhammer app. It was developed based on years of research and experience. In it we have used techniques that can bring tangible results to your efforts in a short time.

Spaced repetition 

The first of these methods is our proprietary Spaced Repetition algorithm. This method is based on the so-called forgetting curve discovered 150 years ago. 

In Spaced Repetition you repeat a given piece of material at an optimal frequency. The algorithm uses the theory of the forgetting curve to bring up the material that needs repetition at the right moment. The better you do with the given phrases, the less often they will appear; the worse, the more often. In this way, your brain remembers better and sends the information faster to the long-term memory, from which the phrases and expressions in question can be automatically and easily recalled when the need arises, for example, during a conversation in a foreign language.

Create your own content

Taalhammer also has an Editor mode that uses artificial intelligence to assist you in adding your own content. 

Why is this worth doing? First, you will remember much better what you have created yourself. Second, the examples describe your life, so there’s a good chance you’ll use them in everyday conversations. By learning the content of your choice, your learning will not only be more interesting, but more effective. Research shows that if we learn something we are familiar with, as well as something that interests us and arouses positive emotions, we find it easier to remember information.

Check out the method of learning in complete sentences 

Very often when learning a language you learn vocabulary words and grammar rules. Then you hope to simply construct sentences during a conversation. Anyone who has tried to learn this way knows that it obviously doesn’t work in most cases. What we should be doing is exactly the opposite. We should practice not just words, but whole sentences, and only occasionally support them with a grammatical rule.

At Taalhammer, we chose the most common words and then built more than 5,000 example sentences from them, mostly variations of themselves, such as questions, negations, hypotheses, etc. 

The full-sentence learning method used in Taalhammer is an excellent way to quickly develop language skills. With it, you not only learn new vocabulary words, but also automatically memorize sentence structures and learn grammar – even if you don’t realize it. Your brain then processes and systematizes the knowledge to use it at the right moment. You’ll practice nativist habits and develop language reflexes that will keep you talking from day one.

Become a pro with Taalhammer!

Whether you’re just starting out or already have some knowledge of a foreign language, you definitely want to bet on the most effective methods possible. At Taalhammer, we believe that effective language learning is the kind that allows you to use the language from the very first lesson. The sooner you start speaking, the better your chances of achieving linguistic success. 

Our promises are not empty – the methods and algorithms used in the applications are backed by years of experience and research. Check it out for yourself!

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