October 22, 2021
How Many Hours a Day Should You Study a Language For?
If you could spend 10 hours every day, would you? Should you? This article explores how much daily time you should invest in learning a language.
The more, the better. Right? Even though that sounds like a pretty straightforward answer to this question, it isn't very helpful.
Even though dedicating six hours a day mastering our target languages would be nice, most of us cannot do so.
So how long should we spend learning a language for the process to be effective? That's what I'll be exploring in this article.
The Big Picture
Different languages require different amounts of time and effort to attain proficiency.
For example, as an English speaker, you'll find that the languages closely resembling English like French are much easier to learn than languages like Japanese.
This fact is what The School of Language Studies observed after "70 years of experience in teaching languages to U.S. diplomats". They categorized languages into three groups:
Category I (Languages that closely resemble English): These languages typically take around 600-750 hours to attain "proficiency." Examples include Spanish, Danish, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese, and French, with French being among the hardest of the lot.
Category II: These languages typically take around 900 hours to attain "proficiency." Examples include German and Indonesian.
Category III Languages (Languages with notable cultural and linguistic differences from English): These languages take around 1100 hours to attain "proficiency." Examples include Finnish, Thai, Hindi, and Russian.
Category IV languages (Super-hard languages): These languages take around 2200 hours to attain "proficiency."
Proficiency in this context represents "Speaking-3/Reading-3" on the ILR scale, which is equivalent to C1 on the CEFR scale. At this level, one should have attained "Professional working proficiency" in their target language.
Having an idea of how long it would take to learn a language can help you plan accordingly.
It's worth noting, however, that learning a language isn't a math problem. So, for example, let's say you are learning a Category I language like Italian.
If it takes 600 hours to learn one, does that mean that studying 6 hours a day for 100 days will make you fluent? Even though you would have indeed learned a lot, attaining fluency is unlikely.
Trying to learn too many new concepts at once might lead to "Information overload," which may make your learning ineffective.
Studies have shown that studying for many short periods over a long time is much more effective than learning in bulk or cramming.
Although the ideal length of a session varies for everyone, it usually ranges from around 30 minutes to 1 hour to learn new information per session.
Variations with Experience
As linguistic structure and grammatical patterns become more familiar to you, learning for longer times without overload becomes possible. At this point, you start building upon what you already know instead of learning new information without references.
Studying for two or even three hours every day may be ideal, while others stick around the 1-hour threshold.
Quality is Better Than Quantity
Another reason why the number of hours you spend studying a language does not correlate to how fast you become proficient is the quality of your study.
Some methods of language learning are much more effective than others.
Learning methods that focus on just reading and writing but fail to teach you how to read and speak in your target language will help you attain proficiency much slower than a balanced method.
Consistency is also essential for learning anything. Reviewing and learning information every day will help you to progress much faster than sporadical learning.
My personal experience
Now, I'm at a B1 level on the CEFR scale, and I can speak confidently in French to native speakers about most everyday topics (albeit with a handful of grammatical errors). I can also read most content on social media and on the web that I encounter daily.
I can also listen to rapid speech while grasping the context of the dialogue. Writing, however, is my weakest point, and apart from the occasional texting friends and answering questions, I spend little to no time dedicated to writing each week.
In the first 6-7 months, I learned pretty casually, spending around 30 minutes a day (and occasionally) an hour learning a language, primarily with Duolingo and Busuu. I also used Italki once or twice a month.
However, my fastest progress came when I doubled down on Italki, speaking with natives for around 4-6 hours a week, and using Anki for memorizing new vocabulary via spaced repetition and reading + listening to french content every day.
In total, I now spend around 1 hour and 30 minutes learning French every day with this method, and it's worked great so far for me.
The bottom line
The amount of time you spend every day learning your target language depends on how fast you want to learn, how much new information you can accommodate at a time, and how much time you can spare every day.
Examining the facts show that a balanced study of a language for 30 minutes to 1 hour every day should be enough to make decent progress.
However, as you gain experience and become more familiar with your target language, learning for extended periods becomes more effortless, allowing you to study for two or more hours every day.
No matter how long you decide to learn, make sure to choose a routine that makes it easy to stay committed to learning daily 😄.