Learning Timeline

How Long Does it Take to Learn a Language?

There are many factors that influence how long it takes to learn a language:

  • What is your goal? Most people have a goal of being able to participate actively in a business or social conversation in the target language. This is approximately a level 9 (advanced) on ALTA’s scale of 1 (total beginner) to 12 (native level of fluency). Some people just want enough language capability to get by and have a level 4 or 5 goal. A very few are seeking level 12.
  • What is your current capability in the language? Many people have studied or been exposed to their target language already. In most cases, this means that less time is needed to reach their goal than would be needed if they had no exposure at all. In a few cases, the person has learned vocabulary, pronunciation, or grammar that is wrong and more time is required to correct the errors.
  • What is your target language and what is your first language? For example, for people who speak English as a first language, Dutch is usually the easiest language to learn, while Mandarin Chinese is one of the most difficult. Usually people who already have some capability in a second language find that learning a third language is easier. They already have grasped many of the concepts of languages and find that additional languages easily fit into those concepts.
  • Are you taking individual or group training? Individual training is faster because you progress at exactly your rate and the program can be customized to your specific needs. Group training is usually much slower and often ineffective. For this reason, we offer group programs only in a few circumstances.
  • What is your ability to learn? Some people are naturally gifted at acquiring language. They grasp the language quickly. Others, who are of equal intelligence, may be less gifted or not gifted at all in learning languages.
  • What method do you use? Learning from a person is far superior to learning with only books, tapes, or impersonal, pre-programmed instruction. Even with a person, the method of teaching makes a difference. ALTA customizes training programs based on the Direct Method or the Audio-Lingual Method.
  • What is your attitude? Most people learn faster by speaking, even with mistakes. With an experienced professional trainer available to correct the mistakes, improvement can be quite rapid. The attitude of ‘speak and correct’ leads to faster improvement than the attitude of ‘speak perfectly the first time.’
  • How effective are your trainers? Just because a person can speak a language does not mean that he or she is an effective trainer. Being a good trainer involves knowledge of the language, experience employing training methodologies, and the ability to personalize the training and motivate students. The effective trainer has genuine concern for the student’s progress.
  • How often will you take classes? The more exposure to the language you have, the faster you learn. Three classes a week will give you more progress than one class a week. Spacing your classes too far apart opens you up to the risk that you might forget what you’ve learned and more time will have to be spent reviewing what you covered in previous classes.
  • How hard will you work? Learning another language is not easy. There is no magic pill or method or experience that eliminates the need for work on the part of the student. This means that taking classes without doing homework is not as effective as taking classes and doing homework.

Given all of the above factors, it is clear that “it depends” is a viable answer. However, people still want to know how long it will take and how much will it cost. Once we know your goals, we can help you put a plan in place that answers the question completely.

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