The ability to speak one, or more, foreign languages is an increasingly sought skill in today’s world. However, mastering a foreign language means more than just memorizing vocabulary words – it takes time to properly learn a language, but it is ultimately worth it as it gives us broader access to education and information and allows us to connect with people from all over the world, making life decidedly more interesting.
The importance of learning foreign languages
In an increasingly globalized world, the importance of learning foreign languages cannot be played down. Foreign languages are important because they open up new worlds of possibilities for learners:
- They facilitate travel, allowing for more authentic experiences abroad.
- They improve one’s employment prospects.
- They have cognitive benefits for the learners.
- They allow one to connect with people from other cultures in meaningful ways.
- They help learners gain a cross-cultural perspective, fostering tolerant attitudes.
The amount of time it takes to learn a new language from scratch
The amount of time it will take a person to learn a new language from scratch depends on a variety of factors. These include the age of the learner, their attitude and the amount of time they spend studying and using the language. The amount of time required to learn a new language will also depend on whether the learner has previous experience with other foreign languages or not.
Another issue to consider when trying to answer the question of how long it takes to learn a new language is which language is being learned. The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) categorizes different languages into different groups based on their difficulty for native English speakers. According to their rating, it is easier to learn French (Group 1) than it is to learn Turkish (Group 3) or Japanese (Group 4).
A rough estimate is that to reach limited working proficiency one needs to spend 480 hours on a new Group 1 language and 720 hours on a new Group 2-4 language. The amount of time will vary depending on which learning method is used: full immersion is quicker than structured weekly lessons.
How many hours a day should you study a foreign language?
Students wishing to master a new foreign language fast should obviously dedicate as much time as possible to learning it. In the early days of foreign language study, learners should spend thirty minutes to an hour a day actively studying the basics of the language, like pronunciation and grammar.
Once more comfortable with the language, students should start incorporating language exposure to their day, which involves reading books or listening to audio in the foreign language and spend longer periods of time studying.
For those who don’t have that much free time to dedicate to learning a new language, it should be added that, according to a methodology called microlearning, a few minutes per day can be just as effective. The thinking behind is that quality matters more than quantity and, if you do one small thing every day for a short amount of time, you will gradually improve.
Can you learn a language in 15 minutes a day?
According to the Babbel language learning approach, 15 minutes a day is enough to learn a new language. Studying for such a short amount of time means that our brain doesn’t overload with information that is unlikely to stick to our long-term memory. The approach builds repetition into short, dynamic lessons.
A language is a collection of words structured by a set of rules put in place to combine meaningful messages for communication. These rules are important aspects to take into consideration when learning a new foreign language.
The four main aspects to master when learning a foreign language
Language is the ability to produce and comprehend spoken and written words. All languages have underlying structural rules which make communication possible. The four main aspects one has to master when learning a foreign language are grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntax.
- Grammar consists of a set of rules that speakers of a language must internalize.
- Vocabulary refers to the words of a language.
- Pronunciation covers the sounds that humans make up a language.
- Syntax is the study of how people put words into the right order so as to communicate meaningfully.
By mastering these aspects, we can use a foreign language to convey an infinite number of concepts.
Vocabulary skills refer to one’s ability to express themselves effortlessly using a wide variety of words. You can improve your vocabulary skills in a foreign language by reading, listening to songs or watching movies in that language.
The Four Types of Vocabulary
There are four types of vocabulary, namely:
- Listening vocabulary: the words we hear and understand.
- Speaking vocabulary: the words we use when we speak.
- Reading vocabulary: the words we understand when we read text.
- Writing vocabulary: the words when we write to express ourselves.
The Importance of Learning Vocabulary
When learning a new foreign language, it pays off to focus on growing your vocabulary. Vocabulary is essential because:
- It allows us to successfully communicate ideas and express ourselves accurately.
- It is important for language development and improving general literacy skills.
- It improves reading comprehension, permitting us to consume a wider variety of cultural material.
Linguists often debate the definition of fluency. What makes someone fluent in a foreign language? Is it about how many words a person knows or is it more about their comprehension? How long does it take to become fluent in a new language? We take a look at the concept of fluency right below.
Defining fluency is far from simple. While the word originates from the Latin fluentem (to flow), language can “flow” comfortably for many speakers even if they are not fully fluent. People can be conversationally fluent in a language they are learning (meaning they can hold their own in a conversation) or natively fluent, which the highest standard of fluency (meaning being able to think in that language).
You are considered to be fluent when your speaking ability allows you to talk freely and without hesitation and when you are able to follow a conversation in a group of natives while talking about things you’re not used to talking about.
Fluency in numbers: How many words do you need to know to be fluent?
While it is difficult to precisely measure fluency in a number of words, there are some rough indicators of how many words you would need to learn to reach specific proficiency levels in a foreign language.
Learning 250-500 words will be enough to get you through everyday tourist situations in a foreign country, while 1,000-3,000 will mean that you are also able to have meaningful conversations. An advanced learner would know 4,000-10,000 words, including specialized vocabulary, whereas fluent speakers tend to have a vocabulary of over 10,000 words with native speakers topping the “vocabulary ranks” with their 10,000-30,000+ words.
Fluency in time: How long does it take to learn the number of words that is necessary to become fluent?
Becoming fluent in a foreign language is a process that takes time. The amount of time it takes differs from individual to individual, depending on the level of fluency they want to achieve, their familiarity with the study of foreign languages and the method they use to learn the language.
According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), there are six levels of fluency, beginning with A1 and ending with mastery in C2. Each of these levels takes approximately 200 hours of study, suggesting that the highest level of fluency would take an average of 1200 hours of study to attain.
Memorizing words daily: How many should you learn?
Experts claim that learners are capable or retaining 10-20 words per study hour. Even if you think you can take on more than that, resist overwhelming your brain with new information and set small goals to learn new words daily instead.
Grow your vocabulary every week
For 15 minutes of self-study per day, set a weekly vocabulary goal of 20-25 words. Increase the number of words for longer study periods. Repetition is key when it comes to successfully learning new words, so try to use learned vocabulary over and over.
Growing our vocabulary is a very important part of learning a new language: the more words we know, the better we will be able to express ourselves and understand the world around us. However, sometimes just reading a word and its translation isn’t enough to make us remember it. Some students find memorization techniques useful when learning vocabulary.
10 Techniques to Memorize Vocabulary Quickly and Effectively
If you need some tips to help you remember new vocabulary, look no further. We’ve got you covered!
- Mnemonics: Mnemonic devices are mental shortcuts, like associations and acronyms, which help you remember complex words.
- Flashcards: Making flashcards is a popular way of learning new words. Place your flashcards where you will see them regularly and read them daily.
- Word association webs: A word association web is a visual tool that helps you remember words by associating them with other words. Write the word you want to remember on the center of a sheet of paper and draw lines outward connecting the center to other words that you associate with it.
- Sentences: Making sentences helps us understand the words we learn, which is the best way to memorize them.
- Avoid translation: In order to remember a word, it is useful to try and describe it in the language one is learning rather than translating it to their mother tongue.
- Draw: Drawing a picture for each new word ensures that we will remember it better.
- Repeat: Repeat the words you learn often. Go back to revisit them and do some vocabulary practice after your lesson until you have no problems remembering them.
- Visualize: To memorize new words, it helps to have them printed out in front of you.
- Study to music: It is suggested that certain sounds and music can help with memory when it comes to language learning.
- Play vocabulary games: Use language learning apps that allow you to do word puzzles and games like crosswords using newly learned vocabulary.
Fun ways to learn vocabulary
Not a fan of flashcards? Don’t worry! Here are three fun vocabulary activities that can help you learn:
- Read comic books: Comics have a lot of simple dialogue, making their plot easier to understand than that of a novel.
- Make word pairs: Whenever you learn a new word, find a synonym and an opposite for it.
- Watch your favorite show with foreign subtitles: You will easily pick up on new vocabulary when watching re-runs of your favorite shows with subtitles in the language you’re learning.
Learning vocabulary overnight
If you are aiming for significant vocabulary expansion in one night, the best techniques to use would be mnemonics and the chunking method of memorization.
It is estimated that using mnemonics you can learn vocabulary at 400% your previous speed. You simply need to create a connection, like a shortcut or an acronym, that helps you remember a difficult word.
As for the chunking method, it involves learning things in groups instead of by themselves. Because our brain can only hold 5 to 9 things in its working memory at a time, the best ways of memorizing include memorizing information in “chunks”. Creating lists of similar words grouped by theme or category is an example of this.
With languages, you are at home anywhere!
Speaking foreign languages is an important skill nowadays and it is said that language learning helps our cognitive abilities, while also improving our career prospects as well as making us well-rounded people.
While there are no shortcuts to learning a language and true native-level fluency takes years, when it comes to learning foreign languages practice does make perfect. Dedicating a little bit of time every day to learn new vocabulary will ensure you’re ahead of the game!
If you are struggling with memorizing new words, there are plenty of useful memorizing techniques that you can use to help you remember your vocabulary. Complement your learning with online classes at Eurekly, which are taught by native experts dedicated to maximizing your potential!