How much time does it take to learn English or German

10 indicators for language learning speed

One of the first questions I get asked, when someone wants to start learning a new language, in my case German or English, is how long does it take until I can talk or at least have a basic conversation in that language. Before we go into the topic I need to share one very important fact: Everyone can learn a new language! This is true, believe it! Now let us have a look on some of the factors that determine your language learning speed. Hopefully by reading this text you will be able to improve your learning capacity. The first and the last points are the most important ones!

1. Everyone can learn a new language!

This is the most important point, you can learn any language, as you already are able to speak one language, your mother language. Which gives you the ability to just add one more language! Your brain has the capacity to do it. Even if you would be a slow learner, don’t worry! With dedication you can learn any language. In more than 6 years of teaching German and English I have never encountered one student who could not learn, or at least make some progress. You need to believe that you can do it, and you will achieve it.

2. Which languages do you already speak?

This is kind of obvious, but nevertheless I’ll explain the details. Some language are very close to each other, and if you speak one of this languages, learning the other one would be more easy than learning a language with a completely different structure. Consequently, if you speak Spanish, you could learn Portuguese more easily, but Japanese or Chinese would be more difficult as the languages are totally different. I’ve been learning Portuguese for 6 years. 3 years ago I was at a conference in Brazil, where the guest speaker was a native Spanish speaker. He was asked to speak slowly so the Portuguese speaking audience could understand him. To my surprise, at that time I could understand around 60% of what he said, without having studied any Spanish in the past years. Now my Portuguese has improved, so I would understand even more.
Or for example if you can speak Dutch, learning German would be super easy, as the languages are very close.

3. How many languages do you speak?

The more language you speak the more used you are to learn and with this will make it easier for you to add another language. Many of my students are Portuguese native speakers, and many already speak English. This helps, as German and English have a common root. But even if you only speak on language you can learn. That is why it is great, when children learn languages from early age on.

4. The complexity of the language you are learning

Yes, languages have different complexities, and it is logical that learning a language with higher complexity will take longer to learn. Of course not considering the languages you already speak.
Typically people can learn English fast, as it has compared to other language an easier structure and grammar rules. For example the conjugation of verbs is quite simple, it just has one definite and one indefinite article, compared to German, where we have 3 basic define articles and even more modification with the cases(Kasus). When I learned Portuguese I had to every time think if the word is masculine or feminine, in order to use the correct articles and adjective conjugation.
Having said that every language has some difficult parts. In my opinion English is quite difficult when it comes to the pronunciation of words, as it is not very intuitive.

5. What kind of classes are you taking?

Difference between class room, small groups, and private classes. In school you learn a language in a big class setting, with 20-30 other students. Here you learn listening and reading, but time for speaking is very short.
In language schools, often times the groups are smaller 3-7 people. This size is much better for communication between the student and the teacher. Here in Brazil there are many private language schools, each uses different methodology and different didactic material. It is very important for you, to use and approach that works for your. The challenge for the teachers is, to adapt the learning speed to the average. Which would slow down someone who wants to learn faster, and might be to fast, for someone who likes to go more slowly.
The modern way of learning is more in intuitive, not too grammar focus learning on dialogues.
The last and in my opinion best and fastest option is to take private classes. Here the teacher can customize the classes to your needs, and in an ideal case you’ll speak a lot in the class. Take an experimental class, if you want to see, how you’ll get along with the teacher.
Specific language need, if you need to use the language in one specific area, like in you profession, check out a teacher who has a similar background.

6. The amount of classes you are taking per week.

This is another obvious one, because the more hours you have, the faster you can learn. The minimum amount of class would be one hour per week. Two classes per week would be ideal. If case you need to jump start the learning and/or you only have a short time an intensive course might be a great starting option. Schools often offer different time models.
Very important is, that you have time to do your homework in between classes and that you could dedicate some time for studying. Choose a school or a teacher that fits best with your current circumstances. A private teacher normally has the advantage, that the hours are more flexible, as for schools typically have fixed hours for the classes. Some of my students have very specific times, when they can have classes, for example, Wednesday at 2pm, or only in the mornings at 8 am.
In the end it comes down to your need, your current lifestyle and how fast you want or need to learn the new language.

7. What are your general life circumstances?

Yes, they are important, If you have a good time and feel good in general, learning a new language is fun. However, if your life is full, or even stressful, this is reducing your effectiveness to learn. Sometimes I have students say, that they cannot focus on the learning, because they have things to deal with. Having a balanced lifestyle really helps with our mental abilities. This you probably already know, that when we are in difficult or stressful situations that our brain is often times not working at 100%.

8. What material and books are you using?

The quality of the books is important. Typically I use the best books available on the market, which most of the times are the more expensive ones. Nevertheless, this investment is for sure worth it. Nothing worse than having material that you don’t like and that is not helping you to progress. Many school have created their own material. I have seen some of the books, and in my opinion some were good, some I didn’t like. Check the material and methodology that will be used for your class.
Nevertheless, some books aren’t very good for using in class. It is important to have a book to guide the class, even if a students only wants to have conversational classes, to add vocabulary, expressions, and grammar this is great book. Also it gives you the basis for discussing.
Most modern good quality books have a very easy way to engage and integrate only little grammar, which is good. So If you want you can buy an additional Grammar book.

Link to Momente from Hueber
Link to Interchange for American English

9. Are you used to learn new things?

A lot of people think, that the older you get the harder it gets to learn new things. Yes, it might be a little bit slower. Although the real issue is, that many people stop learning new things, which I is normal the older we get. That is why a university students generally learns faster, than a middle age person who is well established in life and in their work. In other words, if you are in the rhythm of learning, it will help with mastering the new language. The age of my students varies between 12 and 70 years. For more senior people learning a new language is a great brain exercise. If that might be you I highly recommend private classes, as the teacher can adapt to your language learning need and speed. At this point I need to remind us that literary everyone can learn a new language, even if it might at a slower speed. The more important matter is, that you progress from class to class. That is what I always tell my students.

10. How much time do you dedicate to the language.

In conclusion, the more you study and speak the language the faster you’ll advance! I have had students that needed around 1,5 years to finalize beginners level A1 in German, on the other hand others, with a lot of dedication needed only 2 to 3 months.
I had one student, who did not progress, because he simply wouldn’t have any time for homework. Other students, even just having one class per week were putting effort into it, developed quickly.
The biggest part for mastering it, is up to you. When I started learning Portuguese from zero, when I moved to Brazil, the learning curve was slow. The moment I really started speaking it, my language skill grew rapidly. So practice and speak the language as often as possible.


If you now are interested in starting learning, check out the other article I wrote, about the 8 tips for language starters


A good teacher will help you and guide through all the points mentioned above!