Learning a new language can be challenging, but it’s definitely doable. With a little effort and the right resources, you can learn any language you want. Of course, how long it takes to learn a new language will vary depending on a few factors, such as your motivation, free time, and the language itself.
- Danish and Dutch are considered relatively easy for English speakers to learn
- Category II languages take around 36 weeks, or 900 classroom hours, to learn
- Category IV languages are considered ‘super-hard’ and are the most challenging for native English speakers to learn
- So, which language should you choose?
If you’re looking to learn a new language quickly, the U.S. Department of State recommends starting with a language that uses the Latin alphabet and shares similarities in grammar and vocabulary with English.
Here’s a breakdown of how long it might take you, per the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) — the training academy for U.S. diplomats.
The FSI categorizes the world’s most popular languages into four groups based on how many weeks it takes to gain a “general proficiency.” (You can learn more about how the FSI defines proficiency on the CIA website.)
Category I languages take about 24-30 weeks, or 600-750 classroom hours, to learn. According to the FSI website, Category I languages are similar to English and include:
- Danish (24 weeks)
- Dutch (24 weeks)
- Italian (24 weeks)
- Romanian (24 weeks)
- Norwegian (24 weeks)
- Spanish (24 weeks)
- Portuguese (24 weeks)
- Swedish (24 weeks)
- French (30 weeks)
Category II languages are somewhere in the middle in terms of difficulty. They take more time and effort to learn than Category I languages, but they’re still doable for most English speakers. Learning a Category II language takes around 36 weeks, or 900 classroom hours, to reach a general proficiency level.
Some examples of Category II languages include German (the most widely spoken language in the European Union, after English), Haitian Creole, Indonesian, Malay, and Swahili.
Category III languages are more complex and take around 44 weeks, or 1,100 classroom hours, to learn. Some examples of Category III languages include Albanian, Burmese, Czech, Farsi, Latvian, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives you a general idea.
Category IV languages are considered ‘super-hard’ and are the most challenging for native English speakers to learn
As you’ve probably guessed, the fourth and final category is reserved for the most difficult languages. These are known as Category IV languages and require the most dedication, like 88 weeks on average. That’s because they’re the most different from English in terms of grammar, structure, and phonetics.
Category IV languages include Arabic, Chinese-Cantonese, Chinese-Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean.
It depends on how much time you’re willing to commit and what you want out of it. If you’re going on a short vacation and want to learn some basic phrases, you might pick a Category I language like Spanish or Italian. These languages are relatively easy to learn, and you can make a lot of progress in a short amount of time.
But if you’re looking for a challenge and don’t have a specific goal in mind, you might consider tackling a Category IV language like Arabic or Mandarin.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you. No matter what language you learn, it can open up new opportunities for travel, work, and personal growth.
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