How long does it take to become fluent in a language?

This is a re-post of one of my posts on a recent thread on the LingQ forum (http://tinyurl.com/y8b4ogz):

In language learning, ‘hard’ is a relative term. It all depends on what linguistic and cultural background you come from. If you’re language and/or culture is more similar to that of the language you’re learning (http://tinyurl.com/ydlcg7c), you’ll learn faster than others, all things being equal. In the same way, if a language you’re learning is similar to another language you’ve already learned, all things beings equal, you’ll learn faster. This is simply because your brain ‘puts the pieces of the puzzle together’ faster than it otherwise would.

***Instead of thinking about Spanish/French/German (FSI Level 1/2 languages) etc. as being ‘easy’ and Japanese/Chinese/Thai (FSI Level 4 languages) etc. as being ‘difficult’, think about Japanese/Chinese/Thai etc. as being ‘normal’ and Spanish/French/German etc. as being ‘easier than normal’.***

That’s because when you’re learning Japanese/Chinese/Thai etc. as an English speaker, you’re essentially ‘starting from scratch’ in terms of having a related grammar and vocabulary base. Almost nothing in your language shares anything in common with these languages, so you’re learning as a child would – from nothing.

But in fact, you’ve STILL got an advantage over a child (and you will consequently learn faster than a child would), because you ALREADY speak another language and know about the world (you already have ‘schemata’ http://tinyurl.com/ycewufa), which means you have a greater imagination for what someone COULD be saying, and language learning is all about guessing and discovering.

When you’re learning Spanish/French/German etc., however, you’ve already got a headstart/advantage, because grammar and vocabulary in those languages is similar to that of English. So you’re able to learn AT A FASTER THAN NORMAL RATE than someone whose native language doesn’t share those similarities, and much faster than a child would.

In these threads Steve gives a lot of great advice on the subject:

http://tinyurl.com/ych94ta
http://tinyurl.com/ycb5dfp

Definitely check out the first link ‘Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers’ (http://tinyurl.com/5w8k32) in the first thread, but remember that these figures are based on FSI CLASSROOM COURSES, and that with LingQ learning independently you can learn much more efficiently (you spend all your time with interesting input, instead of potentially boring teachers, grammar, and people), and therefore faster.

http://web.archive.org/web/20071014005901/http://www.nvtc.gov/lotw/months/november/learningExpectations.html

Shout out to red, you know who you are! 🙂

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