How long does it take to speak a language fluently? In this article, I am going to answer this question by discussing four factors that can influence the time people need to learn a language. The idea for this article came from a question by a guy who wanted to know “exactly” how much time it takes to become fluent in Italian. Obviously, my answer couldn’t be other than… it depends!

If you are curious to know more about this, read the following text!

As I already mentioned in the introduction, a question my students often ask me is “How long does it take to speak Italian fluently ?”.

Well, it goes without saying that this question always puzzles me. For me, it is a bit like asking: “How much time do I need to train myself to be able to run the New York marathon or to have a fit body?”. My answer can’t be any other than: it depends. Learning a language, as well as becoming super flexible or finishing a race with a good time, depends on various factors.

1. Motivation: do you want to succeed?

Motivation is the most important thing of all. It is what moves the world, what makes us grow and improve. It is what helps us to achieve the goals we set.

It’s like when at the beginning of the year we decide to go to the gym and put ourselves on a diet. We visualize the goal, we enroll in the gym and we start eating healthily. However, if our motivation is not strong enough, sooner or later, we risk falling into bad habits. We can easily apply this example to the study of languages. Many students start hitting the ground running, but unfortunately, some of them give up at the first sign of difficulties, disregarding all the efforts made.

2. Time: how much time do you have?

If you have a full-time job, a home and a family to take care of, the time you have is reduced. If you are a student with flexibility, a pensioner or a young person who has decided to take a year off, learning Italian could be an engaging activity to which you can dedicate even more than an hour per day.

But I still want to send a message of hope to the full-time workers in the world: don’t worry, you can learn the language you have always dreamed of! It’s not impossible! What do I mean by this? Am I contradicting myself? No, I am not. Have you ever met full-time students who skip entire exam sessions because they don’t feel ready enough, and others who can work, study and graduate in record time? Yes, I have!

What is the variable that makes us successful? As we have seen before, motivation is fundamental, but time is also important. Pay attention to these last words: by saying time I don’t only mean quantity but also quality, which sometimes can be more important than the former.

In this regard, I would like to give you an example. A student of mine has his own company, a full-time job and a lot of interests, but he found the time to study Italian. How? He decided that every night, for about half an hour, he will spend his time studying this language. Consistency handles the rest, and I can guarantee you one thing: the results are amazing!

3. Language: what is your native language?

The source language is a factor that should not be underestimated. Clearly, a Mandarin Chinese speaker will have more difficulty learning Italian than a Spanish speaker. What I just wrote may seem obvious, but I speak from direct experience. During my teaching career, I had the opportunity to teach Chinese and Spanish students. And guess what? If, with the first group, we dedicated most of the first lesson to the sounds and pronunciation, with the other it was possible to proceed more quickly, so much so that by the third lesson they were already able to speak a little about themselves and have their first brief conversations in Italian.

The same thing goes for Italians who decide to learn Spanish. They will learn Spanish much faster than languages much more distant from their own, such as Mandarin Chinese or Arabic.

What do I mean by this? Is it better to learn only languages similar to one’s  native language and leave out the more distant ones? No. Far be it from me to say such things! Everyone should choose a language that inspires him or her, with which there is a sort of bond, even if it is the dialect of the most remote region of the world.

However, it is undeniable that studying languages similar to one’s own can be an advantage, in terms of time too. On the other hand, I believe that if you are determined and you commit yourself, you can learn any language.

4. Goals: why do you want to learn Italian?

When you learn a language, you have to know the goals you want to reach. Are you learning Italian for fun, to travel, to attend a course at a university? Each one of these goals requires different study paths and even different time allocations.

Suppose you want to take a trip to Italy and use this language only to greet people or order at a restaurant. In this case, an in-depth study of the language is not necessary. In fact, by using phrasebooks or apps, you would be able to do this without difficulty.

On the contrary, it would be a different case to study for a university test or for a journey in Italy, in which you want to go around, talk to people and immerse yourself in Italian culture. In both cases, you need a more detailed study approach, which starts with grammar, concentrates on all the linguistic abilities, and that in the end makes you feel at ease and a master of Italian.

In summary…

In my opinion, the factors that influence the learning time of Italian and the other languages are:

  • Motivation
  • Time available
  • Source language
  • Goals you set

What is your experience as a language student? Do you agree with me, or are there other factors that you would like to add to the list?

Read this text in Italian!

ilaria firma

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