How long does it take to speak fluently? In this article, I am going to answer this question talking about four factors that can influence the time people need to learn a language. The idea for this article came from a question of 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, 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 fluently Italian?”.
Well, I don’t need to say 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-model body?”. My answer can’t be 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. But 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 difficulties, losing all the efforts they 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 activitiy to which to 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 the others who work, can 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 this last word: saying time I don’t mean only quantity but also quality, which sometimes can be more important than the first one.
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 does 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 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 in the third lesson they were already able to speak a little about themselves and have the first brief conversations in Italian.
The same thing goes for Italians who decide to learn Spanish. They will learn Spanish much earlier than languages much more distant from their own, such as Chinese or Arabic.
What do I mean by this? Is it better to learn only languages similar to the one of origin 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 determinad 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 the university? Each one of these goals requires different study paths and even different times.
Suppose you want to take a trip to Italy and use this language only to greet people or order at the restaurant. In this case, an in-depth study is not necessary. In fact, using phrasebooks or apps, you can be able to do this without difficulty.
Different is to study for a university test, 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, which starts with the grammar, concentrates on all the linguistic abilities, and that in the end makes you feel at ease and masters of Italian.
In my opinion, the factors that influence the learning time of Italian and the other languages are:
- 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?
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