English is the most international language on the globe. If you are a native English speaker chances are, you can get along quite comfortably in most western countries without learning a word in another language. In Europe especially, with enough luck, someone out there may know enough English to initiate and sustain basic communication situations.

But of course, for various other reasons either personal, cultural or work-related, you will find yourself in need of learning a foreign language. The next natural question after deciding to learn a new language is: how many hours does it take to learn a foreign language and achieve fluency?

Estimated times to learn a new language

  • Afrikaans — 575 hours
  • Danish — 575 hours
  • Dutch — 575 hours
  • Norwegian — 575 hours
  • Swedish — 575 hours
  • French — 600 hours
  • Italian — 600 hours
  • Portuguese — 600 hours
  • Romanian — 600 hours
  • Spanish — 600 hours
  • German — 750 hours
  • Indonesian — 900 hours
  • Malaysian — 900 hours
  • Swahili — 900 hours

Before diving into a more extended list of languages and how long it takes to master them, here’s what you should remember:

  • The data is official the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has conducted a study on the time it takes for native English speakers to become fluent in new languages;
  • Knowing more than one language helps — languages with shared features with English are generally easier to learn, while those with significant cultural and linguistic differences may take longer to learn;
  • The time spent learning depends on you  The time it takes to learn a new language varies greatly depending on your motivation and dedication to the task.

Interagency Language Roundtable scale or the IRL scale

The Interagency Language Roundtable is a grading scale used by the US government to scale employees and diplomats working for the FSI (Foreign Service Institute). You’ll find this scale to be the most accurate when it comes to native English speakers learning a foreign language. Basically, what this scale does is establish the language difficulty.

Level 0No proficiency
Level 1Elementary proficiency
Level 2Limited working proficiency
Level 3Professional working proficiency
Level 4Full professional proficiency
Level 5Native or bilingual proficiency

Fluency is practically reached at level 3 (professional working proficiency), so this will be our main benchmark.

But first, we need to clarify a certain aspect of learning foreign languages as a native English speaker: some languages are more difficult to learn than others. Why? Because English and some other languages haven’t been in contact with one another for thousands of years and have evolved in a totally different way. But studying languages that are completely different from English is not impossible. It takes longer, but you’ll eventually get there.

Easiest language to learn for English speakers

The data presented below reflects a study held by the FSI (Foreign Service Institute) of the US government. Again, this is probably the most accurate data regarding how much time takes for a native English speaker to become fluent in a particular new language.

The FSI has over 800 language learning courses in more than 70 languages with more than 70 years of experience in training US diplomats and foreign affairs employees.

Tier 1: Languages that are most closely related to English

The fastest way to learn a language is to learn any language from Tier 1. These are the easiest languages to learn for English speakers and will take the least amount of time to master.

Germanic languages

LanguageTime needed to reach fluency
Afrikaansabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Danishabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Dutchabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Norwegianabout 575 hours or 23 weeks
Swedishabout 575 hours or 23 weeks

Romance Languages

LanguageTime needed to reach fluency
Frenchabout 600 hours or 24 weeks
Italianabout 600 hours or 24 weeks
Portugueseabout 600 hours or 24 weeks
Romanianabout 600 hours or 24 weeks
Spanishabout 600 hours or 24 weeks

Even though the FSI classifies all the above languages as having the same difficulty score and the same average time of learning (575-600 hours), it only makes sense that Germanic-based languages like Danish or Dutch are generally easier to learn compared with any of the Romance languages like Italian or Romanian.

Most of the languages above are highly easy to learn for very good reasons:

  • they use the same alphabet as English;
  • comparable stress and intonation patterns;
  • already share a number of vocabulary words.

Tier 2: Similar to English

LanguageTime needed to reach fluency
German750 hours or 30 weeks

Even though German is the most Germanic language of them all, it doesn’t come very naturally to learn for native English speakers.

The grammar is more complicated and difficult to understand; hence German gets a tier 2 difficulty score, but of course, there are other Germanic languages out there that are much harder to master, like Icelandic.

"Fastest way to learn a language" by RF._.studio©

Tier 3: Languages that may have cultural and linguistic differences compared to English

LanguageTime needed to reach fluency
Indonesian900 hours or 36 weeks
Malaysian900 hours or 36 weeks
Swahili900 hours or 36 weeks
Haitian Creole900 hours or 36 weeks

Tier 4: Languages that are profoundly different from English

LanguageTime needed to reach fluency
Polish1100 hours or 44 weeks
Croatian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Latvian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Greek1100 hours or 44 weeks
Turkish1100 hours or 44 weeks
Icelandic1100 hours or 44 weeks
Finnish1100 hours or 44 weeks
Estonian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Hungarian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Bengali1100 hours or 44 weeks
Bulgarian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Persian (Farsi)1100 hours or 44 weeks
Hindi1100 hours or 44 weeks
Russian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Slovak1100 hours or 44 weeks
Tagalog1100 hours or 44 weeks
Ukrainian1100 hours or 44 weeks
Urdu1100 hours or 44 weeks
Vietnamese1100 hours or 44 weeks

The languages above are just a part of the European languages classified as tier 4 by the FSI. The list goes on with other languages from all over the world, like Mongolian, Nepali, Thai, Xhosa, Zulu or Hebrew. All of them take about 1100 hours or 44 weeks to become fluent in. Thus, when it comes to the difficulty of languages, this list does indeed include hard languages to learn, but not the hardest.

Hardest language to learn for English speakers

All of the tier 5 languages are highly sophisticated and complex compared to English having an average learning curve of up to 4 times the period it takes for the average English speaker to learn Dutch for example. So arm yourself with a lot of patience and plenty of determination.

Based on all the data and testimonies English speakers made over the years, the hardest language to learn award may go to Japanese due to the thousands of characters you need to memorize while having three different writing varieties.

Tier 5: Extraordinary level of difficulty

LanguageTime needed to reach fluency
Arabic2200 hours or 88 weeks
Japanese2200 hours or 88 weeks
Korean2200 hours or 88 weeks
Mandarin Chinese2200 hours or 88 weeks
Cantonese2200 hours or 88 weeks

But don’t let all these statistics scare you! People around the world are learning and assimilating new languages every day. Besides, these are still human languages; it’s not like you need to decipher an alien dialect. All of the above are languages created by humans, and with enough determination and willpower, you can learn any language on this list. Besides, learning a new language is good for the brain!

Mondly 1000 daily lessons for free

Let’s not also forget that the above FSI statistics don’t include the help of modern language learning aids like apps on your smartphone can bring to the table. In theory, today you can learn a foreign language much faster.


From 0 to conversational fast

Mondly is one of the most popular language learning apps out there, offering courses for 41 languages, including all languages from tier 5. With Mondly you can greatly reduce the total amount of time it takes to learn a new language by practicing daily whenever you feel like it because everything is right there, on your smartphone, at all times.

Instead of tiring yourself for hours with inch-thick textbooks, slip a 10-minute Mondly lesson into your routine and make learning a breeze. You will learn languages naturally using:

  • practical topics;
  • hands-on, interactive language lessons;
  • intelligent suggestions and instant feedback on pronunciation;
  • crystal-clear audios of native speakers;
  • real-life conversations and so much more.

Start using Mondly for free on your computer or download the app and learn languages anytime, anywhere.



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By GIL