Languages That Take the Most (and Least) Time to Learn

So you want to learn how to speak and write in a new language, huh? Not just “hello” and “thank you,” but learn it well enough to live in your country of origin? Hope you are ready to commit. If you are a native English speaker, these are the languages ​​that will take the most and least time to master.

According to the US Foreign Service Institute, languages ​​from around the world are divided into four difficulty categories for native English speakers: Category I, Category II, Category III, and Category IV. Languages ​​falling under Category I are “easiest” to learn or take less time, while languages ​​falling under Category IV are “most difficult”. The languages ​​that take the most time to learn are :

  • Arab
  • Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin)
  • Japanese
  • Korean

It takes them a whopping 2,200 hours of study to achieve what is known as 3/3 mastery, or three out of five in both speaking and reading. This is about 88 weeks if you enrolled in one of the intensive FSI courses, and much longer if you study things on your own at home. Most of the difficulty comes from having to learn a completely different writing system, which can include thousands of characters.

Don’t have 2200 extra hours? For the least time-consuming languages to learn , you have the following options:

  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • French
  • Italian
  • Norwegian
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian
  • Spanish language
  • Swedish

These Category I languages ​​are considered “world languages”, or languages ​​close to English. All of these languages ​​require only 600 to 750 teaching hours, or about 24 weeks of intensive courses (excluding French, which requires about 30). In case you’re wondering, Category III is where most of the world’s languages ​​exist for native English speakers due to “significant linguistic and / or cultural differences.” There are 50 in total and they require about 1,100 teaching hours or 44 weeks of intensive training.


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