I know you are really not looking for an answer like “it depends”, even though you know it’s true. As many of you know, there is no point where you really hit the “I have learned this” stage with languages. You can practice German for a mere week and already be able to order a drink at a café, or you can also practice for years, and never be able to explain in German how the stock market works.
However you want to define fluency in a language is completely up to you. I feel that a good goal is to be able to hold your own in most circumstances. For example, if you are at the grocery store, out with a group of friends, or speaking on the phone, can you understand who are speaking with and do they also understand you? If so, then that is just about as much as you need to say that you are fluent. Of course, once you get to the point where your German is self-sufficient then it will only improve and get better from there.
Now, even how long it take for you to learn German is completely arbitrary, I will attempt to give you a good answer to this question.
How Hard is German to Learn?
The Foreign Service Institute classifies German as a Class II language. Meaning it is slightly more difficult for a native English speaker to learn German than Class I languages like Spanish, Norwegian, or Dutch. However, not as difficult to learn as Class III or IV languages like Hungarian, Arabic, or Japanese. This isn’t surprising since Class III languages and up typically use their own alphabet, and many of the Class IV languages also are tonal, meaning the inflection of your tone will change what word you are saying. When you consider the alternatives, German isn’t so bad!
How Long Does it Take to Learn German?
According to the Foreign Service Institute again, they say that German takes about 900 class hours or 36 weeks of 25 hours/week practice. Now 25 hours/week is much more than many learners will be able to give to the language, unless they are fully dedicated or completely immersed in the language. It is also possible to do more than this and learn German quicker. I have met people who practiced German for only a few months, and were speaking with almost native-level proficiency that made me jealous. Of course this is a just a general scale, so the time it takes you can be more or less, depending on several other factors.
What Makes Learning German Quicker?
- The Learner’s Natural Ability
- It is shown that some people have a more natural proficiency with learning languages, just like how some people are better at sports or math. The reason why is not totally known. Neuroscientists will tell you that it has to do with genes and how the brain is wired. However, one thing that is known is that practice can build any skill, including the parts of the brain associated with languages. That’s why your prior experience with learning languages can speed up how long it takes.
- Prior Linguistic Experience
- The brain has what scientists call neuroplasticity, which simply means the brain will adapt and change as you learn new skills or give it new challenges to overcome. This means that anyone who has prior experience learning languages has an advantage at learning German. However, just because we think we are not born to be “good” at learning a language or something else, we can still build that skill!
- Commitment to Task
- This is an obvious one. Of course, you need to be fully committed to learning a language. If you break up your learning with long gaps in between, then you will have to spend more of your time relearning things, instead of building upon your knowledge. Try to make learning German a daily ritual. Many experts cite that at least 10-15 minutes a day keeps your learning progression headed in the right direction.
So, now hopefully you have a better idea of long it takes to learn German, and what makes that time go quicker or faster.
The most important thing is to know that you 100% can do it, no matter your age, previous experience, or anything else. With learning any great skill, you will reach a wall where you feel discouraged. Don’t let that stop you. With perseverance, you will push through and reach places where you never thought possible. If German is your first language you are learning, then the feeling where you realize that you can actually understand what others are saying in real life conversation is one of the most rewarding feelings you can experience.
If you are on the journey, let me know how it’s going. In today’s world the growth of online tools and technology, like ChatGPT, is only making language learning more accessible. So, with that I will say aufwiedersehen, and viel Glück!