The time it takes to learn a language depends on many factors:
- How close the new language is to your native language or other languages you know
- How complex the language is
- How many hours each week you devote to learning the language
- The language learning resources available to you
- Your motivation
Learning a new language as an adult is a huge task. Therefore if you want the best worth for your time and efforts, choose intelligently.
The Foreign Service Institute has ranked languages by difficulty (based on their experience teaching U.S. diplomats) to show the estimated time needed to learn a specific language as an English speaker, i.e., the number of weeks of study time reach Speaking and Reading Proficiency. The Foreign Service Institute learners have 25 hours of class per week. Not including an extra 3-4 hours of self-study per day (approximately 40 hours of the total time of learning).
The maps below show language difficulty rankings according to the Foreign Service Institute.
Category I of the easiest languages are a mix of Romance and Germanic languages (Dutch, French, Spanish, Swedish, and Italian).
Category II includes the German language. Even though this language is very similarly linked to English, complex grammar makes this language more difficult for English-speaking students.
Category III languages are mainly spoken in Southeast Asia (Indonesian, Malay, and Swahili). The interesting fact that there are no Category III languages spoken in Europe.
Category IV includes Slavic (Bulgarian, Polish, Russian, Serbian), Baltic (Latvian, Lithuanian), and Finno-Ugric (Estonian, Finish, Hungarian), as well as Greek, Turkish, and Icelandic.
Category V of the most challenging languages for English speakers are most common in Asia and the Middle East (Arabic, Japanese, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin). These languages commonly have entirely different scripts.