How to learn a language in an hour a day (2023)

Power of an Hour | Language

How to learn a language in an hour a day

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How to learn a language in an hour a day (1)

Being bilingual has vast benefits – but getting there needn’t be a lifelong slog.

Learning a new language is an inherently scary idea. Thousands of unfamiliar words, an entirely different grammatical structure and the high potential for embarrassment are enough to intimidate many of us. With a busy work life, finding the time to commit to a new language can be a challenge in itself.

But experts agree that it’s more than possible to make meaningful progress in just one hour a day. Not only that, the skills gained from practicing a new language can feel like superpowers in the workplace and beyond.

Research shows there is a direct correlation between bilingualism and intelligence, memory skills and higher academic achievement. As the brain more efficiently processes information, it is even able to stave off age-related cognitive decline.

Depending on your native tongue and which new language you’re learning, you can develop a diverse toolkit of both short-term and lifelong cognitive benefits. Of course, the further apart the language the tougher the challenge (think Dutch and Vietnamese), but focusing on a specific application can drastically narrow the practice time.

Whether it’s for a new job, for literary competence or for making casual conversation, you can sharpen language skills no matter your age or previous exposure.

How to learn a language in an hour a day (3)

'Intercultural competence' - knowing how to build relationships across cultures - can be a valuable skill (Credit: Getty Images)

The most difficult languages

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The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) divides languages into four tiers of difficulty for native English speakers to learn. Group 1, the easiest of the bunch, includes French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Swahili. According to FSI research, it takes around 480 hours of practice to reach basic fluency in all Group 1 languages.

The US Foreign Service Institute divides languages into four tiers of difficulty. The easiest take around 480 hours of practice to reach basic fluency

The difficulty begins to spike as we move down the list. It takes 720 hours to achieve the same level of fluency in Group 2 languages, which include Bulgarian, Burmese, Greek, Hindi, Persian and Urdu. More difficult are Amharic, Cambodian, Czech, Finnish and Hebrew, which places them in in Group 3. Group 4 is comprised of some of the most challenging languages for English speakers to grasp: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

Despite the daunting timeframe, experts say it’s worth learning a second language for the cognitive benefits alone. Doing so naturally develops our executive functions, “the high-level ability to flexibly manipulate and utilise information, and hold information in the mind and suppress irrelevant information,” says Julie Fiez, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s department of neuroscience. “It’s called executive functions because it’s thought of as skills of a CEO: managing a bunch of people, juggling a lot of information, multitasking, prioritising.”

Bilingual brains rely on executive functions – things like inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility – to maintain balance between two languages, according to a study from Northwestern University. Because both language systems are always active and competing, the brain’s control mechanisms are constantly strengthened.

How to learn a language in an hour a day (4)

At an hour a day's practice, a native English speaker could learn a Group 1 language in two years (Credit: Getty Images)

Lisa Meneghetti, a data analyst from Treviso, Italy, is a hyperpolyglot, meaning she is fluent in six or more languages - in her case English, French, Swedish, Spanish, Russian and Italian. When embarking on a new language, especially one with a lower difficulty curve that requires less cognitive stamina, she says her biggest challenge is to avoid mixing words.

“It’s normal for the brain to switch and use shortcuts,” she says. “This happens more often and more easily with languages that belong to the same family… because the similarities are great but so are the false friends!”

The best way to avoid this issue, Meneghetti says, is to learn one language at a time, and to differentiate the linguistic families.

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An hour of difference

Learning the basics of any language is a quick task. Programmes like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone can guide you through a few greetings and simple phrases at lightning speed. For a more personal experience, polyglot Timothy Doner recommends reading and watching material that you already have an interest in.

“If you like cooking, buy a cookbook in a foreign language; if you like soccer, try watching a foreign game,” he says. “Even if you’re only picking up a handful of words per day - and the vast majority continue to sound like gibberish - they will be easier to recall later on.”

How to learn a language in an hour a day (5)

Learning a new language becomes much easier if you combine it with something else you enjoy – for instance, watching a football game with foreign commentary (Credit: Getty Images)

Before you go too far, however, it’s important to consider exactly how you plan to use the language in the future. And which language you learn depends on your personal motivations, says Beverly Baker, an associate professor and director of language assessment at the University of Ottawa.

“A busy professional might see Mandarin as important to learn because they have business contacts, or it could be a language your family spoke and you lost, or you’re in love with someone who spoke that language”, she says. “Maybe you’re just interested in saying a few things to your in-laws.”

Once your intentions for the new language are defined, you can begin planning out a productive hourly schedule for daily practice

Once your intentions for the new language are defined, you can begin planning out a productive hourly schedule for daily practice that includes multiple learning methods.

Advice on how to best spend this time varies depending on which polyglot or linguistics expert you’re speaking to. But there’s one tip they all seem to stand behind: devote at least half of your hour to stepping away from the books and videos to practice with a speaker face to face, be it someone who's native or highly fluent in the language. “To go over questions and do activities, to talk together in the language, and to discuss the culture,” Baker says. “I would not skip that part, because learning about the people and culture will motivate me to keep up with the rest of my learning.”

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“Adults, some of them do their language learning trying to memorise words and practice pronunciation, all in silence and to themselves. They don’t actually take the leap to try and have a conversation actually using the language,” Fiez says. “You’re not really learning another language, you’re just learning picture-sound associations.”

How to learn a language in an hour a day (6)

Language-learning programmes are important, but spending time with a native or skilled speaker is the most effective method (Credit: Getty Images)

Just like exercise or musical instruments, people recommend a shorter amount of practice time on a regular basis rather than larger chunks on a more sporadic basis. Baker says this is because without a consistent schedule the brain fails to engage in any deep cognitive processes, like making connections between new knowledge and your previous learning. “An hour a day five days a week is therefore going to be more beneficial than a five-hour blitz once a week.”

According to the FSI index, it would take 96 weeks at this pace to achieve basic fluency in a Group 1 language, or nearly two years. But by following the advice from experts, narrowing down your lessons for specific applications rather than general fluency, new speakers will be able to shave off significant time towards reaching their desired level.

IQ and EQ

“Learning a second language can satisfy an immediate need but it will also help you become a more understanding and empathic person by opening the doors to a different way of thinking and feeling,” says Meneghetti. “It’s about IQ and EQ combined.”

Communicating and empathising across language barriers can lead to a high-demand skill called ‘intercultural competence’. According to Baker, intercultural competence is the ability to build successful relationships with a variety of people from other cultures.

Dedicating one hour of your day towards learning a new language can be thought of as practice in bridging gaps between people. The result is a more malleable communication skillset that brings you closer to your peers at work, home or abroad.

“You’re faced with a different worldview with someone from a different culture. You don’t rush to judgment and are more effective at resolving the clashes in the world that come up,” Baker says.

“Just learning one language, any language in any culture, helps you to develop that adaptability and flexibility when faced with other cultures, period.”

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Can you learn a language 1 hour a day? ›

With a busy work life, finding the time to commit to a new language can be a challenge in itself. But experts agree that it's more than possible to make meaningful progress in just one hour a day. Not only that, the skills gained from practicing a new language can feel like superpowers in the workplace and beyond.

How many hours a day should I study to learn a language? ›

For most people, around 30 minutes of active study and 1 hour of language exposure a day is a schedule that will give you great results. It's a model that's sustainable over a long period to help you reach fluency.

Is 2 hours a day enough to learn a language? ›

The short answer is as much as possible.

Realistically, however, at least 20 minutes per day should be dedicated to learning a new language. The ideal amount of time to spend on daily study, if you can find the time, is an hour, but you don't need to cram it all in at once.

Is it possible to learn a whole language in a day? ›

FSI research indicates that it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in group 1 languages, and 720 hours for group 2-4 languages. If we are able to put in 10 hours a day to learn a language, then basic fluency in the easy languages should take 48 days, and for difficult languages 72 days.

Can Duolingo make you fluent? ›

Can Duolingo make me fluent? Research shows that Duolingo is an effective way to learn a language! But the truth is that no single course, app, method, or book can help you reach all your language goals.

Is B2 fluent? ›

Level B2: Basic Fluency

Reaching B2 is generally considered by most people as having basic fluency. You'll have a working vocabulary of around 4000 words.

What language is easiest to learn? ›

15 of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers - ranked
  • Frisian. Frisian is thought to be one of the languages most closely related to English, and therefore also the easiest for English-speakers to pick up. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
24 Oct 2021

How do people learn languages so fast? ›

Geisler believes that total immersion is key to mastering a foreign language quickly. The more you immerse yourself in the foreign language — such as reading, listening to the radio or speaking to people — the more rapid your progress will be.

How does the CIA learn languages? ›

The Defense Language Institute (Where CIA Spies Study Languages) The Defense Language Institute (“DLI”), located in Monterey, California, is where the CIA, members of the U.S. armed forces and various other government agencies go to learn foreign languages.

Which is the easiest language to learn in a day? ›

And The Easiest Language To Learn Is…
  • Swedish. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Indonesian. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. There's one more major Romance language on our list, and this one is often a fan favorite. ...
  • Swahili. The final language on our list is perhaps the “least easiest language to learn” of the easiest languages.
9 Nov 2021

What time of day is best to learn a language? ›

When Is the Best Time to Study a Language? Ideally, you'd want to study when your mind is both fresh and ready to learn. And there are actually periods of time when you're brain is more open to acquiring new knowledge. Between 10 am – 2 pm and between 4 pm and 10 pm, according to studies.

Is Duolingo actually effective? ›

Research has shown that Duolingo is an effective way to learn a new language, but don't just take our word for it: Hear from a few learners who have been using Duolingo to achieve their learning goals!

How far can Duolingo take you? ›

Where you stand after finishing a Duolingo course. An average Duolingo tree introduces you to about 2,000 words. It should be more than enough to get a good sense of how the language works and hold most everyday conversations. Not bad for a free online course.

How long does it realistically take to learn a language? ›

The correct answer is: “it depends,” but you probably already knew that. The next and most accurate answer is that it can take anywhere between three months to two years to learn how to speak, write, and read in a new language fluently.

What is the 7 hardest language to learn? ›

7 Most Difficult Languages to Learn for Native English Speakers
  • 1 – Chinese (Mandarin)
  • 2 – Arabic.
  • 3 – Japanese.
  • 4 – Korean.
  • 5 – Hungarian.
  • 6 – Finnish.
  • 7 – Xhosa.
7 Feb 2020

Can you learn a language while sleeping? ›

Not a lot, unfortunately. As Jennifer Ackerman notes in her splendid 2007 book Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream, learning a language while sleeping “is probably impossible, [and] attempts to teach slumbering adult subjects vocabulary of foreign languages or lists of items have failed miserably.”

What is the 3rd hardest language to learn? ›

8 Hardest Languages to Learn In The World For English Speakers
  • Mandarin. Number of native speakers: 1.2 billion. ...
  • Icelandic. Number of native speakers: 330,000. ...
  • 3. Japanese. Number of native speakers: 122 million. ...
  • Hungarian. Number of native speakers: 13 million. ...
  • Arabic. Number of native speakers: 221 million. ...
  • Polish.
22 Jan 2021

Which is better Babbel or Duolingo? ›

Is Babbel better than Duolingo? After thoroughly testing out and reviewing each language learning program, we feel that Babbel is better than Duolingo for multiple reasons. Based on the strength of their curriculum, teaching style and delivery, we rate Babbel as the superior app over Duolingo.

How long should I do Duolingo every day? ›

You don't need to spend hours on Duolingo each day. However, you must put a reasonable amount of time into learning. If you log in to complete one lesson and sign out as soon as you've reached 10XP, you won't get very far. To optimize your learning, aim to spend between 15 and 30 minutes on the app each day.

Can Duolingo make you B2? ›

At Duolingo, we're developing our courses to get you to a level called B2, at which you can get a job in the language you're studying. Reaching that kind of proficiency requires dedication, varied practice opportunities, and a lot of time.

What is A1 A2 B1 B2 C1 C2? ›

Explanation of language levels A1 to C2. The three broad levels are A1/A2 ("Basic User"), B1/B2 ("Independent User"), and C1/C2 ("Proficient User"). Let's take a look at what you should be able to communicate at the various levels set out by CERF. Language learning levels explained from A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 to C2.

What level of fluency is Duolingo? ›

By itself, I think Duolingo can bring you to an A1 level of fluency. This means that you understand basic greetings and have learned a bit of vocabulary. If you use Duolingo religiously, you might be able to get to an A2 level.

What language is closest to English? ›

The closest language to English is one called Frisian, which is a Germanic language spoken by a small population of about 480,000 people. There are three separate dialects of the language, and it's only spoken at the southern fringes of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany.

Which language has hardest grammar? ›

Hungarian grammar seems like the road to death for an English speaker. Because Hungarian grammar rules are the most difficult to learn, this language has 26 different cases. The suffixes dictate the tense and possession and not the word order. That's is how most of the European languages deal with this problem.

What is the least hardest language to learn? ›

Of these, Spanish and Italian are the easiest for native English speakers to learn, followed by Portuguese and finally French.

What are the 4 methods to learn language? ›

Learning a new language involves listening, speaking, reading, and writing. In the area of language learning, these four skills are critically important.

What is the fastest growing language? ›

You might not realize how widely spoken Arabic already is, with about 300 million native speakers. It's also been deemed the fastest growing language within the U.S. and even the fastest growing language on the internet. Why should Arabic's growth matter to you?

What languages does the FBI look for? ›

Language skills and cultural knowledge, specifically in Arabic, Bosnian, Chinese, Farsi, Russian, Somali, Uzbek, Korean or another language are highly sought after by the FBI. All applicants must pass the FBI's Foreign Language Test Battery.

What are level 1 languages? ›

Category I languages are the easiest for English speakers, who can reach reading and speaking proficiency within about half a year of intense study. There is a mix Romance and Germanic languages in this classification, including Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish, and Italian.

What is a Category 5 language? ›

They are described as “hard languages”. Category V – It usually takes 88 weeks or 2200 hours to reach S-3/R-3 proficiency in these languages. This small group of “super-hard languages” includes Chinese (Mandarin), Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic.

What is the 10 hardest language in the world? ›

Unbabel Translates the 10 Hardest Languages to Learn, So You Don't Have To
  1. Mandarin. Mandarin is spoken by 70% of the Chinese population, and is the most spoken language in the world. ...
  2. Arabic. ...
  3. 3. Japanese. ...
  4. Hungarian. ...
  5. Korean. ...
  6. Finnish. ...
  7. Basque. ...
  8. Navajo.
16 Sept 2022

What are the Top 5 easiest languages? ›

5 easy languages to learn
  • English. It's the most widely spoken language in the world, making practice possible. ...
  • French. French has over 100 million native speakers and is – as the official language in 28 countries – spoken on almost every continent. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • Swahili.
29 Feb 2016

What is the top 10 easiest language? ›

10 Easiest Languages for English Speakers to Learn
  1. Afrikaans. Like English, Afrikaans is in the West Germanic language family, once thought of as a Dutch dialect. ...
  2. French. Ah, the language of love. ...
  3. Spanish. ...
  4. Dutch. ...
  5. Norwegian. ...
  6. Portuguese. ...
  7. Swedish. ...
  8. Italian.
3 Nov 2022

What time does the brain learn best? ›

That said, science has indicated that learning is most effective between 10 am to 2 pm and from 4 pm to 10 pm, when the brain is in an acquisition mode. On the other hand, the least effective learning time is between 4 am and 7 am.

Does listening while sleeping help you learn? ›

In their 2017 study published in the journal Nature Communications (opens in new tab), subjects were able to pick out complex sound patterns that they had heard during sleep. Learning abilities in sleep may extend to the learning of words.

Can you learn language just by listening? ›

When learning a new language, the fastest and most effective way to absorb new material is by actively listening. You'll be able to engage with what you're hearing on a deeper level, even if you don't understand what's being said.

How long does it take to learn Japanese 1 hour a day? ›

However, if you study only one hour per day and don't do anything else to learn Japanese, it can take you up to twenty years to learn the language!

How long does it take to learn French 1 hour a day? ›

French is a Category I language, so it's relatively easy to learn for native English speakers. It will take approximately 580 hours or 23 weeks of study to reach complete French fluency. Which we could break down as the following: If you study for 1 hour every day, you can learn French in 1.5 years.

How long does it take to learn Spanish 1 hour a day? ›

Based on US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) research, if you start out as a beginner and spend an average of one hour per day working actively on Spanish—such as with a teacher or conversation partner, as well as doing homework—then it can take 480 hours to reach conversational fluency.

Is 1000 hours enough to learn a language? ›

You Need Patience to Become Fluent in a Language

True language fluency requires consistent effort and time, and while 500 – 1,000 hours may seem like a lot, a typical person could probably invest that level of time over 12 – 18 months, with the right study schedule.

Is Japanese harder than English? ›

The Japanese language is considered one of the most difficult to learn by many English speakers. With three separate writing systems, an opposite sentence structure to English, and a complicated hierarchy of politeness, it's decidedly complex. But how hard is it to learn Japanese?

What's the easiest language to learn? ›

15 of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers - ranked
  • Frisian. Frisian is thought to be one of the languages most closely related to English, and therefore also the easiest for English-speakers to pick up. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
24 Oct 2021

Is it easier to learn Japanese or Chinese? ›

Japanese is slightly easier to learn. But, Chinese is much more widely spoken. Both languages have their pros and cons.

Is French harder than English? ›

Is English Harder than French To Learn? French is not as hard to learn as it is considered by most of the people, especially when compared to English. In fact, it is a language that's much easier to achieve fluency in than you'd have ever expected. English is inconsistent when it comes to pronunciation.

What is the quickest method to learn French? ›

10 tips to learn French fast
  1. Watch films. Watching films in French with French subtitles is one of the best ways to learn. ...
  2. Learn with songs. ...
  3. Read. ...
  4. Find a partner. ...
  5. Don't be scared to try and make mistakes. ...
  6. Listen! ...
  7. Practice. ...
  8. Sign up for an intensive course.
12 Aug 2016

Is French or Spanish easier to learn? ›

With French, adjectives can be tough because we're used to them going in a certain word order in English. Babbel actually ranked the easiest languages for English speakers to learn though, and technically, Spanish is higher on that list than French (Spanish came in third, versus eighth for French).

Is Duolingo enough to learn Spanish? ›

After using the Duolingo app and thoroughly testing this program out, our team's consensus is that Duolingo isn't great for learning Spanish. Duolingo has some serious limitations, and we see it more as an e-learning tool or supplement than a comprehensive program if you want to truly learn Spanish.

How long learn Japanese fluently? ›

According to the US Department of State, Japanese is one of the hardest languages for English natives to learn. It doesn't have many similarities in structure to English. They estimate it takes 88 weeks of learning, or 2200 hours, to reach fluency.

What is the shortest time to learn Spanish? ›

If you start out as a beginner and spend an average of 1 hour per day working on your Spanish, you should able to reach conversational fluency within 8 – 12 months.

How do spies learn languages? ›

Intelligence agents are made to concentrate solely on their pursuit of mastering both the language and accent of the country they plan to infiltrate. Spies-in-training spend up to eight hours a day in language classes, along with at least a couple of hours of homework per night.


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