This is one of the most common questions we get – in fact, I rather suspect it’s one of the most common questions any language course provider gets…;-)
Now, it’s easy to answer this question in two VERY unhelpful ways.
You can say: well, it depends.
This helps precisely nobody.
Of course ‘it depends’ – the people asking the question know perfectly well that ‘it depends’. Let’s not just shrug the question off – let’s *try* to answer it.
The other – even MORE – unhelpful answer is:
or any specific time period at all – because of course it varies for everyone.
How do we solve this?
How do we offer a useful answer?
It takes two steps.
First, we need a rough idea of how many hours it takes a neurologically typical person to acquire a confident conversational ability in a new language.
[There’s no point talking about ‘fluency’ – that means too many different things to too many different people – but once you can have a confident conversation, you’ll know that you’ve achieved something of real value, which will give you real pleasure.]
Then, we need to give you a rough idea of whether or not you need to allow more time, or if you can hope to go faster. This is inevitably a bit ‘finger in the air’, but there are a few key markers that will help give you an idea.
So, how many hours does it take?
The Common European Framework reckons upper intermediate is about 1,000 to 1,200 hours.
Yikes! No wonder it takes years!
Don’t worry, they’re wrong. That might be a fair estimate for how long it takes if you approach it in old-fashioned, inefficient ways – but it’s wildly out if you use better methods.
By comparison, the U. S. Foreign Service Institute reckons that it takes between 600 hours (for familiar languages) to 2,200 hours (for unfamiliar languages).
That’s a bit less horrifying for familiar languages, but they must be doing something *seriously* wrong with their ‘unfamiliar language’ teaching!
We see something very different, though.
We see that people who have finished our first 2 levels (so 50 half-hour lessons) – and have taken a specific set of other steps – are in most cases having confident conversations.
If someone goes through our first 2 levels without repeating anything and without using the pause button (which is possible, although not usual) that would be 25 hours. The other steps can be done in about 15 hours – giving a total of 40 (HIGHLY intensive) hours to confident conversations.
We can help people get to this level of intensity in 1-on-1 or small group settings (if they’re neurologically typical) – we expect to need about 10 intensive days to get people to decent conversations when we work with them directly. [This is the structure we’re currently putting in place with TUC Cymru].
In our online guided courses, we allow for about 2.5 times that – approximately 100 hours – and that seems to work well as a broad average.
If you’re neurologically typical and you put in 100 intensive hours on the specific tasks and lessons we put you through, you WILL be having decent conversations.
We see some people, though, who have neurological challenges to do with working memory or sentence indexing – and for them, it can be a much, much longer process – even as long as the Common European Framework or the U. S. FSI.
How can you tell if you’d fit into the 100 hours – or 40 hours – model?
There are two things to watch out for.
First is your working memory.
You can do a bunch of tests here which include some working memory assessments: https://www.cognifit.com/science/cognitive-skills/working-memory
If you know that you’ve got an average or a good memory for phone numbers, then you probably don’t need to bother with this.
The second is a kind of sentence indexing – there’s no easy way for you to test for this, but it generally seems to map to how well you acquired your mother tongue.
If you had no real problems acquiring your mother tongue and your working memory is normal-ish, then you’d fit broadly into the 100 hour (or 40 hours in a sufficiently intensive environment) pattern.
If you had problems acquiring your mother tongue – if you needed speech therapy as a child, or had significant problems controlling your movements, then it’s likely that you’d need much more time – with our approach, or with any other.
The 100 hour pattern is why we can be so confident about offering a full money back guarantee on our 6 month course – if you’re not happy when you get to the end, we’ll refund you.
We don’t know of anyone else offering a guarantee like that – but we haven’t had to refund anyone who finished the course yet (although we’ve refunded people who didn’t want to continue for any reason).
Our 6 month course is at:
…but be warned, you need to put 3 to 4 hours every week into it… if you can’t put that much time aside (like most of us!) you’d be better off with our ‘6 Minute a Day’ course:
If you’ve done a lot of Welsh, and you can get by in a conversation, but you’re stuck on the plateau and would like to get better fast, then our intermediate/advanced listening exercises might be the best fit for you:
[And if you know anyone else wondering about how long it takes to learn Welsh, do please share this…:-)]