How long does it take to become fluent?

By Frederik De Vos

This is a question that often comes back. How long does it usually take to reach fluency?

Well, an interesting point of reference would be exchange students who go to a country for a year and stay with a host family. Fiona and I both went to Japan as exchange students and that's how we met. During this time, we learned Japanese. We also got to talk to other exchange students, some of whom learned other languages in other countries.

It turns out that most of us were fluent in 2 to 6 months. Now, that's under ideal circumstances, with an active life in a host family and at school. It gives you an idea.

But even among exchange students or working people who stay in another country for years, there are some who never learn to speak. So even if circumstances can help, they're not the defining factor.

The most important factor is mindset. How eager are you to learn? Are you actively learning and adding words to your vocabulary or do you feel discouraged because you believe it's too hard and it's not for you? That's a mental attitude that blocks progress and that has no basis, really.

Another important factor is the method you're using. A good course and a good dictionary are the best tools to build a foundation. The reason is that in the beginning, you can't even hear where words begin and end because people speak too fast.

A good course allows you to learn the basics of the language at your own pace, so that after a while, you will understand enough to be able to distinguish new words and ask what they mean. Without a good method, you might get frustrated and give up.

With the right mindset and a good method you can be fluent in 6 months. Some people will need a bit more, some people a bit less. But it can definitely be done within a year if you put your mind and heart to it.

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