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When Will I Be Fluent?

Language Proficiency

Language is like any other skill or aptitude: some people are proficient in languages, while others are better at math, science, or music. Everyone has the potential to learn, but the fact is that some people are just more capable of learning language than others.

Generally speaking, the younger you are when you are introduced to the language, the better. Babies are born with an unlimited capacity for learning language, and as they grow up, their minds gradually lose the capability to hear and produce sounds in the languages that they are not exposed to. The earlier a new language is introduced to them, the better their odds of eventually being fluent and having good accents. This does not mean that an adult cannot learn a new language; simply that an adult will have to work harder at it, and it is likely that s/he will never develop a really good accent.

How much and where you study are the factors that you have the most control over, so if you really want to be fluent, you'll need to focus on these (see "Where" and "How" sections). If you live in France, Québec, or another francophone region for a year, you will certainly be advanced, and possibly even fluent towards the end of that year. If you're not living in a francophone region and not taking an immersion class, the amount of time it will take you is almost impossible to estimate, as it depends on the factors in the "How" section. I would say that someone taking daily classes and studying every day would need 6-8 years to become fluent. Any variations in how many classes and how often/much you study will affect how quickly you become fluent.

Why did you choose to learn French, rather than another language?  Share your thoughts!

The time to become fluent also depends on the language you are studying, as well as your native language. Some languages are, generally speaking, more difficult than others, and thus take more time to master. This chart shows a basic breakdown of the relative difficulty of some languages, but its value is limited.* For example, a Chinese speaker will obviously not find Japanese more difficult than French or Spanish.

Relatively easier Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Swahili
Farsi, German, Greek, Hindi
Czech, Finnish, Polish, Russian
Relatively harder Arabic, Chinese, Japanese
: Judith E. Liskin-Gasparro. ETS Oral Proficiency Testing Manual. Princeton, N.J.: Educational Testing Service, 1982.

*This chart is based on the above source, which assumes that your native language is English.


Continue reading about fluency...

1. Introduction
  2. What is fluency?
  3. Am I fluent?
  4. Where should I learn?
  5. How should I study?
  6. When will I be fluent?
  7. LKL's fluency history


Spanish is easier than French... Not!  French proficiency test     Proficiency standards

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