How long does it take to learn French? When you really think about it it’s quite a difficult question to answer. No matter which way you look at it learning any foreign language is a long-term process, so you should be prepared to be in it for a while.
However, just because it’s a long-term process doesn’t mean that it has to take forever, or that there aren’t ways to cut down on that time.
The difficulty in determining exactly how long it takes stems from the fact that it’s nearly impossible to define precisely what it means to speak a language.
Some people would define it as speaking as well as a native speaker and others would define it as just being able to express yourself in a manner that native speakers would understand (regardless of the mistakes you may make).
There are also considerations to take in account such as the fact that some people may already have experience with related languages that allow them to pick up French much quicker, whereas others may have no language experience at all.
So How Long Does it Take to Speak French Fluently?
Fortunately for us French learners, there are indeed a couple of different resources out there that can help us to get an idea of how long it takes. For the average person these resources can be helpful in establishing realistic expectations.
The first resource we have is the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) which categorizes several languages into one of five categories. The first category contains the easiest languages for English speakers to learn, whereas the fifth category contains the most difficult. For a more complete list visit the website and you’ll find additional languages. Let’s take a look at some of them here…
Category 1 – Between 575-600 hours (23-24 weeks) Afrikaans Danish Dutch French Italian Norwegian Portuguese Romanian Spanish Swedish
|Category 2 – About 750 hours (30 weeks)|
|Category 3 – 900 hours (36 weeks)|
|Category 4 – 1100 hours (44 weeks)|
|Nepali||Pashto||Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik)|
|Category 5 – 2200 hours (88 weeks)|
Although this list doesn’t contain every language in the world it does contain most languages that the average person is familiar with. So which category does French end up in?
Fortunately for us, in category 1. This means that if you study around 3 1/2 hours a day for around 6 months you should find yourself reaching French proficiency.
Of course for most people taking 3 1/2 hours out of their day to study French can be quite difficult, so you may have to adjust the time period to fit whatever amount of time you are able to dedicate to it.
One of the most important things to remember when studying French is that it’s something that you have to do every day. If you are only studying once a week, even if it’s for several hours, you’ll have a harder time remembering what you’ve learned than if you were to study everyday for a shorter amount of time.
Your brain remembers things best when it is repeatedly exposed to the same things each and every day.
Let’s take a look at what the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages says about the amount of time it takes to learn French.
How Long to Achieve French Fluency?
In Europe there is something known as the Common European Framework for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment which has created a scale to classify language proficiency among learners. They classify their scale into six levels.
These levels are as follows: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2 with learners reaching A1 as having the most basic fluency and C2 being those with significant proficiency.
As you improve your language abilities improve you will slowly move from A1 to C2.
So how long does it actually take to learn French?
The Alliance Francaise has put together a reference that we can refer to to help us answer this
|French Time to Profiency|
|A1 - 60-100 hours||A2 - 160-200 hours|
|B1 - 360-400 hours||B2 - 560-650 hours|
|C1 - 810-950 hours||C2 - 1060-1200 hours|
So according to this chart the amount of time it takes to learn French depends on which level you want to achieve. If you are just looking to visit France and not feel completely lost then you may be totally fine with either A1 or A2. If on the other hand you want to live permanently in France or another French-speaking country then you should shoot for at least C1 if not C2.
To better understand exactly what each of these levels entails let’s take a look at how well a learner at each one of these levels can express themselves.
How Proficient is a French Learner at Level A1?
A French learner who has reached level A1 is familiar and can understand common phrases and expressions that are often based around survival in a foreign country. They can often count, tell the time and even introduce themselves briefly to others.
At this stage they may be able to hold very basic conversations with native speakers, but may not have the confidence to want to do so. Most speakers at this level probably wouldn’t feel comfortable going to live in a country where the French language is spoken.
However, just being in the country may not pose too much of a problem as an A1 learner can likely recognize a fair amount of signage they may encounter. Having full-fledged conversations with native speakers however is completely out of the question.
At this stage learners are likely able to express basic sentiments they may hold regarding a variety of subjects, but likely won’t be able to understand those they are speaking with unless they drop down to their level.
How Proficient is a French Learner at Level A2?
A French learner who has reached level A2 is able to communicate with others on a variety of different topics most of which are related to the learner directly. This can be information regarding the learner’s own life or experiences they’ve had.
They can speak about themselves regarding topics that are commonly asked about such as where they are from, their career, or their family. They won’t be able to speak in droves about topics that they aren’t very familiar with or understand native speakers when they speak about subjects that they haven’t encountered themselves.
Most of the A2 learner’s fluency comes from subjects that are immediately related to their everyday experiences.
How Proficient is a French Learner at B1?
Similar to the French learner who has reached level A2, most of the B1 learner’s speaking ability revolves around topics and situations that are heavily reliant on their own life and experiences. They can go further however and speak about less tangible subjects such as future plans or their opinions on politics.
A B1 learner should be able to travel to a country and get by without too much difficulty and even hold short “small talk” type conversations with locals. Holding serious or long-term relationships with others will likely prove a struggle for the B1 learner however.
A B1 learner will likely find that their experience in a foreign country will seriously help their language abilities because they are competent enough to get by and learn from what natives say.
How Proficient is a French Learner at Level B2?
A French learner who has reached level B2 is able to speak more in detail regarding topics that aren’t immediately related to the learner’s life. They can come across as a serious speaker (and not just a learner) because native speakers don’t have to drop their level down to fit the learner.
They can speak with others with a level of fluidity that is typically involved in an everyday conversation. They are able to express themselves on a variety of opinionated topics that require one to think about how others would view a given situation.
Learners at a B2 level shouldn’t have too much difficulty visiting or even living in a foreign country.
How Proficient is a French Learner at Level C1?
C1 Learners are are able to openly converse with others on a wide array of advanced subjects. They are able to keep up with natives without them bringing down their French so that the learner can understand.
C1 learners are able to use expressions and slang with a fair amount of ease and understand the true context behind situations. They can speak about topics not directly related to themselves or their lives and are able to express complicated opinions on difficult subjects.
How Proficient is a French Learner at Level C2?
The C2 learner has virtually no difficulty reading or understanding anything. They’re able to consume content in the language and able to rephrase it in their own words without changing the meaning.
They have no difficulty producing independent thoughts and doesn’t have to take time to think about what to say before saying it. They fully understand nuance between different words and phrases and can comprehend the meaning behind a wide array of idiomatic expressions.
Is able to understand the meaning behind concepts even if at face value the meaning may appear different.
Measuring French Fluency in Terms of Sentence Repetitions
It’s time to talk about a method of measuring language proficiency in a way that most people aren’t familiar with. Until now we’ve only spoken about how long it takes in terms of hours of instruction. Some people however have a completely different way of measuring language proficiency.
Let’s take a look at an approach that isn’t based on how many hours of classroom instruction or home studying it takes, but rather how much practice you put into it.
Now how exactly do you go about defining the word practice?
For this approach we define it as how many sentences you have listened to and spoken yourself.
Glossika is a language-learning company that was created by Michael Campbell in Taiwan and takes this exact approach when measuring language proficiency. Here is the exact repetition scale that he has on his website…
|Language Fluency in Terms of Sentence Repetitions|
|25,000 Sentence Repetitions||Should be able to speak sentences with natural flow and accent|
|50,000 Sentence Repetitions||Should be able to engage in casual conversations at the speed of native speakers|
|75,000 Sentence Repetitions||Start to hone your skills in specialized topics|
|100,000 Sentence Repetitions||Have achieved a mastery level where you can say just about anything.|
If you’d like to see this yourself click here and you can discover the Glossika approach for yourself.
It’s clear by looking at the data above, the “magic” number of sentence repetitions you need according to this system is around 100,000.
For many language learners there definitely is an appeal to this system because it allows them to have more control over their learning. Your success depends primarily on how many sentence repetitions you are able to complete each day.
If you are ambitious and can do 1,000 sentences a day then it should take you a little over three months to meet your 100,000 sentence repetition goal, whereas if you like to take things a little slower and can only do let’s say 200 a day then it’ll take you about a year an a half. Your progress all depends on what you’re willing to put into it.
French Fluency Depends on Many Factors
Although none of these methods give you the exact same outcome when it comes to language proficiency, there is one main takeaway from all of them. It doesn’t nearly take as long as you think.
One of the biggest “roadblocks” that learns think they encounter is their age. For some reason there is this idea that if you are no longer a child then it will take you much longer to achieve French fluency if you can even achieve it at all.
This is simply not true. You’ll know this if you’ve read the article “Why Learning French is Easier as an Adult“.
In this article we discuss that children really do have advantages over adults, but that fortunately for us language learners these advantages can be overcome. It’s highly recommended that you check the article out for yourself, but we’ll go over some of these advantages right here.
Adults often have a hard time learning and speaking a foreign language due to the social pressure that comes along with it. Nobody wants to feel the embarrassment of making a mistake and being made fun of for it.
Because of this, language learners often put off practicing their speaking as long as possible because they simply do not want to risk humiliation.
Children, however, do not have this issue at all. They have no problem speaking and conversing with others even if they do make mistakes. They are able to practice all day long without the fear of embarrassment ever once crossing their mind.
Another advantage that children have over adults when learning languages is the fact that most of the time they learn the language in question in an immersive environment.
In the vast majority of cases people are talking about children growing up in their home country learning the language, or moving to a different country with their parents, and growing up with the language of that country.
Nobody ever talks about how well children do when they learn a foreign language in grade school because, as mean as this may sound, they just don’t do that well.
For the entire list of advantages that children hold over adults as well as the advantages that adults hold over children just take a look at the article.
The great thing about the above advantages is that they both can easily be overcome by the adult learner. When you first realize that there is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about when learning a language you can start to practice more freely without the fear of being poorly judged.
Although you may not be able to just pick yourself up and move to a foreign country you can absolutely bring the foreign country to you by spending lots of time consuming everything from books, TV and movies in the foreign language of your choice.
If you are able to understand where your disadvantages lie and adjust your language-learning strategy accordingly there is no reason why you can’t learn the language of your choice as well as a child. It all comes down to motivation and exactly how badly you want to learn the language of your choice.
When you have the drive to practice or study your language each and every single day only then will you see your language proficiency take off. The vast majority of people treat language learning like a chore that has to be done rather than something you are truly passionate about.
If you treat language learning like this you’ll probably never achieve the proficiency you are looking for.
The question “how long does it really take to become fluent in French” is probably something that we’ll never really know for sure. There are so many different factors that come into play that on an individual level it’s impossible to say with exact certainly how long it takes.
What do you think? How long did it take you to become proficient in French? How do you classify fluency? Comment below and tell us about it!