How Much Language Can You Learn In A Year?

Learn Language

I used to really procrastinate on learning languages. It took me seven years before I got a decent grasp of Dutch. And I only kept one eye open in my German class in high school. But that all changed over the last year. I just hit 200 days on Duolingo learning Spanish. In this article, I will show you that you can, in fact, learn languages a lot faster than you think, and that learning languages can actually be a really fun and rewarding experience. Finally, I will show you how to get rid of language-procrastinating, once and for all.

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Many nomads like myself move across countries and live in a country where they don’t speak the language. It’s easy to avoid or procrastinate on starting a language course or on hitting your daily goal on Duolingo. In most countries, you can get by without speaking the language, though some countries are easier than others. This makes procrastinating on language learning a really easy thing to do.

But not learning a language can severely limit you in making friends in your new country or adjusting to your new environment. Most nomads struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation during their travels. Many find it difficult to adjust to this new environment, and find themselves stuck interacting only with other international friends. People here often wrongly accuse locals of being reserved, cold, or disinterested in social connection. In fact, most locals would be excited and curious to start up a conversation with someone like you. It’s just that they like to know that you’re interested in, and actively trying to learn about their culture, too.

Why It’s Hard To Learn New Languages

Find it hard to learn languages? I used to be just like you. I found it hard to get motivated learning new languages, and often skipped German class in high school. When I moved to the Netherlands, I outright refused to enroll in any of the Dutch classes offered – even the ones that were free! 

I think while we all understand the practical benefits of learning a language, we often just think it’s more like a neat circus trick you can pull out once in a month. And perhaps, we tell ourselves, I’m only going to stay here a while, so there’s no point even starting. 

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But learning languages carries far more benefits than what you think. First of all, most expats and travellers end up staying longer in a country than they initially anticipate. While the process of integrating with a new country can be difficult, and many of us go through doubts on whether we really want to stay here or not, over time, cultural clashes become easier to manage, and we find ourselves growing more and more attached to this new world. While you might have your doubts about this place, there’s a good chance you’ll overcome these struggles and actually find yourself falling in love with this new country. 

”I’m too old” or ”I’m not smart enough”

Learning a language has this trouble of making us feel like children again. When we start a new language, we often feel terribly stupid, having to start with learning basic phrases like hello, thank you, and how are you? Many language learners often say they feel infantilised by language apps and language teachers, and classes feel childish. But often, learning a language is about learning to rekindle your inner child again. Use roleplay, images, and silly, basic wordplay to your advantage. Allow yourself to have fun and just enjoy this chance to feel young again.

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, talks about how tempting it is to want to feel smart. When we can feel smart, we can avoid feelings of anxiety or inferiority, and our sense of superiority or being good, can keep us from confronting weaknesses, learning, and improving on mistakes. It’s tempting to avoid learning a language because you want to avoid feeling stupid. And yeah, failing to remember the masculine form of hablo or habla, to talk in spanish, can make you feel dumb. 

Learning a language requires you to surrender to feeling stupid. And to enjoy the experience of learning. Instead of focusing on what you don’t know, rejoice every time you master a new word, or a new level of grammar. When you manage a basic conversation at a grocery store, feel happy, because you’ve unlocked a new level!

Why You Shouldn’t Procrastinate On Learning A New Language

Learning a language is often the cure to many of the problems expats struggle with, such as difficulties finding a job, a permanent place, and making friends. Besides the new friends we make in language classes, any local is going to become immediately more friendly as soon as they know that you know how to carry a basic conversation in their native tongue. And the more you break through the language barrier, the more connections you make. Connections that are often the key to finding new jobs, and finding a good place to live.

On top of this, even if you do end up returning home, your language classes were not a waste of time. You didn’t gain all that extra knowledge for nothing. People who know more than one language, unlock new ways to think. It’s been found that when we think in a different language, we unlock the ability to think in more perspectives than we used to. Languages are like a new operating system in your brain. They allow you to unlock new personality traits, new cognitive abilities, and new ideas. People who know more than one language are found to be less likely to have false memories. By telling yourself the same story twice, in both languages, your brain can spot errors and inaccuracies more easily. 

We often think the brain is a hard drive with limited space. But it’s more like a sponge that can stretch in a million different directions. All you’ve got to do is prioritize your mental gymnastics, and you will find that it improves your logic, your relationships, your communication skills, and your awareness and attention to your surroundings.

How To Learn A New Language

Still, how do you break the cycle of procrastination?

Most of our lives are busy and most of us have other things to do than learn a language. It’s easy to get distracted, to forget your lessons, and to postpone starting a new language course. But just like in meditation, when we get distracted, we got to just direct our attention back again. I have found that by using colorful visual reminders, I can keep track of important daily life goals. I use the app Streaks which is available for just a couple of dollars – and it’s a one time purchase. Streaks gives me notifications and reminders to keep me on track for my goals.

Using widgets on your phone, ipad, and computer

Adding a Duolingo widget, there’s no way I’m forgetting my daily courses. Duolingo, and Streaks, both keep me on track, right on my home screen. To add a widget on your iPhone, simply hold your finger on the screen until it starts to shake. Then click the plus sign to add your widget. I use widgets for my calendar, my Duolingo, and my Streaks. 

But I can also speak to going by a paper and crafts store nearby. Buy some stickers in different colors and a big calendar and some good big pens. Let each color represent a goal, like Language Learning, Daily Exercise, or similar. Then put a sticker on the calendar, for every day, and every time you complete a task. Put up the paper somewhere in your house where you can’t miss it. By holding yourself accountable like this, you won’t forget your studies again, and you’ll also see the progress you make.

Learning Languages Using ChatGPT AI

Did you know that learning languages is a lot like playing chess? When learning a language in the beginning, I recommend practising a few set scenarios. Going to the grocery score? Ask ChatGPT to give you some handy phrases you can use. Going to a cafe or restaurant? Ask for a list of handy phrases and memorize those. By preparing for different scenarios, questions, and answers, you won’t be taken off guard, because it can feel quite embarrasing to start a conversation, like how are you, and then not understand what ”good” means. ChatGPT can be your language trainer. Start a conversation with him and tell him your level and ask him to be your language teacher. Ask questions when you get stuck. I like rehearsing for specific scenarios and it gives me a practical and direct use for my skills when I head out!

Take live or online language courses

I can also recommend getting a personal language teacher or going to a group course. It keeps you accountable, is a nice way to make friends in your new place, and is arguably the most effective way to learn a language quickly. There are many reasons for this – a teacher can help you point out mistakes and give you fine-tuned resources to learn a language faster, and on top of that, people who invest in language classes tend to study more than people who choose the path of self-study.

Learning a Language Is Easier Than You Think (But Not That Easy)

I know five languages now. Swedish, English, intermediate German, and business level Dutch, and finally, after 200 days, I am almost at B1 or Intermediate spanish. When we start learning a language, we can feel overwhelmed by just how big the language is, how fast people talk, and how impossible it sounds. But learning a language is usually a lot faster, and easier, than most people assume. In fact, if you dedicate an hour a week, you can achieve basic level spanish in just about a year. That means being able to have basic conversations with people, order food, shop at the grocery store, and talk about yourself. And then count up 3-4 years more to gain an intermediate level of spanish. That’s enough to work at a regular job in Spanish and to survive in a Spanish speaking environment. 

The best thing about learning a language is that progress is exponential. While most people start out slow, with a few minutes of practice a day, or an hour a week, the better we get at a language, the more practice we get. Landing your first job in a spanish speaking environment, means you get more daily practice. Being able to understand basic spanish means being able to watch and understand basic tv shows. And all of these add to additional experience, meaning the average language learner might find themselves getting exponentially more study over time. This also means you will find yourself making more and more progress the longer you work at it. 

People think I know these things because I’m intelligent, but based on international language studies, I learnt dutch at a below average phase. Most people learn Dutch at my level within 1500 hours of practice, but for me, it took 1750 hours. And I was slow to learn Spanish too. In terms of intelligence, I am not more intelligent than the average Joe. But even if I am just average, that doesn’t mean that small effort doesn’t pay off. If you invest just a couple of minutes a day, that will add up over time. 

And let me tell you, being able to have good conversations with my hairdresser, my taxi driver, or at the grocery store or local cafe, feels great. People laugh and smile and seem so friendly and appreciative, even when I butcher their language. I am grateful to them for making the experience easier on me, and helping correct my mistakes. And even if I fail, I feel happy that I tried. The lesson is, if even a stupid fool, like myself, can learn languages, so can you.

Did you know that learning new languages is also an opportunity to develop new personality traits and skills? Learn more in the video below!

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