Agree or Disagree - It Takes 2 Years to Get Good at a Language

EDIT - I’d like to change the 2 year benchmark into hours. Let’s say it takes 1000 hours to get good.

I’m 6 months in, around 250 hours of studying (LingQ and 1-3 times a week of conversation) and I feel that in 18 more months, I can achieve my goal of being conversational in Japanese. This is all self-study.

Is 2 years a good estimate for achieving conversational ability? What are your thoughts?


It will depend on the language, but two years is a safe bet overall. What you can achieve in those two years will vary between the different categories. It’s definitely possible to get fluent in a category 1-2 language even a bit faster than that with just self study and practice. In most of my self study cases 2 years is where was starting to feel comfortable and starting to listen to audio books unassisted.


I have reached 13,000 known words in French in 12 months. I feel like its just uphill from here. The language has become much easier than it was before, however I feel that im looking at at least another year to year and a half until I reach a B2 Level. Would you guys say around the 30,000 known words mark you’ve reached a B2 Level?
(talking about romance languages)

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Keep us updated! :slight_smile: im curious how much you can achieve in Japanese in 2 years.


All I can do is speak to my own experience, which isn’t saying a lot.

I guess it depends on what your goals and motivations are. In my younger days, I spent years reading French and became semi-literate in French, but I never learned to speak it and never really had the opportunity to speak it. In fact at one point, I could text chat on the internet (back when I only had dial-up) and knew a lot of the French abbreviations that are used in chat. But on my trip to Argentina, I tried to strike up a conversation with some French people on the train in Iguazu — and failed miserably.

A little over ten years ago, I spent four months using every free moment I had to study Spanish before going on a 3-week trip to Argentina and I was able to get around, talking to cab drivers, people working in stores, restaurants and museums and people I met along the way, while my nephew, who had had four years of Spanish in school, had trouble putting a sentence together. So there’s something to be said about self-study.

After that trip I felt really psyched and started trying out other languages. Ultimately, I gave up learning Spanish and now, over ten years later, my language of choice is Dutch (don’t ask me why). But I achieved my goal at the time, which was to speak Spanish while traveling in Argentina. It was a great experience and a motivator for trying to learn to speak other languages.

Unfortunately for me, I apparently don’t have the brain of a polyglot. When I pick up a new language, I become absorbed in it and lose interest in the old one, so I must be doing something terribly wrong. (Sometimes I think I’m that Chris Cooper character in the film Adaptation, except that I have all my teeth.) But anyway, Dutch has been my focus for a number of years now and I’m not giving it up any time in the foreseeable future.


I would say with 30k known words in romance languages your reading comprehension will definitely fall under B2, but your speaking and listening level will depend on how much you speak and listen. I have around 40,000 words in Spanish and I would consider my reading skills C1 but only B2 for the other two skills.


I think you’re underestimating where you are in the language. At 13K words you’re in the intermediate neighborhood and “B2” may actually be within reach for you right now, depending on speaking practice and other factors.

30,000 words is a lot. It could feasibly allow you to read a book unassisted, and potentially understand TV shows and speak fluently – all depending on reading, listening and speaking times associated with that number – so 30K is really a “C-something” vocab number in my opinion.

Also, if you’re at 13K I wouldn’t worry about how long it will take to get to 30K, I’d just enjoy the fact that I can read and listen with increased ease. After 20K, I think chasing vocab numbers becomes pointless in a way, since it just becomes about the kind of things you wanna read, watch, listen to, etc. And if regular speaking is part of your routine, those those numbers will mean different things to you vs. to someone who mostly concentrates on reading etc.

FWIW, I went from 13K to 30K in 12 months in French, and that’s with covering similar ground in German at the same time period so I’d think it’s feasible to do this in 6 months or so. (Not that you have to.)


t_harangi Yeah you make some good points. 30k known words could definitely mean your reading comprehension is C level. I asked Steve, for what thats worth, on one of his live streams how many known words correspond to C2 level in Romance languages and his response was “upwards of 40 or 50k”.

Also if you dont spend much time speaking and listening, then even with 30k+ known words you will still most likely struggle quite a bit to speak. I, for one, can comfortably read novels and the news in Spanish, but because I simply don’t speak much at all, I know i don’t speak on a C level yet. You make a great point about after 20k words one should just consume content of interest because at that point so much of the language is available to you.

Lastly, if you look up the definitions for what it truly means to be B2 or C1 in a language, it actually requires some pretty elaborate skills in a language and I find that more often than not people overestimate their level. Just my thoughts lol


levmyshkin, you are correct as far the definition of B2, C1. I think most of us, myself included, are grossly misusing these terms – so much so that I actually try hard not to use them, despite my post earlier :slight_smile:

I try to identify levels based on my goals:

Beginner: “I’m studying” “Speak a bit.” Comparative reading – up to around the level of completing “Assimil With Ease” or equivalent

Intermediate: Conversant – able to read books with LingQ assistance but not needing comparative edition anymore – completing “Assimil Using” or equivalent and reading at least a couple of books beyond that

Advanced: Near fluent to fluent speech – unassisted reading of paper books – can watch TV shows without subtitles

Advanced + : Fluent speech – able to watch theatrical movies without subtitles

The borderlines between these levels are of course very murky.

BUT, this thread made me think of a way that LingQ could actually help us more clearly narrow down vocab levels for the “official” B2, C1 etc. language levels. I’m gonna attempt write up a more comprehensive post about my idea in the coming days.


The correct question isn’t “how long” but “How many” as in “How many hours.”

Steve has said (and I’ve no reason to disagree) that the US state departments estimates are basically correct.

They say 500 hours of study for the easiest languages.
But for Japanese, Chinese and Arabic 2000 hours of study.

So you’re a little more than 1/10 of the way there. But you’ve said your goal is “conversational”, which has a much lower standard.

Steve learned Chinese in a year. But he was studying 8 hours a day, so even figuring weekends and holidays off he got past 2000 hours.

Many people in China have been “leaning” English for ten years or more. But how many hours have they actually spent reading/listening->speaking real English? Not that many. They’ve mostly been doing grammar exercises, copying down nonsense sentences to practice handwriting and listening to their teachers explain how to understand English (in Chinese).

So my answer is: put another 750 hours in and you’ll be conversational in Japanese. But probably willl still struggle mightily to read a book or listen to radio news, just because of a lack of vocabulary.


I agree, hours are a better measurement rather than years :slight_smile:

If I can hit 500 hours by the end of this year, I’ll be 1/4 through, according to the 2000 hour rule. Maybe if I ramp up learning next year to 2 hours a day I can be decent by the end of 2020…


Years isn’t a reliable judge of time. In 2 years you can do 1 minute per week with your TL or you can do 12 hours per day. Hours is a much more reliable metric.

Speaking also doesn’t count because we only produce what we know, we don’t acquire through speaking. We can however acquire if we understand what’s coming back at us.

Overall, measure in hours of applied effort, not years where actual time applied could be anything.


That’s not how it works. Number of words known doesn’t necessarily translate into understanding meaning. You can know all the words in a sentence and not know the meaning of the sentence. You can know 30k words and still only get the gist in most situations. It’s both language and person dependent and the CEFRL levels are largely irrelevant for real life usage.

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Yeh, I remember sitting an end of semester Japanese exam back in the day and could read and understand every single word, easily acing the thing.

But I couldn’t have a simple conversation. :unamused:


Nice breakdown, please drop a note here when you make that post so it notifies us that it’s available :slight_smile:

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That would be a interesting read, especially since I am playing around with the idea to take an official language level test in Spanish sometime next year.

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Ok, the pressure is on :slight_smile:
I’ve wrote up my big, fat, bloviating post. I’m posting it now…

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The number of hours also depend greatly on a person.

For example; I see the OP has learned 4050 words in 250 hours.
Personally I have clocked in 1000.7 hours (I keep daily records, it’s a coincidence it happened to be at such a round number) and have 7900 words (I only mark a word correct when I can read the Kanji and understand the meaning).

This would means that for me it takes over twice as many hours to to get to the same level.

i was conversational in spanish in a year but i was using the language every day the more work you put in the faster the results they are people that still have problems with speaking and oral comprension after many years .so i don’t think years is the issue i don’t know about the a1 or b2 or anything like that i have never studied in a institution ,but i can under stand almost 95% of spanish when i hear it and read it slang and regionalisms trip me up mostly


There are many factors that play into this.

  1. How long/often you study the language. Obviously, the more time you spend every week, the less time it will take. In addition, if you study a little bit every day, then there will be less for you to re-learn.

  2. Motivation. If you are not very motivated to learn a language, it will take longer/be harder to learn it. Different motivators could be friends that speak Japanese, your reasoning for doing it, etc.

  3. How immersed you are in the language. I am learning Korean and I have heard that if you are in Korea while learning Korean, you can become fluent a lot faster. The more immersed in the language you are, the faster you will learn it. If all you hear is Japanese, then of course you will start to pick up on things faster.

  4. It also just depends on the person. Some people have an easier time with learning a new language, so there really isn’t one simple answer, but I would say that within 2 years, you should be able to be conversational in Japanese.