This is not an easy question because there is no definite answer as to what it means to actually “learn a language”, but we do have some insight!
Article last updated on November 13th, 2019
Before you start, don’t worry – it’s never too late to reach fluency. However, getting there is a whole other story, as there are many things to take into account: age, first language, environment, motivation and time, to name but a few.
Although children under 18 tend to acquire a language much faster than adult learners, adults have a better understanding of the depth of a language: there is a notable difference between language acquisition (passive) and language learning (active).
As a native English speaker, it should be easier to start learning French, as English partly takes its roots from French. You will find the environment in which you study has a great impact on how you learn. For instance, you will learn French differently depending on where you live, and learning in a classroom or at home by yourself are two very different things. But above all, learning a foreign language depends on each student, as some may find it easier than others.
All of these factors play an important role on how fast you will learn French, and they will inevitably shape the way you use the language as well – but how do you know when you have reached fluency?
What is fluency?
To answer this question, let’s break the process of language mastery down into different levels, as proposed by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), ranging from A1 to C2:
- Basic users (A1 – A2): Can communicate and talk about themselves with simple words.
- Independent users (B1 – B2): Can understand abstract topics, express a viewpoint, use the language in a specialized field, with a certain degree of fluency.
- Proficient users (C1 – C2): Can communicate fluently or very fluently and use the language for social, academic and professional purposes.
It’s up to you whether you want to be able to speak the language casually or in a professional environment, or if you want to go even further and master it. Needless to say that in order to move up the ladder, you will have to spend more time studying the language.
How long does it take to become fluent in French?
In order to learn efficiently, you need to set yourself a clear goal ahead of time. There are different levels of fluency and even though you may want to, you may not necessarily need to speak perfect French in order to communicate with others. It is therefore important to have goals and stick to them.
It will take quite some time to become fluent. But how much time will it actually take?
For instance, environmental factors can have a strong influence on this process:
- Where: learning French online, at school, with a private tutor
- How: virtual learning courses, textbooks, video conferences, face-to-face interactions
- When: daily, weekly, monthly
- Who: with other students in a classroom, by yourself
- What: learning materials available, activities, resources
Your journey to fluency also depends on:
- Age: children under 18 tend to acquire languages whereas adults will actively learn.
- Gender: social acceptability of learning a specific language for different genders.
- Objectives/purpose: as a hobby, for work, at school…
- First language: assuming it’s English, which makes things a bit easier. French is considered to be “close” to English and therefore should be easier to learn for native English speakers.
- Other foreign languages: taking into account those who have already gone through the process of learning another language.
In essence, what you already know, what and how you want to learn, the time you can afford to spend learning, and your motivation have a direct impact on how fast you can learn French.
According to the Alliance Française, reaching a B1 level requires 360 hours of training, whereas B2 would take about 560 hours of intensive courses (about 20 hours/week) – however, they are unable to determine the number of weeks needed to reach C1 or C2.
On the other hand, this paper written by Cambridge University Press shows that a motivated adult learner, with access to quality resources and experienced teachers, should be able to reach a B1 level in 350 to 490 hours, B2 in 530 to 750 hours, C1 in 730 to 1050 hours and C2 in 1030 to 1450 hours, on the basis of two hour classes, plus two hours of homework per week (4 hours/week in total).
This might sound frightening, but you should ask yourself an even more important question: do you really need to reach full proficiency in order to achieve your goals? You could, for instance, learn how to speak conversational French much faster before speaking la langue française fluently.
Chances are you’re not starting from scratch either: perhaps you learned French earlier in your life, or you might actually know more than you think. It might be even easier if you already know some Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or Romanian) as they are close to French.
If you’re having trouble assessing your level, you can test your French level for free.
Is French hard to learn?
It’s never easy to learn a new language, but French is considered as an easy language to learn for native English speakers. This can be explained by the fact that there are many similarities between English and French.
The biggest challenges you might face would be French grammar and pronunciation.
In the case of grammar, there’s no secret, it has to come through studying as you can’t make up the grammar rules by yourself, and while it can get quite tedious and boring, there are ways to make it more fun.
In the case of French pronunciation, it will take years of practice before you can reach the level of a native French speaker. Spoken French is a bit more difficult as there are many nasal sounds which don’t exist in the English language… and there are plenty of silent letters which can make reading hard.
You can learn more about how hard it is to learn French in our dedicated blog post!
How much time should you spend studying French?
The answer to this question would be: as much time as you can afford. The more you study, the more you will learn and memorize what you have learned. However, studying can get intense and the last thing you want is to face a burnout.
Time management is essential: stick to a regular schedule and don’t forget to take regular breaks – forcing yourself to learn French to the point it becomes a pain won’t work!
There is no secret method to master French in a week, but don’t worry, there are ways to help you speed up the process:
Our tips on how to learn French faster
Now that you know your journey to fluency might take some time, you’ll be pleased to know that you could learn French faster as long as you are motivated.
Boost your motivation
It’s much harder to do something when you’re lacking motivation. If you don’t find pleasure in learning French or if you don’t find it rewarding, it will take (much) more time.
Learning can, and should be fun! Ask yourself for what reasons you are learning French (work, school, friends, family…), and with this in mind, try kickstarting your studies with topics you find interesting.
Learning French doesn’t have to be boring, especially thanks to our online lessons Frantastique: try out our method for free today.
Love everything French (or at least one thing)
If you like French, you will find it easier to spend more time studying the language and using it outside of your usual class/lesson. Your own curiosity will drive you to find out more about the French language.
Think of what you (might) like about France and its culture, and try to find out more about it:
- Food: Read a recipe and start cooking.
- Series/movies: Sit back and enjoy Le Bureau des Légendes or Dix pour Cent.
- History: You can relive historical events in the comfort of your own home and, should the opportunity arise, in a French museum. Or with a time machine (recommended).
- Wine: Read more about the richness of French terroirs with a nice glass of Chardonnay.
Practice, practice and more practice
“Practice makes perfect.” While many French people will find your accent charming, you might want to develop a more authentic accent to improve your pronunciation – and there’s no better way to strengthen your oral skills than communicating and interacting with native speakers. Another way of improving your French listening skills is by listening to music and podcasts, or watching movies and series.
It’s even easier when it comes to reading and writing, as there are countless ways for you to brush up on your French on the Internet: newspapers, books, recipes, forums, online chats… the options are endless.
Living in a French-speaking country
Even though achieving total immersion might be tough, if you travel to a French-speaking country, you will have little choice but to speak the local language – it won’t take you long to learn French, but it will be more intense!
Using the language on a daily basis will help you become much more confident, although you may soon discover that you speak much better than you write or read!
Immersion will help you improve by leaps and bounds, and at a much faster rate than simply studying for hours on end in a classroom in your home country.
You could also take a step further by combining immersion (acquisition) and studying. We recommend you attend language classes where you live – or you could try learning French online.
Pick up the pace with Frantastique
Frantastique delivers short, personalized and fun French lessons.
Our goal: your motivation, participation and progress.
How does it work?
- Each day you’ll receive a lesson adapted to your needs, capabilities and goals.
- Once it’s completed, you’ll immediately receive personalized corrections and explanations.
- Your lessons are customized based on your strengths and weaknesses.
- You’ll get a certificate of completion when you finish the course.
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