Saturday 3 March 2012

How long will it take me to learn French/ Spanish/ Italian/Greek?


This is the most common question my clients ask me on their first phone call.

It really depends. A Complete Beginner with great motivation, who will ask a lot of questions, will listen to the answers (not all students do so), and do homework (at least 1.5 hours a week), listen to the radio, watch TV, attempts to read the paper or magazines in the language studied, will, in a few months, have a higher level than someone who is a Higher Beginner/Intermediate, but who rests on his laurels and neither does homework nor the other activities mentioned.

It is not uncommon, when a couple starts taking lessons, where one is a Complete Beginner and the other one an Upper Beginner, to see, within 4/5 months, the novice overtaking the confident partner, who will soon be amazed at how his partner has progressed. Usually, this is when the latter decides to take things seriously.

Learning a language can be slow, remember how long it takes babies to speak. They listen for months and then one day, they speak. For some, it will take 2 years, other 3 or more. Everyone is different. It comes more naturally to some people. Usually, when students have learnt another foreign language previously, or have 2 mother-tongues, it’s easier for them to learn a new language. Why? Because they make connections, they’re used to switching languages, but also, like in my case - I grew up in France and learnt English, German, Spanish, Italian and Latin at school, and started learning modern Greek as an adult – I know what words, phrases and verbs I need to get by on a holiday or to have a conversation with a foreign friend.

Think of it this way: when we meet our friends/colleagues, we often ask them the same questions, we usually talk about the same subjects.

On Monday morning, in London, we all ask each other:

  • Did you have a nice weekend? Tu as passé un bon weekend?
  • What did you do? Qu’est-ce que tu as fait?
  • Where did you go? Tu es allé(e) où?
  • Was the food good? C’était bon?
  • How much was it? C’était combien? Tu as payé combien?


  • I had a great weekend. J’ai passé un excellent weekend.
  • I went to the restaurant. Je suis allé(e) au resto
  • It was really good. C’était super bon.
  • It wasn’t too expensive. C’était pas trop cher.

Every week, with your teacher, you can learn new expressions and verbs to expand this conversation. Now you know why a lot of teachers ask you what you did at the weekend. This practice is very important, and with time, one should be able to have this conversation in the studied language without looking at his notes.

Before travelling, I always recommend my students to take a piece of paper and write all the most important expressions they think they’ll need – if you’re unsure of your numbers, put them on the list. This is what I do when I go to Greece. Also, it’s reassuring to have this paper, knowing you can take it out and show your interlocutor, who will always be impressed at your interest in communicating with the locals in their language. You might even be invited for dinner and make a new friend!