With over 130 million speakers across the world, German is a popular option to choose when deciding to learn another language.
Not only is German spoken in Germany it is also an official language of Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
If you are eager to learn German for a trip abroad you may be wondering how long it will take you to learn German before you set off on your German adventures.
Of course, the speed at which you will learn will depend on how much effort you are willing to put in, how often you will practise and if you manage to find the best learning technique for you.
Before you start learning it is a good idea to have some objectives in mind and knowing how long it will take to learn will help you set these objectives.
This guide will break down all you need to know about how long it will take you to learn German so you can manage your expectations and plan any trips to German-speaking countries accordingly.
Estimated Hours of Practice
The German language is rated as a category 2 language by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and they categorise it as similar to English.
The FSI creates practical and useful references for English speakers who want to learn a foreign language including difficulty ratings and estimated classroom hours needed to learn up to a semi-proficient level.
Since Germany is in category 2, which is the second easiest category of languages to learn for English speakers, the FSI estimates that German will take approximately 30 weeks, or 750 classroom hours to learn.
The FSI estimates come from an assumption of spending 25 hours per week or 3 hours per day learning German.
Although 750 hours may seem like a lot, languages in category 1, like Spanish and French, which are considered closely related to English, still require up to an estimated 600 hours of practice.
Also, the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers in category 5, such as Japanese, are estimated to take 88 weeks or 2200 hours!
So, considering the FSI rankings, German does not take as long as you might think to learn, especially when comparing it to other languages.
Factors That Influence How Long It Takes to Learn German
Of course, there are many factors that will influence how long it will take you to learn German and it is important to factor these into estimations of your own learning journey.
Your motivation, how much you are exposed to the language and making sure that you find a tutor or method that works for you are all important factors that will speed up or slow down how fast you learn German.
Below we will touch on a couple of these aspects in more detail so you can adjust and improve your language learning plans.
How Much Time Do You Spend Studying German?
Naturally, one of the most important factors determining how long it will take you to learn German is the amount of time you invest in studying the language.
Simply put, the more time you spend learning German, the faster you will gain proficiency in the language.
An ideal situation would be to just move to a German-speaking country and fully immerse yourself in the language and culture while attending language classes.
Of course, this ideal situation is not possible for most people who in reality only have a couple of hours per week to dedicate to learning a language.
The limited time you may have available to learn German makes it even more important to find the appropriate learning method to optimise your learning.
The best way to learn a language is via exposure and if you can’t go to Germany you can still keep your exposure to the language high by regularly reading German books, listening to German conversations and writing down phrases you learn as well as using apps of course.
However, you will also certainly need a teacher to guide you along your German language learning journey. Luckily in today’s day and age, it is even easier to find the right tutor for you.
Finding the Right Language Teacher or Tutor
Although it may seem daunting at first when trying to find the right language teacher, it is important to take the time to explore all your options and ensure you find a learning method that keeps you engaged and motivated.
Since everyone has different learning styles and will respond differently to various teaching methods, you need to find a learning method that keeps you engaged and motivated to carry on.
Whether it’s via an in-person course, a one-to-one lesson, online tutoring or a language exchange there are plenty of different ways to be taught German by a native.
It may be possible to join a German retreat or attend a conversational Stammtisch (an informal German meetup group) depending on where you are located in the world.
The most important thing is to find a method that works for you so you interact with the language as much as possible and are able to start communicating in German as quickly as possible.
Try out as many methods and teachers as you need to in order to find what fits best, if you are not seeing progress with one teacher move on to another or ask to change aspects of your lessons.
However your teacher cannot do all the work, if you love your teacher but do not do any other German practice outside of your classes you will not learn as fast.
Equally, if you always practise but do not want to use a tutor, you will be missing out on valuable insight into your mistakes and how you can improve.
A combination of structured lessons with a native speaker and consistent personal study will maximise your German learning potential and increase your chances of learning as fast as possible.
What Makes German Difficult to Learn
So far, we have talked about factors you can do to increase how fast you learn German, but it is also important to look at aspects that can slow down the speed of your learning so you can try to limit them.
Of course, a lack of practice with, or exposure to, the language and having the wrong teacher or learning method can slow down your learning speed but these have been touched upon in the above section.
Below we will break down factors to look out for such as losing motivation and complex grammar, both of which may slow down the speed at which you learn German.
Maintaining Your Motivation
Without motivation, it is going to be increasingly difficult for you to dedicate your time to German.
Learning is not an enjoyable process all the time and losing motivation may mean you only dedicate time to German during classes and skip out the extra consolidation and practice that is vital to learning German.
A good idea is to write down all the reasons why you want to learn this language including how it will benefit your life and what you will unlock when you become proficient.
Being able to communicate with others and gain deeper connections to people and their culture is such a valuable skill to learn and it is good to keep this in mind when you feel unmotivated.
With your goals written, you will hopefully be able to stay on track and keep up that exposure to the German language.
Tackling German Grammar
No matter how much motivation you have, learning complex German grammar can certainly slow down your learning journey.
Although it may be hard to wrap your head around at the start, a native German teacher will be able to help immeasurably and without help from an expert, you may be stuck for longer than you have to be.
Not only will a tutor help you master the complexities of German grammar quickly, but they will also improve your pronunciation.
Since German grammar is a precise topic, you won’t be without struggles but taking the time to explain to a tutor what you are finding difficult is a great way to get tailored help to your exact needs.
Of course, having the wrong tutor may make these intricate rules and concepts even harder to grasp and this may even reduce your motivation to learn.
Therefore, before you even start on complex German concepts it is important that you are happy and comfortable with your German tutor.
Do not be afraid to change teachers if you are not grasping German grammar as quickly as you would like but don’t forget sometimes it just takes a bit of determination and hard work to push through those trickier topics.
Practice Makes Perfect
No matter how many factors you overcome, not practising will still be the biggest barrier to your language success.
Actions speak louder than words, but in this case, you need to take action and speak German words regularly in order to speed up your progress in learning the German language.
Not being exposed to the language on a daily basis will really slow down your efforts. Therefore you need to regularly speak, read, write or listen to German consistently in order to cement in your mind what you have learnt in your lessons.
Without practising German regularly, the time it will take you to learn the language will be much more than the FSI estimations.
Why English Speakers Have an Advantage
If you are an English speaker, you will certainly have an easier and faster experience learning German than people who speak other languages.
The factors that make it easier to learn German faster for native English speakers are of course factored into the FSI reasoning behind their categorisation and estimation of hours needed to learn German.
However, it is still useful to go into depth on the specific reasons that give English speakers an advantage when learning German.
These reasons may give you the motivation to learn German or simply help you when considering how fast you think you could learn the language.
English and German are both Indo-European languages and are Germanic languages – a branch of the Indo-European language family.
Since both languages are part of the same language families, they share similarities in their grammar and vocabulary.
For example, some words in both languages will sound similar or will be the same, which will make it much easier when learning new words and grammar rules.
English words like baby, ball, computer, e-mail, hobby, hotel, name, park, ring and tourist are the same in German.
Similarly, the German words doppelganger, eiderdown, hamster, kindergarten, spritz and waltz have all made it into the English language.
Both German and English use the same Latin alphabet with 26 letters, this means when you learn German you do not need to learn a whole new alphabet unlike when learning other languages.
This is probably the biggest similarity between English and German and makes it easier and faster to learn the language.
The only slight difference between the alphabets of English and German is that the German alphabet also has the extra letters ä, ë, ö, ü, and ß.
Although these extra five letters may seem strange they are simply modifications on existing letters and their pronunciations are easy enough to grasp.
German verbs are very regular and they follow easy-to-understand patterns which will make learning them very easy and quick to do.
Irregular verbs will actually still be easy for English speakers to understand quickly since despite being irregular they still follow more regular patterns than English verbs.
Verb conjugations follow consistent rules and there are not many exceptions to these rules, unlike in English and this will certainly speed up the learning process.
German words are also a lot easier to learn to pronounce since they follow clear set patterns and most words are spoken as they are written.
After learning only a few hundred words in German you will be able to communicate effectively.
This is because the German language has fewer words than the English language.
The English language has up to one million words compared to the 200,000 in the German dictionary.
Of those 200,000 German words you only need a fraction to actually start communicating.
Since you are able to use prefixes and suffixes to alter root words in German, it is a lot easier to comprehend and use German once you are familiar with these common roots, prefixes and suffixes.
So, How Long Does It Take To Learn German?
As you have hopefully gathered from this guide, there is no magic spell or hack to learn German and it is all about how much time and effort you are willing to invest into your language-learning journey.
Focus less on the months and years that it could take to learn German and more on the minutes and hours in your day where you can set aside time to practise.
Ultimately you are in control of how fast you learn German. It is estimated to take 30 weeks or 750 hours but depending on how much time you dedicate each day these weeks and hours could be spread across a lifetime or across a couple of months.
- Studying 8 hours per day, 5 days per week you could complete 750 hours in less than 20 weeks
- Studying 1 hour per day, every day you could complete 750 hours in a little over 2 years.
Of course, there are many variables that will impact how long it takes to learn German.
The similarities between the languages will definitely work in your favour as will the consistency and regularity of the German language.
Ensuring that you keep your motivation high and getting a good teacher who will help you with your learning will also speed up your learning process.
Being exposed to the language, especially being immersed in the culture of a German-speaking country will certainly help as well.
But in the end, it is all about how much practice you will put in that will dictate how fast you will learn German.
Now you know how long it might take you to learn German and all the things you can do to help speed up the process, the only thing left to do is get started!
Start learning the basics and work your way from there, with enough practice each day and help from a native speaker you will be on your way to proficiency in German in no time.
Soon you will be able to converse with people of different cultures in a variety of countries, but only if you get started!