The German language has a reputation for being quite difficult to learn. But is that actually the truth? How long does it take to learn German? And what do you need to do to master the language? That’s what we’re going to focus on in this post.
How long does it take to learn German?
The answer to this question will depend on a number of different things. In general, languages are complicated and not exactly quantifiable. However, there are some ways to estimate how much time you’ll need to spend to achieve fluency in German.
To do this, we’ll need to answer a couple of simple questions first. Here’s what you’ll need to consider:
What’s your language learning background?
Are you a polyglot? Do you know any other Germanic languages? Or is this the first time you’ll be dipping your toes in the language-learning waters?
Learning a new language is never easy, but it does get easier the more experience you have with the process – especially if that experience is particularly relevant to the language in question.
If you are someone who’s learned a foreign language before, then you might not need to spend as much time learning German as someone who only speaks their native language. This is because you will most likely already be familiar with how languages work in general and which study methods work best for you.
Another thing that might make your language-learning journey easier is knowing other Germanic languages. The good news is that you already speak English – which is a Germanic language.
English and German actually have a lot of lexical similarities, so you definitely have an advantage over non-English-speaking learners. However, if you know another Germanic language on top of this (such as Dutch), you might find the process even easier.
That being said, even if you’re a complete beginner when it comes to language learning, that doesn’t mean you should give up. You can still learn German – and it might not even take ages. There are other things to consider here.
What’s your study style?
How long does it take to learn German? Well, let me ask you this: How much time and energy are you willing to dedicate to the language?
In many ways, it’s all relative. Someone might be able to make more progress in just a couple of months than someone else will make in years. If you just want to do Duolingo for five minutes a day, you might need to get used to the idea of not mastering the language any time soon. On the other hand, if you’re really dedicated, it might go faster than you’d expect.
At the end of the day, consistency is key. It’s also good to figure out what works for you. What kind of learner are you? And how much free time do you actually have?
Remember: Be dedicated, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I know we all want to learn new languages as fast as possible, but you also need to avoid burnout. More often than not, slow and steady wins the race.
What’s your goal?
Before we can really answer the question of how long does it take to learn German, there’s one more thing we have to consider. What’s your language-learning goal?
Are you trying to just learn enough German to be able to navigate the central train station in Berlin?
Or are you looking for a job in the language?
Do you want to study at a German university?
Or are you just trying to impress your German friends?
Depending on the answer, you might need to spend a vastly different amount of time learning German than the next person. One useful thing to look at is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – or the CEFR levels.
This framework serves as a guideline that will help you distinguish between the different language levels. This is particularly helpful for those looking for appropriate learning materials or courses. Most of these will have a CEFR level assigned to them, which will help you figure out if the materials are what you’re looking for.
The CEFR levels are:
- A1: beginner
- A2: pre-intermediate
- B1: intermediate
- B2: upper-intermediate
- C1: advanced
- C2: proficient
Once you’ve figured out what level you’re aiming for, we can finally try to answer the question: How long does it take to learn German?
How long does it take to learn German on a conversational level?
If your goal is to be able to engage in everyday conversations with native speakers without too much effort, then you might want to consider learning German to a B1 level.
Interestingly enough, B1 is the level required to obtain a German visa for vocational training. It’s a good and achievable goal to have. But how long will it actually take you to get there?
Obviously, as I explained earlier, there are many factors that are going to impact the actual number. If you’re an experienced learner or someone who has a natural talent for language learning, then you might need to spend slightly less time studying than someone less experienced or gifted.
That being said, according to the Goethe Institute, it takes approximately 350 to 650 45-minute German learning sessions to reach B1 level. In reality, this means that to learn German on a conversational level, you might need to spend about 1-2 years studying.
This may seem like a lot, but if you think about it, it isn’t actually that bad. In school, many of us studied foreign languages for much longer than that – and not everyone was able to get to B1. In fact, the idea that you might be able to have whole conversations with German native speakers in just a year or two is actually pretty incredible. So, don’t let the scary high numbers deter you.
To get a better idea about the B1 level in German, check out this fun video test by Learn German:
How long does it take to reach professional working proficiency in German?
Professional working efficiency is somewhere between levels B2 and C1. If you learn German to this level, you should be able to participate in most conversations, including more complex ones in a professional setting.
According to the Foreign Service Institute (or FSI), you need to spend about 900 class hours learning German to reach this level. However, the Goethe Institute’s estimate is a little lower than that.
To reach B2, the Goethe Institute suggests that you need to complete between 600 and 800 45-minute units of language learning.
Reaching level C1 takes approximately 800 to 1,000 45-minute sessions, according to the Institute.
Getting to this level will require a lot of time, dedication, and consistency. But if you’re motivated, it shouldn’t be a problem. Sadly, there is no shortcut when it comes to language learning – but the process is still incredibly rewarding and worth it.
How long does it take to become fluent in German?
If you’re a completionist and you’d like to get as close to sounding like a native speaker as possible, then your goal should be the C2 level. But how long does it take to learn German to that level?
Well, according to the Goethe Institute, you’ll need to spend at least 1,000 45-minute sessions learning German to reach this level. However, if you really want to become fluent, it might take you a lot longer than that.
Languages are fluid, and they constantly evolve. There are always more words to learn and more intricate structures to discover. In truth, there may never come a point at which you’ll think you’ve completed German. Sadly, that’s not really how languages work. The time estimate suggested by the Goethe Institute is a good start – but there’s a reason why they said you will need at least that amount of time. There truly is no upper limit when it comes to fluency.
How long does it take to learn German: Conclusion
So, how long does it really take to learn German? The answer is pretty complex. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, what your language-learning experience is, and how much time and energy you’re able and willing to dedicate to this.
At the end of the day, everyone’s journey will be different. The numbers provided above should serve as rough estimates – so don’t get too hung up on them. Don’t stress too much if you feel like you might need more time than the average learner. There is no shame in that. We all have different strengths, and we all learn at a different pace.
Try to remember that language learning can – and should – be a fun process. German might seem like a scary and intimidating language, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right strategy and attitude, you might find that you don’t even want to stop learning!
Now that we’ve answered the question of “how long does it take to learn German?”, it’s time to actually start learning. Here are some articles that might come in handy: