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10,000 Hours To Get Fluent In A Language? Or Just 20 Hours?

Have you ever come across this 10,000 hour rule? That it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient in a new skill?

If you have (and let’s face it, it has become an oft-quoted statistic!), then you might wonder if it truly is possible to learn languages (or anything else) quickly. (Especially on those days when you just CANNOT remember that verb form, or that vocab you learned just 5 minutes ago… or the vocab you learned in your first lesson and have repeated daily since!)

Well, don’t despair… it isn’t true. At least, it isn’t true that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill. Actually, the 10,000 hours is what was observed on average to take an individual in a highly specialised skill reach the absolute top of their niche. Think a violinist in the most elite orchestra in the world. Or the world champion chess player.

Or… how long it might take an individual to learn a new language to the level that would allow them to write a PhD dissertation in Astrophysics!

On the other hand, it takes much less time to learn enough to become conversational in French, sufficient to follow a small group chattering about the latest movie, or even to discuss the meaning of life with a special friend.

How long? Well, if you believe Josh Kaufman, just 20 hours! Need a little encouragement? Check out his TEDtalk below 🙂

(I chat elsewhere about how many hours it took me to learn Dutch and Auslan to different levels.)

What do you think? Is 20 hours intentional learning enough to gain a sufficient amount of language to learn the basics? Enough to have a conversation? Have you ever tried to have a conversation so quickly? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your story!

Cate is a language enthusiast sharing her language learning journey here. Apart from her native English (albeit 'Strine'*!), as an adult she has also learned Auslan (Australian Sign Language) to approximately a C1 level, Dutch to around B1/2, French to around A2, and has a smattering of other languages.

B.A. (Anthropology/Marketing), Grad. Dip. Arts (Linguistics), Grad. Cert. Entrepreneurship & Venture Development, (CELTA).

Auslan Interpreter (NAATI), and general Language Nut.

*For more information on 'Strine', visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strine