This is an open-ended question with no definite answer and often starts with a cliché ‘it depends’. Instead of giving the perfect answer, I want to show why it doesn’t have a clear-cut answer.
The factors below (among many others) play an important role that can’t be ignored. It’s my ‘it depends’
- The language you’re learning
- What you’re trying to achieve
- Your level and the level you want to achieve
- Your learning styles
While at it let’s also include when it’s too much and too little time to spend on it.
Your Target Language
I’m sure most of you have heard there are easy and difficult languages. Heck, even the US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has categorized them. Depending on that will determine the time needed but still doesn’t guarantee you will reach your desired level within the given time frame due to a few reasons.
They are categorized based on the learners’ native language which is English. Despite being the universal language, not all human being speaks it. I’ve seen a few native English learners write in forums saying that easy languages aren’t easy after all.
If you’re in a demanding situation where you’re studying the target language for reasons such as passing exams, working/ studying abroad, becoming a translator, etc obviously around 10-15 hours per week wouldn’t be too much. An hour a day would be considered too less and feels like setting yourself up for failure.
However, for reasons such as a hobby, vacation, etc a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour per day would suffice. Still have enough energy left? Feel free to continue however long you want.
Your Level & Target level
Starting from scratch is always the hardest. It’s where you’ll be confronted with the reality of language learning. If the target language is your second language it’s vital to balance your time wisely in the beginning.
Spending too much might cause you to burn out. Spending too less might slow down your progress. A minimum of 15-30 minutes a day is good to test the water.
If this isn’t your first time, you can allocate the time you know you can handle since you’ve experienced it before. People say the more languages you learn the easier it gets. So, the time spent probably won’t be as lengthy.
Let’s say you’ve studied Spanish before and your level is B2. Now, you’re studying Italian from scratch and your target level is B2. Can’t really say you’re a total beginner because these languages come from the same family. There will be lots of similarities in terms of words and grammar. You’ve got a head start.
Unlike if you’re learning a different language such as Russian, Indonesian, etc but the main principle remains the same. Your experience will guide you.
Your Learning Style
Some people have short attention spans. Spending 30 minutes a day is easy to build a habit while still maintaining focus. Hours a day are quite difficult but doable. You just need to space them out rather than doing it in one sitting. Over time, it will become a habit.
There will be people who might criticize you for spending so little. They need to understand language learning is not something you can rush. Fast isn’t always good. Slow isn’t always bad.
If you can and manage to learn something in a short period, that’s time well spent. You can do a longer session but if you get nothing out of it what’s the point? In any case, there are always pros and cons. Whatever your learning style is as long as it’s effective the rest doesn’t matter.
For busy people, doing activities you enjoy such as listening to podcasts, watching videos, vocabulary reviews, etc in the little time you have will make a difference. It’s a lot better than nothing.
5 minutes a day is very short. Sure, you can learn a thing or two but if you can afford more why not? If you keep at this pace, things will become dull and easy. There’s nothing wrong with the latter but how can you improve if you don’t try something new?
To avoid getting bored diversify your everyday routine. For example,
- Monday – learning new vocabulary
- Tuesday – writing practice
- Wednesday – listening practice
- Thursday – learning a grammar topic
- Friday – speaking practice with a native
- Saturday – reading and comprehension
- Sunday – reviewing or watching something in your target language
A good indication of when it’s too much is when you start losing focus and can’t understand the things you’re learning. Or you start procrastinating when ‘study time’ comes. Reducing the time a bit and changing the flow would hopefully fix it.
People want to be fluent fast but are not willing to spend enough time. How can they expect to be fluent in a certain period of time? This isn’t a competition.
Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years – Bill Gates
The time one should spend varies as each of you have a different situation and ability. Vague answers I know, but that’s what you’ll get even after reading so many articles on this.
Choose your time sensibly. Preferably one that makes you happy and looks forward to doing every day. However, if you have that ‘free’ time of the day even if it’s not your study time when the motivation kicks in, go for it. We all know such a thing is hard to come.
Share with us your ideal time to spend on your target language and how has it been.