The Big Question: How Long Does it Take to Become Fluent?

This is a very tough question to answer for four reasons. A great deal varies from student to student depending on:

  1. How much they take responsibility for their own learning
  2. How much experience they have with their own native language
  3. How much basic aptitude they bring to the enterprise
  4. When they first began the study of foreign language

In general, the U.S. Department of State sets out these guidelines for the languages that Drury offers:

Spanish: 600 class hours
French: 600 class hours
German: 750 class hours
Mandarin Chinese: 2200 class hours (with approximately half taught in a study abroad immersion context)
Arabic: 2200 class hours (with approximately half taught in a study abroad immersion context)

The differences here arise from the foreign language’s differences from English.

These numbers are why we highly recommend an immersion study abroad language experience to achieve fluency. One foreign language course per semester for four years will give students 360- 390 hours. This will give students skill, but fall short of fluency.

In general, we say three years (with a course every semester) plus an intensive immersion experience will produce a fluent speaker.

Other practice, however, can also be achieved through students’ own initiative: speaking with international students, etc.