Skip to content

How to Learn a Language in 30 days: A Cautionary Tale

By Edwige Simon, Ph.D., Director, Instructional Technology and Online Learning,  International Center for Language Studies.


In a world that thrives on instant gratification, the promise of foreign language fluency within a matter of weeks has become an enticing proposition for many language learners. However, the reality is far from the rosy picture painted by companies that claim to fast-track your journey to linguistic mastery. In this blog post, we'll delve into the misleading nature of such promises and explore how they not only hurt the language service industry but may also undermine the confidence and motivation of aspiring language learners. 


Language Fluency is a Spectrum 

One of the primary issues lies in the ambiguous use of the word "fluency" that some companies, app providers and social media influencers use to attract potential customers.  

As we explained in our blog post What Do We Mean By Language Fluency 

language fluency is a spectrum. It refers to the extent to which someone can speak smoothly and effectively on a range of topics in a second language. Rather than achieving complete accuracy in a second language, you might think of “fluency” as “degree of proficiency” in a language. Linguists rarely agree on a single definition of second language fluency. But at ICLS, we offer a common-sense definition: a speaker achieves language fluency once they can confidently, competently, and easily express themselves in a language other than their own. 

And this is not anything a complete beginner can achieve in 30 days.   

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) sheds light on the time and effort required to achieve proficiency in different languages, debunking the myth of a quick linguistic fix. 

According to the FSI, reaching various levels on the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale takes a significant amount of time. For example, a Category I language like Spanish or French may take approximately 600-750 hours to reach "Professional Working Proficiency" (ILR level 3), while a Category IV language like Mandarin or Arabic could take around 2200 hours. These numbers dispel the notion that fluency is a one-size-fits-all achievement. 


The Individual Variables 

Every language learner brings a unique set of variables to the table—prior knowledge, confidence, time commitment, and motivation. Companies that promise swift fluency often overlook these individual factors, leading to unrealistic expectations and, ultimately, disappointment. Learning a language is a personal journey that requires tailored approaches to accommodate diverse learner profiles. 


The Illusion of Instant Gratification 

The danger of these unrealistic promises is that they create the illusion that learning a foreign language is a quick and easy process. In reality, language acquisition demands time, dedication, and consistent effort. Misleading marketing tactics can discourage learners, making them doubt their abilities when progress doesn't align with the promised timelines. 


Choosing Wisely 

In the pursuit of language proficiency, it is crucial to select language providers carefully. Reputable language schools focus on realistic goals and acknowledge the individuality of each learner. Any institution that claims that you can reach fluency within 30 days should raise a red flag. Learning a language is a journey, not a sprint, and those who claim otherwise are likely more interested in product sales than in your linguistic success. 


Language Fluency in 30 Days: Conclusion 

The next time you consider a language learning program, remember that fluency is not a commodity that can be purchased off the shelf. It is a skill that requires time, dedication, and the right educational environment. By choosing a reputable school that values realistic goals and individual learning paths, you can embark on a language-learning journey that is both fulfilling and effective. Don't be swayed by false promises. Instead, invest in a program that respects the complexity of language acquisition and celebrates the unique strengths you bring to the linguistic table. 

ICLS has provided language training since 1966. Our clients include individuals, government agencies such as the FBI, USAID, the Foreign Service Institute, and organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization, the IMF, and the World Bank, to name a few.  With over 80 languages to choose from, a corps of highly skilled and trained language teachers, and in-house curricula, your language learning journey is off to a great start when choosing ICLS. Explore our foreign language classes to find a program best suited to your needs.  

Start Your Language Adventure Today!

Button to form

Learn More

Contact us today to discuss your language-learning needs!