The Vietnamese language is spoken by over 90 million people, mostly in Vietnam. It's a language that's quite different from English, which means, that it'll take a considerable amount of time to get used to and that you'll need to dedicate a lot of time in order to learn to speak it.
But how long should you count on keeping studying in order to reach your goals in Vietnamese?
There are no simple answers as to how long it takes to learn Vietnamese. While the complexity of the language itself is an important variable, we also need to look at your goals (the level you're reaching for) your current level, if not a beginner, your experience with studying and foreign languages, your motivation, how consistently you study and how much work you put in.
Let's assume that you're a native English speaker who's a beginner in Vietnamese and who's aiming to become conversational and reach the B1 level. You've gone to college and are used to studying, but you haven't got much experience with foreign languages. You're very motivated, you study every day, and you spend about one hour a day.
How long will it take you to reach your goals then?
2 years, 4 months and 22 days.
Is this a joke?
No, these are my actual calculations based on the above info. I've developed a study time calculator for figuring out how long it takes English speakers to learn foreign languages. It's based on both solid data about language learning and language levels... But also on: my own best guesses and estimates.
In other words: The calculator is far from being perfect. The amount of time it gives you is not exactly a scientific fact, but it might be a good estimate that you should consider when planning your Vietnamese learning process.
If you want to check it out, you can find it here:
Study Time Calculator For Languages.
But now, let's take a closer look at the Vietnamese language and how to figure out how long it takes to learn.
Vietnamese - A Challenging Language Far From English
Vietnamese belongs to the Autroasiatic language family along with such languages as Khmer.
It's not necessarily a very difficult or complicated language. In fact, Vietnamese grammar is very simple compared to many languages, and the vocabulary is mostly single-syllable words, where more complicated concepts are simply described by using several simple words in combination in stead of forming long words like it's the case with many other languages.
What makes Vietnamese a challenging language can be summarized by two facts.
- Vietnamese is a tonal language, meaning that correct pronunciation, pitch and tones is crucial in order to communicate in and understand the language.
- The Vietnamese language is just so different from English, that everything needs more focus and efforts to be mastered.
You can read more about how I'd go about learning Vietnamese in my article on the subject.
The FSI is the American government institution in charge of teaching foreign languages to US diplomats and envoys going over seas. They put Vietnamese in their third category of languages along with Hindi, Russian and several other languages.
According to the FSI, their students need approximately 1100 hours of intensive classroom study in order to become fluent in the Vietnamese language (or reach the C1 level). This number only applies in very specific circumstances however.
The FSI students are highly skilled individuals, who're focused 100% on learning the language in question. They're highly motivated and they learn through very individualized tutoring adapted to their specific needs and accompanied by competent language teachers.
In other words - you can't just divide the 1100 hours by your daily study-time in order to find the number of days it would take you to learn Vietnamese.
There are many more variables to take into account!
Who Are You, And What's Your Educational And Linguistic Backgorund?
In calculating how long it'll take you to learn the Vietnamese language, one of the most important variables is YOU.
First of all: What's your native language? I assume it's English, but perhaps you speak another language that somehow is closer to Vietnamese? It could be a related language like Khmer, or a language like Mandarin Chinese that has provided Vietnamese with many loan-words.
Maybe you speak another language which, although being unrelated to Vietnamese, shares some features in terms of grammar, structure, word order or tones? This, too, will be a huge advantage.
If you're a native English speaker, you'll have an advantage if you already have some experience with foreign languages. The closer these languages are to Vietnamese, the better, but even if you only rely on your high school French, you'll have a slight advantage.
Just the simple fact that you have experience with a second language (even if you don't exactly speak it) will help you pass the initial blockage when taking up a new language. Monolinguals have a hard time first breaking through and making their brains accept the possibility of communicating in other ways. Maybe you won't have to worry as much about that?
But even if you never studied another language and you only speak English, you'll still be better off if only you have a little experience with doing homework, taking notes, being disciplined or in other words: Simply being a student.
What Level Of Vietnamese Are You Actually Aiming For?
Before you get started with the difficult task of learning Vietnamese, you need to decide what kind of level in the language you're actually aiming for. Many will simply state that they want to "become fluent" in the language.
There aren't any good and clear definitions as to what fluency really is, however. Do you want to come across as a native Vietnamese when you speak, or are you OK with just being conversational and making a few mistakes here and there?
While many language learners dream of impressing everyone around them with a high near-native bilingual level in the language that they're learning, this isn't always a practical goal to aim for. Everyone can learn a language and they can become conversational in a few years. But to compeltely sound like a Vietnamese? That might take decades, or you might simply never get there.
A good level to aim for is the B1 or B2 level, which is either the lower or higher intermediate level. This will allow you to speak "fluently", communicate without difficulties, understand when people speak to you and be understood. But it won't be perfect. I advice you to just accept that, at least as a start.
And once you reach your primary goal, you can make a new one, and continue to further improve your Vietnamese level if you feel that you really need to.
Are You Motivated Enough To Learn Vietnamese?
How motivated are you? Slightly demotivated? Moderately motivated? Very motivated? Or are you completely in love with Vietnamese?
The more motivated you are, the faster you will be able to learn Vietnamese. This isn't simply a question about being able to get the job done.
It's about making your brain accept a new language.
If you love Vietnamese, the language will simply sound beautiful in your ears. You'll love to hear it, to speak it and you'd continuously strive for getting better because you just really want to.
However, while being motivated is good, and highly motivated is better, there's a certain limit to how big an advantage motivation can be. Despite how much you love the language, you still need to learn it after all.
What's much more important is, if you're not very motivated.
Students who lack motivation, will advance very slowly. Others, if not most will eventually give up and never reach their goals.
Go read my article about motivation in language learning.
The Consistency And The Frequency In Which You Study Vietnamese Is Very Important
There's a huge difference between studying 7 hours every Sunday, studying 1 hour a day and studying 20 minutes three times a day.
If you're clever, you might have noticed that those three options added up, all equal 7 hours per week.
But why is there a difference?
Studying 7 hours in a day is great, but it's not as effective as spending a more moderate amount of time, but doing it every day.
The reason is that, while 7 hours in one sitting lets you cover a lot of ground, it's a lot of time to stay focused. After going at it for a while, you'll start to get a little less out of your efforts, and for each hour that passes, studying becomes more tedious.
And after the end of your 7-hour study session, if you don't get back to study Vietnamese again before a week has passed, you'll have forgotten a lot of what you spent so much effort learning 7 days earlier.
Studying 1 hour a day is much better. It allows you to revise what you did yesterday, cover new material, and stay focused without ending up completely drained after the end of a study session.
You simply get more out of each hour spent this way, because you're being much more efficient and not wasting resources. It's like choosing the right gear when you drive your car... (It'll save you fuel!)
And what's even better than that, is to study Vietnamese multiple times per day.
If you keep spending an hour per day, but you divide that hour into 20-minutes study sessions - or maybe 10-minutes bursts, you will keep your brain tuned in to Vietnamese throughout the day. It'll hardly get the chance to forget anything, because you'll keep coming back constantly.
And while studying several times per day in short bursts is the most efficient, it's actually also the easiest.
Think about it: It's much easier to find 10 minutes here and there throughout the day, than it is to dedicate a whole hour in one sitting. You can study while drinking your morning coffee, during your commute, in your lunch-break, on your way home from work, while making dinner, while doing the dishes, and finally before heading off to bed.
I wrote an article about how to learn languages on a busy schedule, where I have a few suggestions on how you should go about studying in short bursts.
Finally, It Comes Down To The Time You Put In.
The last variable that I'm going to mention is the amount of time you put in every day. As mentioned, you'll get more out of studying every day, than doing long study sessions once per week.
But if you were to study for 6-8 hours every day and do so consistently, there's no doubt that you would advance much faster in Vietnamese. This is the way I'd go about learning languages if I absolutely had to reach a high level in a short amount of time.
It is, however, not the most "economic" way to study. The longer you keep studying in one sitting, the more tired and unfocused you'll become, so the quality of your time simply won't be the same as if you could spread your total study time out over a longer period of time.
If I had to study 8 hours a day to reach my goals, I'd make sure to squeeze in a short break every hour or so, where I did something different. I'd also try and keep my study method varied, and never keep doing the same thing for hours on-end. (Here's an article about the importance of keeping your study methods varied)
On the other hand, if I only had 10 minutes to spend per day, I'd have to significantly lower my ambitions.
Only spending 10 minutes per day doesn't make for an efficient study routine either. You simply never get enough time to revise and cover new content, and studying multiple sessions throughout the day isn't really possible if you only have 10 minutes in total.
Add to that, that if you want any kind of substantial results, you would need to keep studying for many years if you only did 10 minutes a day, and you still wouldn't get very far.
Conclusion: How Long Does It Take To Learn Vietnamese?
As I said: Calculating how long it takes to learn a language like Vietnamese is no exact science. It depends, and it depends on a lot of factors.
If you think of all of the above variables, however, you might be able to better figure out just about how long you'll need to spend. Does it fit with your plans and hopes? Or would it be better to adjust them accordingly?
Whether you use the calculator that I linked to earlier, or you rely on your own common sense is up to you, but thinking realistically about the long-term project of learning Vietnamese is one of the most important things to do in the beginning if you want to succeed.