How long does it take to learn Chinese?

“Professor Rong, I want to be fluent in speaking Chinese in a year, do you think it’s possible?” It's a question I often hear from my dear beginner students. “Of course it’s possible” not wanting to put a damper on their enthusiasm and eagerness. “However, only with the right methods and great persistence.” I add.

It is always good to be highly motivated and confident, but be prepared for the inevitable ups and downs that come with a project as big as learning another language.

If you are an English speaker, the first thing you can use to help to set practical goals and self-evaluate is the FSI scale; the foreign language proficiency guidelines used by the Foreign Service Institute.

The FSI Scale divides foreign language proficiency into 5 levels and characterizes spoken-language use:

  • Level 1 Minimal Performance Plus
  • Level 2 Limited Working Performance
  • Level 3 Professional Performance
  • Level 4 Advanced Professional Performance
  • Level 5 Master Professional Performance

The two charts below indicate how long it normally takes to reach the different FSI levels for of various languages. The three different lines on the charts represent learners with different aptitudes.

FSI Language Learning Graph
FSI Language Learning Graph 2

A learner with average aptitude takes only 15 weeks to reach level 2 for Spanish or French, but about 50 weeks to reach a similar level of Chinese fluency. If you want to be fully fluent, plan on spending around 4 years of learning.

The other method to determine proficiency is the HSK; China's only standardized test measuring Standard Chinese language proficiency for non-native speakers. HSK divides Chinese language proficiency into 5 levels and focusses on , reading and writing:

LevelDescriptionLearning Duration
Beginner Level 1Understands the use of simple Chinese characters and sentences2 to 3 lessons per week, for one semester
Level 2Able to usr Chinese in a simple and direct manner2 to 3 lessons per week, for two semesters
Intermediate Level 3Able to use Chinese to serve the demands of their personal lives, studies and work2 to 3 lessons per week, for three semesters
Level 4Can discuss a relatively wide range of topics in Chinese 2 to 3 lessons per week, for four semesters
Advanced Level 5Can read Chinese newspapers and magazines, watch Chinese films 2 to 3 lessons per week, for more than 2 years
Level 6Can easily understand any information communicated in Chinese

As suggested by the HSK, “two years” will be the duration you should give to yourself to achieve fluency.

At GoEast, our courses are designated with 12 levels, with each level taking 40 hours or so to finish a level on average. This means approximately 300 hours of lessons are required to reach level 8 with sufficient review and practice.

GoEast Level Progression

Learning a brand new language is not an easy task. However, we believe persistence, good spirit and good instruction can bring anyone success.