E-mail logo.  info@mandarintutor.com Login | Register

How many lessons do I need to take until I become fluent in Chinese?

We often get asked this question by customers. However, everybody has a different definition of "fluency." In addition, everybody comes from a different language background and some language backgrounds are more beneficial for learning Chinese (ie. a background in Japanese or Korean would give you an advantage). Some people also pick up new languages faster than others. Finally, if you can find opportunities to practice Chinese in between your lessons, it will also speed up your learning process. Please note that since the majority of our customers want to learn Mandarin, we will answer this question for Mandarin first, and at the very end, we will address those customers that are interested in learning Cantonese.

Everybody has a different definition of "fluency"

First of all, everybody has a different definition of "fluency." For some people, "fluency" may mean you speak as well as a native speaker. For other people, "fluency" means you can have a basic, general conversation in a language, where you can express yourself on numerous topics, but you are far from being a native speaker. Since everybody has a different definition of "fluency," we will present to you all the factors that could affect your pace of learning Chinese and then we will answer this question of how long it takes a complete beginner to learn Chinese.

Your native language background

The first thing that can affect how fast you learn Chinese is the language you speak natively (ie. your first language). In general, if you already speak and read a language similar to Chinese, such as Japanese or Korean, you have an advantage when learning Chinese. Unfortunately, compared to Japanese and Korean, English is not a language that is similar to Chinese. If English is your native language, please note that according to the Foreign Service Institute of the United States, Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers: Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers. Having said that, many people who speak English natively also manage to become a native speaker in Chinese. Specifically for Mandarin, because Mandarin has a Pinyin system, it's easier for English speakers to pick up Mandarin today than before the Pinyin system was created.

How fast do you pick up a new language

Some people pick up new languages faster than others. If you are a linguist, then you probably have a penchant for picking up a new language faster compared to the average person. However, we will assume you have an average ability to pick up a new language when we answer the question of how long it will take you to learn Chinese.

Practicing Chinese in between your lessons

Each customer also spends a different amount of time in between lessons practicing Chinese. Some customers don't spend any time practicing Chinese in between lessons. Some customers will spend time practicing Chinese with the material the tutor gave them in between lessons. Some customers will also listen to podcasts or watch other Chinese videos. Other customers may even have friends or family members that are Chinese and practice their Chinese with them between lessons. We also have some customers that live in China or Taiwan and those customers are exposed to a Chinese environment all the time. In general, if you spend your time in between lessons practicing Chinese, you will pick up Chinese faster.

Our answer if you are a complete beginner to Mandarin

A regular lesson with our tutor is 50 minutes long. If you are a total beginner (you have never learned Mandarin before), and you want to have a basic conversation in Mandarin such that you can ask for directions, order food at a restaurant, purchase stuff at the grocery store, etc., and that you can make your way around China and Taiwan and have a basic conversation with the people there, you probably need to take three lessons a week for 6 months to a year (so around 80 to 155 lessons). If you want to go beyond a basic conversation to a normal conversation with friends and discuss a wide variety of subjects, you're probably looking at several years of study, at an average of 3 lessons per week (you are still not a native speaker at this level).

This assumes you are an average learner, you don't spend any extra time in between classes to learn Mandarin, and that your native language is English. Having said that, if you learn a new language faster than normal, if you spend extra time to study between lessons, and if you already speak/read a language similar to Mandarin such as Cantonese, Japanese, or Korean, you can pick up Mandarin even faster. If you want to become a native speaker in Mandarin, then it will take many years of study and eventually, you will probably have to live in China or Taiwan to achieve the level of a native speaker.

Our answer for people wanting to learn Cantonese

Almost everything we wrote above also applies to Cantonese, except that Cantonese is harder to learn than Mandarin for native English speakers. Cantonese has 6 tones whereas Mandarin has 4 tones so this makes Cantonese more difficult. If you are a native English speaker, you will probably have to spend a little more time to master Cantonese as opposed to mastering Mandarin.

↩ Back to Resources page