From the Foreign Language Training website, we find e.g.:

The following language learning timelines reflect 70 years of experience in teaching languages to U.S. diplomats, and illustrate the time usually required for a student to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in the language, ...

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Foreign Language Training, Foreign Services Institute

What's confusing me is the notion of "class hours" above. E.g., I currently have 2 hours of class each week, and maybe 20-ish hours of self-study per week. Indeed, (for me at least) class hours are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to study.

Question: When the Foreign Services Institute says "X class hours" are required, how many hours of self-study are assumed?

(I saw this question and, in particular, Tsundoku's answer which doesn't clarify this particular point.)


2 Answers 2


The student of Spanish at the FSI gives their estimate of additional self-study:

Hi folks. I recently finished a 24 week Spanish course at FSI, the Foreign Service Institute. I spent about 1,300 hours in class / studying spanish over the last 24 weeks ...

Day to day, FSI expects you to spend 4-5 hours in class and 3-4 hours self studying. In practice it's really more like 3-6 hours self study after class each day with another 3-10 hours on the weekend.
u/S_Branner, 24 Wks, 1,300 hrs, of Spanish at FSI: What I've learned, Reddit r/Spanish, 18 August 2022.

So they've taken the FSI estimate of 600-750 for the 24-week course, and nearly doubled it to get 1300 total study hours.

So it's probably in the right ballpark to say "X class hours" implies approximately an additional "X self-study hours".


Indeed, FSI estimates need to be taken with caveats. Here are a few ones:

  • Intensity of learning: the estimates are made for people who study language for professional purposes, like US diplomats, translators etc. In this setting they are usually exclusively focused on studying language, e.g., by having 5-6 class hours a day and revising/practicing/doing homework the rest of the time. This is rather different from having a 2-hour class once or twice a week and being focused on something else in between.
  • Experience of learners: these are often people who already know foreign languages - that is they know what study techniques work for them, what they need to focus on, how different a foreign language grammar and pronunciation can be, etc. In other words, they do not struggle with many issues that a first-time (or even second-time) language learner struggles with.
  • Professional working proficiency - this roughly corresponds to level B1 in Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. This is when you master all the essential pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, and feel comfortable using them... however, it may be still a long shot from being really comfortable with the language, using it in an intelligent conversation outside of professional field, reading a classical work of literature in this language, etc. However, at this point the following progress depends mainly on you, and not on the quantity of the additional class hours. The focus of the learning switches from memorization and exercising to using the language.

Two further remarks:

  • I hope what I wrote above does not discourage new language learners. Learning language is a hard task, taking more than the projection by the FSI, and it may seem intimidating... some people do achieve better success while being unaware of the size of the task they are taking on. I am however of opinion that knowing the difficulty is better, because it allows to eat elephant one bit at a time.
  • The system of Ulpanim in Israel is a rather successful implementation of intensive learning on a massive scale, created in response to massive immigration. The learners typically engage for 5 months (400-450 hours) of intensive study and acquire working proficiency in Modern Hebrew by the end of the course.

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