How Long Does It Take To Learn C? The Answer: It Really Depends

So, how long does it take to learn C? That’s a difficult question to answer. How long it takes to learn C depends greatly on your prior programming experience, learning methods, hours spent coding, and your own cognitive abilities. There are also many stages of learning C that take longer than others.

In this article, we are going to break down exactly how long it takes to learn C in each phase.

An important thing to note is that these are just general guidelines. The more you practice, the faster you will learn. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you longer. C is a challenging programming language to learn and even more challenging to master. Just keep practicing and eventually, you will be a C programming whiz kid.

Let’s dive.

The Basic Syntax: A Few Days – 1 Week

If you’re just starting out with the C languages, the first thing you will need to learn is the basic syntax. So how long does it take to learn the basic syntax of C? I think it’s safe to say you can learn this within the first few days to a week of picking up the language.

The syntax for C is actually pretty simplistic. It’s the easier part of picking up the language. When people say C is difficult to learn, they are usually referring to getting familiar with the tools the language provides and what most modern languages abstract away.

Understanding how variables, conditionals, loops, and functions work in C shouldn’t be too challenging. Especially if you have coded in another language before.

It’s for this reason that many universities will actually begin teaching programming in C. You don’t get distracted by more complicated topics like object-oriented programming and understand how code works from a lower level. This is how I started learning to code and glad I did.

Know Most C Syntax By Memory: 2 Months – 1 Year

Once you have been coding in C for a while, you should start to feel it become more of a natural extension of your knowledge. Within about 2 months to a year of your learning process, you should now be able to read C code without too much googling and get at least a basic sense of what the program is doing just by reading the code.

You should also be able to write C code and know what to google when you forget the syntax.

C is actually a pretty small language, there are only 32 keywords, and the C Programming Language: 2nd Edition is only ~190 pages excluding appendixes which should show you just how small this language truly is.

For that reason, you should really be able to learn the language well enough to start making useful programmings and understand the syntax within 2 – 12 months.

Know Good Conventions and Be Employable: 2-5 Years

This is where things get a bit more tricky. Just because you can write C code, that doesn’t make you an employable C programmer. There is a big difference between writing C code and writing good C code.

Having a deep understanding of the C language, knowing how to structure projects, understanding pointers, data structures, etc. are all the bare minimum to be an employable engineer using the C programming language.

In order to learn all that, it will take you at least a few years and a few projects under your belt. The good news is, if you can make it this far, you’ve surpassed the most difficult part of your journey and you’ll start improving much faster as a programmer.

As a self-taught developer, let me tell you that you do see exponential growth in your abilities, so don’t give up! It does get easier.

Master The Language: 10 Years – Lifetime

As with anything difficult and worth learning, mastery can take a lifetime. C is no exception to this. It is a complex and flexible language and something new can always be learned.

The way C is written can also change from situation to situation. Since the language depends on the hardware and implementation being used, the way C is written can change with it. While the C standards attempt to limit these cases, that does not mean they don’t exist.

In addition, the sheer amount of applications that can be built and libraries available also add additional complexities to achieving mastery.

With so many different applications to C programming, from creating web browsers and HTTP servers, to building video games and emulators, it’s impossible to know everything about C. That is why the language can take a lifetime to master.

How To Learn The C Programming Language Faster

Alright, so if I didn’t scare you away with that “lifetime to mastery” bit, here are a few words of advice if you want to learn C faster.

First, you should be doing the things I mention below daily. Instilling good habits is the most important part of learning anything, especially programming. Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day. So get into the habit of writing code daily.

Now, I am a strong advocate of learning by doing. However, you should have a basic foundation of the C language before you really dive into any complicated projects.

I suggest you readC Programming Language: 2nd Edition. It is co-written by Dennis Ritchie, the creator of the C language. So it doesn’t get much more legit than that.

I also recommend checking out the C programming HackerRank problems. They are challenging but get more difficult incrementally. Allowing you to work on easier problems first and work your way up. You can check out my HackerRank review here.

In addition to this, I recommend you study computer architecture. Topics such as registers, conditional branching, memory, and assembly are all important topics to understanding the role C plays in low-level programming.

After this, you should start building projects in C. Start with basic projects and work your way up to more difficult ones as you go.

There is a really great list of C projects you can check out from this repo. The topics range from computer architecture, networking, game development, operating systems, and programming languages. I highly suggest checking it out for some cool projects.

Summary

So, how long does it take to learn C? That question depends on how well you want to learn C. It can take anywhere from a few days to an entire lifetime.

C is a fairly simple language to learn but a difficult one to master. The idea of “knowing C” is subjective and there is a large range in technical abilities depending on how deeply someone understands the language and its environment.

You can learn the C programming language much quicker by instilling good habits and practicing C programming daily, reading about how the language works, and building projects with C.

That’s pretty much it! If you are a new programmer and want to know what language is best for studying data structures and algorithms, start here.

Happy coding!