In Europe, we use the CEFR - Common European Framework of Reference for Languages - to evaluate a learner's language level and it looks like the below:
Image source: https://eltbuzz.com/resource/cefr/
Let's go through each of the levels.
A1 - Beginner
This is the baby of the family. You are just discovering the language, the ABC, doing some weird sounds
with you mouth, trying to get up and stand on your own but keep falling back down on your butt... But you get back up and start to make a few steps with your teacher holding your hands. At the end of the level, you can walk on your own but will eventually fall again at some point. This is what it feels like to go through this level - everything is new, bright and shiny and it revolves around you.
The themes, vocabulary, grammar points are learned so that you can speak about yourself and yourself only: your identity, your job, your family, your likes and dislikes, etc. This first level is not too difficult and helps you with the basic principles of the language. A lot of people stop after this level thinking that they just need this very basic knowledge but I am afraid that you will not be able to communicate much at this stage.
It takes roughly 80 hours of study to complete this level.
A2 - Elementary
You are now a primary school child. You enjoy going to school even though homework is a but tough sometimes but you have a few friends and have fun with them. You are not independent yet but you can do a few things without the help of your parents: you can have breakfast, take a shower, get ready in the morning... That's the A2 level. Don't forget that growing up is tough so you still have a lot to learn and it gets harder but everything you learn is a chance to become more independent so you are overall enjoying it.
This level walks you through more habitual life events, you can have a conversation with someone if they help you understand things and speak slowly with a basic vocabulary but you can talk about something else than just yourself: describe what you need, explain your thoughts and your likes / dislikes, exchange ideas.
It takes roughly 100 hours to complete this level.
B1 - Intermediate
So this is a tricky one... let's call it the teenage years! And it is very much like when you are a teenager: you
think you know enough, if not everything, you want to be more independent but you can't handle tough situations, you want to have conversations with your friends but you get annoyed when they correct your grammar...
For me, the B1 level is the most difficult because it is a "threshold" level: you will learn a lot, grammar points will be more in depth and vocabulary starts to be more specialised. You will still talk about things close to you (work, friends, family) but you can talk about the intrigue of a film or book, why you liked it or not etc.
It takes roughly 160 hours to complete this level.
B2 - Upper Intermediate
You are finally a young adult - you are full of energy and ideas although you are still trying to figure yourself out. You are spontaneous and curious about everything, ready to fill your head with amazing memories and make new friends. But, that's also when you start to work, plan your life and we know that it doesn't always go as planned... Which is fine because, at that stage, you have back up plans if you really struggle.
The B2 level is a long one but it's not necessarily the most difficult one because the grammar points will be reviewed, vocabulary will be specific but you will know the basic ones by now and although you will see a lot of new things the basics should come naturally to your mind. Having a B2 level is all about spontaneity and being able to handle a natural conversation, defending your opinions and debating with people in French.
It takes roughly 230 hours to complete this level.
C1 - Advanced
You are a middle-aged person: you know enough to get by on an everyday basis, even when coming across
specialised subjects. You know what you want in life and are already well established in life with a proper job, a lovely family and old times friends. This is more or less what it it to speak French at this advanced level - you've unlocked a life achievement.
You can debate in French, talk about various subjects such as economics, politics, social, environment and world wide issues. You understand almost everything you hear or watch on TV or the medias and you can express yourself without having to think too much about it.
It takes roughly 280 hours to complete this level.
C2 - Proficiency
Sweet., sweet retirement... You have worked hard for years and years, your back hurts, your teeth start falli
ng, your nostrils and nose have more hair than the top of your head... but you've made it! And now it's time to relax a bit but don't forget to keep active!
You can speak French like a native, even better than most native actually. You are fluent, know exactly how and what you want to say and feel confident with both general and specific subjects. You can even *gasp* joke in French and you know french colloquial expressions.
There is no specific time to "complete" this level as it is never really complete. It's mostly a matter of not losing the language. Use it or loose it!
So, here's your whole life as a French student! Of course, everyone goes at their own pace and there is no "right" timing when learning a language but this gives you a pretty good idea of what you can expect when learning a foreign language from the start.