According to linguists, academics, and polyglots, Spanish is one of the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn. It's the most studied language in the United States, but most of us never get past stumbling through a conversation with a handful of vocabulary words we learned in school. If now is the time for you to really learn Spanish, how long will it take?
There's no magical number of hours or days that determine the moment you turn the corner into fluency. If you want to pick up Spanish ASAP, it will depend on a number of factors. Before you hit the books, let's take a look at the most important ones.
Factor: How "Fluent" Is Fluent?
If your goal is to become conversationally fluent, that's a very different aim than becoming fluent to native levels. Being conversationally fluent means you can understand and respond to the vast majority of what you encounter. It's safe to say that this will take you far less time than becoming native-level fluent, in which you understand and can respond to anything and everything. For your purposes, being conversationally fluent is probably enough.
According to author Tim Ferris:
To understand 95% of a language and become conversational fluent may require 3 months of applied learning; to reach the 98% threshold could require 10 years. There is a point of diminishing returns where, for most people, it makes more sense to acquire more languages (or other skills) vs. add a 1% improvement per 5 years.
Factor: How Much Time Do You Have Each Week?
The State Department's Foreign Service Institute estimates an average length of time for students to achieve proficiency. For the Spanish language, they clock 600 to 750 classroom hours, or around 24 to 30 weeks of full-time study. So all of those programs promising to teach you fluent Spanish in 10 days? They're probably over-promising.
Factor: How Much Experience Do You Have With Other Languages?
You know how some people just seem to collect languages as though it were the easiest thing in the world? That's because it's easier to learn a third language or a fourth language than to learn a second one. The person who is fluent in Italian and French will take far less time to pick up Spanish than the person who has never studied another language.
As an English speaker, you already know more Spanish words than you think; the two languages share roots and many vocabulary words. When you add another language into the mix, that broadens the vocabulary and grammatical structures with which you're already familiar.
Factor: How Are You Learning?
You're going to learn Spanish much faster if it's a necessity than if it's just a hobby. Have you just moved to a Spanish-speaking country where you're surrounded by Spanish 24 hours a day? You have no other choice but to learn as fast as you can.
If you're just watching the occasional YouTube video and embarking on a course of self-study, that sense of urgency won't be there, and it will be significantly harder to pass the fluency barrier. A nice happy medium is the in-person Spanish class, where a native-speaking teacher can quickly correct your mistakes and answer your questions, and your peers can serve as conversational partners.
Factor: Why Are You Learning?
Your motivation is key. Studies have proved time and time again that your reasons for learning will drive your pace. We've found at Fluent City that those learning on behalf of loved ones, jobs, or long-term life goals are more likely to stick with a language until they're fluent.
Also, if you're motivated, you're that much less likely to give up when the going gets tough. At first it can be exhilarating to learn new vocabulary words and practice new conversation starters. But when you're deep in the weeds of grammatical frameworks, strong motivation will help you stay the course. Remind yourself why you're learning Spanish whenever you feel like giving up.
3 Quick Tips to Speed Up Your Learning
1. Learn In Many Mediums
An in-person Spanish class is great, but you can also find Spanish-speaking media in almost any form. From personalized online lessons to comics to podcasts to games to magazines, turn your commutes and your downtime into learning opportunities.
2. Carry Your Flashcards Wherever You Go
Yes they're analogue, and using flashcards to learn a language is the oldest trick in the book. But if you make cards that are small enough to carry with you, you can take them out whenever you have a spare few moments. First one to the restaurant? Standing in a particularly long check-out line? These are great opportunities to test your knowledge.
3. Connect Spanish To Your Real Life
Change the settings on your phone to Spanish, and put post-its around your kitchen that label your implements in Spanish. If you can absorb the language as you're going about your daily routine, you'll find that it sticks with you quite naturally.