The world of language learning is a wild jungle sometimes. A quick Google search for Spanish courses will show you a plethora of different programs and “patented methods.” But before you can decide how much to pay for a monthly subscription, you need an estimated timeline. So how long does it take to learn Spanish, really?
Some of the advertised promises are clearly exaggerated: no, no podcast will make you fluent in 7 days. If you ask your local college instead, you will get an estimate in the years that may make you feel like you shouldn’t even bother.
As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle
Learning a Language Fast is Possible…
But that will depend on your definition of fast. If you're an English speaker, Spanish is a relatively easy language to learn: the U.S. Foreign Service Institute puts Spanish in its “easiest” category.
Nevertheless, a new language is never something you can pick up over the weekend. If you are serious about learning Spanish, steer clear of anything that offers results in a few weeks. Figuring out how to learn Spanish fast should be measured in months.
So How Long Does it Take to Learn Spanish?
The long and the short of it: it depends. The time it takes to learn Spanish will vary according to several factors, and only some of those have to do with the method you choose.
All the estimated we provide below are just that: estimates. Not all of us learn the same way or with the same ease. Even if you are very motivated and highly disciplined, life may not allow you to devote 4 hours a day. Conversely, if you grew up in a bilingual household or already know a second (or third) language, you may be able to shave off a couple of months from any average.
It depends on your goals
When people talk about learning a new language, they usually mean either one of two things:
First, conversational fluency, which is the kind that lets you talk comfortably to others about general topics. Someone who is conversationally fluent can chit-chat and make new friends in their target language easily, speak without much of an accent, and navigate a foreign city without help. However, you may need to ask a very fast (or drunk) speaker to slow down, and you may miss the occasional reference
However, the most ambitious among us want to have native-like fluency. This happens when you master a language so thoroughly that even locals have a hard time realizing you are not a native speaker.
For reference, we are going to borrow the European Common Framework for language learning:
Conversational fluency happens around the first half of the B2 square. Native-like fluency is all the way at the bottom of C2. The flashy “fluent in 6 weeks” methods often take you to the start of B1, at most.
And how hard is it to learn Spanish? Conversational fluency usually encompasses 80% of a language, but it can be achieved in a year or less. Native-like fluency can take 5 years or more – and many people still keep hints of their native accent no matter what.
But do you really need native-like fluency? Chances are that you don’t. Most Ph.D. programs request their international students to certify fluency only up to C1. Unless you are planning to work as a translator or language teacher, you can comfortably live in a country with just a B2 level – just run all your work e-mails through spell-check.
It depends on your study method
Some methods are indeed more efficient than others (read more about that here!).
Most traditional, in-person language schools usually aim for at least three years to take you from complete beginner to conversationally fluent. However, this timeline assumes that you are going to have classes once or twice a week, and spend about the same amount of time studying on your own.
Of course, spending one hour in class doesn't equal one hour of actual practice: you’ll be sharing your teacher’s attention with 20 other students, and wasting time staring through the window or waiting for your classmates to complete their exercises.
This is why programs that involve daily private coaching sessions can offer the same results in as little as 5 or 6 months. The same principle applies for that expensive immersion course that will whisk you away to a South American beach resort. But of course those options are usually extremely expensive and not many people can afford them.
It depends on how much time you consistently devote to it
So let’s say you are trying to save some money, and you hire the private coach for 2 hours a week. If that is all your study time, you’ll still have to devote a few years to the task. The same thing happens if you just do a few “fill in the blanks” exercises on your phone for 10 minutes a day.
On the other end of that spectrum, you could drop everything for that immersion course, become close to conversational in a month, and forget it all within 2 months.
This is why we stress the consistent part of “consistently devote time”. Language is a like a muscle: if you abandon your training, your gains will melt away. This is one of the principles behind spaced repetition techniques, which are now used to learn everything:
According to a study published by the BBC, the sweet spot lies at between an hour to two hours per day, every day, of active practice. This will let you reach your goal in about 10 months.
What Can You Do To Learn Spanish Fast (or Faster?)
Essentially, you want a method that:
- Is based on contemporary linguistic research, rather than old school dictionaries
- Exercises your verbal and written comprehension at the same time
- Allows you to practice for 1 hour a day, without competing for your teacher’s attention
- Keeps you motivated and interested on the next lesson
- Shows you how real people speak, joke around, and quarrel with each other
So if you already paid that tuition or enlisted a coach once a week, protect your investment with Lingopie. Our TV series and movies in Spanish will be exercising all those linguistic muscles without it feeling like a chore. You will also get to see how regular people in South America talk, learn our cultural references, and understand our sense of humor.