How Long Does It Take To Learn Spanish?
Spanish is in the top 7-most spoken languages in the world. Millions of people speak Spanish as their native language, and even more, have it as a second or third language.
The ability to speak Spanish will open up countless job opportunities as well as a set of cultural experiences you couldn't get without it.
If you are interested in adding your name to the list of people who can speak Spanish, you probably have several questions.
- How are you going to do it?
- Where do you begin?
- And how long is it going to take you to learn?
Before we can answer this, we need to delve deeper into the learning process first. If you don't care about that, the answers to the hourly requirements are below
In this article, hopefully, you will find at least a few of those answers to start you on your language acquisition journey.
How Long To Learn Spanish?
People across the country and across the globe are starting to pursue bilingual abilities, especially in regards to learning Spanish.
Schools are offering special diplomas to kids who are biliterate, and countless jobs open up for people with these skills because they can interact with a broader set of people.
Learning Spanish is such a beneficial skill for people to have, and the benefit will only increase with time as the percentage of native Spanish speakers increase.
Despite the benefits, many people turn away from learning a new language due to a range of concerns.
One of the primary reasons people decide not to learn another language, such as Spanish, is a significant concern about the time commitment it would take.
In the modern era, most people do not have countless hours to spend learning Spanish or any other language and therefore decide not to try.
If this is your concern, the good news is, the time commitment is not as significant as most would think. Unfortunately, this means that you no longer have an excuse not to learn Spanish.
Shortcut to practical Spanish vocabulary: the Spanish Frequency Dictionaries focus only on the most common Spanish words.
Average Time to Learn Spanish
It is vital to keep in mind that the time it takes to learn any language is heavily influenced by several factors and the kind of fluency that you are trying to gain.
In order to figure an accurate estimate of how long it will take you to learn a language, it is essential to consider the following factors.
Is It Your First New Language?
If you are trying to learn Spanish as a third, fourth, or even fifth or sixth language, it is going to take less time for every previous language you have acquired, especially if those languages were also romance languages.
The Romance languages are Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian, the languages based out of the Western Roman Empire, as opposed to languages such as English, which is a Germanic language.
All Romance Languages have similar grammatical structures and lots of cognates (words that look/sound the same in multiple languages with the same definition,) so once you learn one, it is significantly easier to learn a second!
What Kind of Fluency Are You Working Towards?
When considering learning a language, keep in mind that there are multiple types of fluency you could be working towards.
The first is conversational fluency
This kind of fluency means that you can successfully have a conversation with another person in said language, in this case, Spanish.
This kind of fluency is going to take a lot less time because you can focus on your core vocab and grammatical structures, while still giving yourself some wiggle room for slight mispronunciations or small grammatical errors.
The second is native(like) fluency
This is the kind of fluency a native speaker has, but can be attained through lots of practice and work.
To obtain this kind of fluency, you would need to know ninety-nine percent of the words, understand their grammatic structure completely, and leaves little space for mispronunciation.
While you may be able to reach conversation fluency within a year or less, native fluency can take years and possibly intense studying and language immersion to reach. '
This is a great goal to have, but you may want to start with the short term goal of conversational fluency.
Once you reach that, if you still want to, go ahead and try to achieve native fluency. It is a great thing to have once you get there!
But to quote the best selling author, polyglot and general life hacker Tim Ferris:
"To understand 95% of a language and become conversationally fluent, may require 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." – Tim Ferris
What Method Are You Using?
The kind of method you use to study a language can also influence greatly the time it takes to learn a language. There are many ways to learn a language, but in this article, we are going to talk about three of the main options:
- typical school style
- core word focused
Language immersion is a type of learning where you surround yourself in a language and only allow yourself to communicate in this language.
For Spanish, this could be going to a particular school where they only speak in Spanish or going to Spain and only allowing yourself to talk in Spanish.
If you go to a place, such as Spain, to do language immersion, it only works if you do not allow yourself to speak English. While some people there may be able to understand you, it won't help you learn.
This is one of the most effective and quickest ways to pick up on a language because it is a necessity to do so.
You may even be able to reach native fluency before too long.
Unfortunately, not everyone can pick up their lives and move to a Spanish speaking country.
Classic school style
Another option to learn Spanish would be to do it in a typical school style. You can do this by taking college classes or, depending on your age, you can do so by taking courses at your high school.
This method takes a long time even to reach the most basic level of conversational fluency. In these classes, you sometimes learn how to ask for a hairdryer before you can ask where the nearest hospital is.
Though it can be helpful to have a teacher to work with you to learn a language, this alone will not usually help you if you are really serious about becoming fluent in Spanish.
Core word focused learning
A third method is an excellent option if you are looking to gain conversation fluency rapidly. Because everyday language is primarily formed by the same 2500 words, you can focus on those core words to learn Spanish.
Once you learn those words, you can understand about 95% of a conversation, and will probably be able to use context to fill in the rest.
This is an excellent method to start with to quickly get a basis of understanding in Spanish or any other language. If you care little about perfecting grammar and just want to be able to communicate rapidly, this is the method for you.
How Many Hours Does It Take to Learn Spanish?
It is said that the average amount of hours it takes to learn a language to conversational fluency is 250-350 hours. This is about an hour a day for eight to twelve months. Of course, this time can vary for all the factors discussed and more, but that many hours is very doable for everyone.
What language teaching institutes say about how long it takes to learn languages
Here are the official numbers by the CEFR: They're not all applicable to Spanish, but they give an excellent overview if you take the averages.
Deutsche Welle suggests that for learning German it takes:
- A1 = 75 hours
- A2.1 = 150 hours,
- A2.2 = 225 hours,
- B1.1 = 300 hours,
- B1.2 = 400 hours.
Cambridge English Language Assessment said that you reach level with the following guided learning hours:
- A2 = 180–200
- B1 = 350–400
- B2 = 500–600;
- C1 = 700–800
- C2 = 1,000–1,200
Alliance Française has stated that students can expect to reach the following CEFR levels after these cumulative hours of instruction:
- A1 = 60–100,
- A2 = 160–200
- B1 = 360–400
- B2 = 560–650
- C1 = 810–950
- C2 = 1060–1200
What language learners have to say about how long it takes to learn a language
Here is another discussion on Reddit specifically on learning Spanish, with some user feedback: The posts have been edited for clarity.
600-1000 for proficiency, 3000 hours for native-like language skills.
I can't find the resource now, but in my Teaching ESL class, there was a website we went to that showed us how long it takes for English speakers (and vice versa) to learn individual languages. But English to Spanish is, apparently, one of the easiest with only 600-1000 hours of study and exposure for marked proficiency. Though, for fluency like a native speaker, I'd imagine 3,000 hours to be sufficient. However, everyone learns differently, and certain exposures work better for some than others.
Fluency in 3000 hours seems attainable
Hmmm. Well, learning Spanish is tough, that's for sure! But 3,000 hours would be me quitting my job and practicing 8 hours per day, five days per week, for a year and a half. After that, I'd sure hope to be fluent!
250 hours for A1-A2 level, 750 hours for conversational fluency
I guess that I have put in about 250 hours so far. I can hold a conversation reasonably easily with someone sympathetic, e.g., who is willing to speak slowly and not use "big words." I'm very far from fluent, though. If I tripled the number of hours I put in, I'd expect to be pretty close.
600 hours for conversational fluency – watch out for diminishing returns
As one gets better in a foreign language, diminishing returns become evident. 600 hours or so will get you quite far. The progress up to that point will be clear as day. In the European framework, you'll likely be at a B2 level. You will have a decent and useful grasp of the language. Beyond that, however, you reach a plateau. At this point, most people give up and content themselves with the level of fluency they've achieved. If your goal is real, native-like fluency, total comprehension, etc., it's a long, long road. But most of that time, it's likely you're just trying to get past B2 and C1 level.
The above numbers are likely correct.
That sounds about right to me. The Cervantes Institute suggests that about 1,000 hours of effective instruction gets you to their C1 level ("Effective Operational Proficiency"). I would guess that is the minimum proficiency one would need to work in a professional Spanish-speaking job.
The devil's advocate
Just for the purpose of argument, we could expect that 3,000 hours of "practice and exposure," according to Vaughn, is similar to 1,500-2,000 hours of focused application. With that, most would be between the C1 and C2 categories. That puts one indeed in the "confident speaker" range, as Vaughan advises. I'm probably at 600 hours of exposure. Though I can communicate and get by, I am not near the "competent speaker" world.
You have the time to learn Spanish, and the methods, so why not get started today?