If you start studying Spanish language at beginner level, how long will it take for you to become fluent? Well, it’s hard to give an exact timeframe, but you can work out an approximate answer for yourself by using the checklist below. The factors you’ll need to consider are:
1. How difficult is Spanish compared to other languages?
2. How often do you study?
3. How well do you study?
4. How motivated are you?
5. How much immersion learning are you engaging in?
Let’s consider each of these points quickly:
How difficult is Spanish compared to other languages?
Languages are placed in difficulty categories, which vary from country to country, depending on your native language and how similar it is to the new language. Generally speaking, for those who speak English as their mother tongue, languages with a completely different alphabet and sounds to theirs usually represent the biggest challenge – like Chinese, Japanese or Arabic.
Languages like Russian, with its Cyrillic alphabet, and German with its highly complex grammatical system, land somewhere in the middle of the difficulty scale.
The good news? Spanish is classed as one of the easiest languages in the world to learn, alongside French and Italian.
How often do you study?
Consistency and how close together your study periods are, is key here. It is one thing attending 10 Spanish lessons over 10 weeks and not practicing between those lessons, and another taking the same 10 Spanish lessons over one week, with revision in the evenings. If your study periods are closer together, the intensity of your learning changes dramatically, and so does the speed and effectiveness. If you want to become fluent quickly, you must practice the language every day, consistently.
How well do you study?
It’s a good idea to organise your studies, or follow a structured course, to get the most out of your Spanish learning. Becoming fluent in Spanish means that you need to address all four aspects of the language – speaking, listening, reading and writing.
Additionally, you should get in plenty of conversation practice, read in Spanish, do writing exercises, surround yourself with some Spanish language every day and have at least an understanding of grammar. Also, being disciplined and working on areas that you are not very good at will also help.
Unless you’re highly organised, most people prefer to take this type of a structured course to raise the quality of their learning time. Take your time and choose carefully – there are many different approaches to language learning and many online courses give you an opportunity to try before you buy.
How motivated are you to learn a new language?
Many people believe there are those who are “talented” at languages, or that children learn languages quickly, but older students simply cannot pick up a new language past a certain age. Scientific studies have proven again and again, however, that the real influencer is motivation. If you really want to learn a new language, there’s nothing to stop you. Remember, fluency does not necessarily equate to being completely bilingual. Instead, it simply means that you can have a conversation, speak in sentences, and understand what’s said to you in reply. Once you get to this stage, which could be around B2 of the European Framework, language learning tends to become much easier anyway.
How much immersion learning are you engaging in?
To really and truly be fluent, you need to spend time surrounded by native Spanish speakers. Spanish flatmates, an online exchange buddy or watching Spanish TV every day will take you a long way. But studying in Spain for at least a few weeks, or maybe even a few month or longer, is ideal.
The effectiveness of immersion is very evident in the students who take popular university “language sandwich courses”, where they spend one year of their studies abroad. Inevitably, those students who have spent a year in Spain, speak better Spanish than those who have spent four years taking lessons back home. It’s simply a question of surrounding yourself with the language every day.
Facts and figures: how long to fluency?
As an estimate, if you are maximizing all of the above factors, you can learn to speak Spanish fluently in 4 months to 3 years. It’s worth pointing out here, that to speak Spanish fluently in 4 months, you’d definitely need to travel to a Spanish speaking country and surround yourself only with the Spanish language, and additionally take daily Spanish lessons while your there – thus engaging in both active/structured and passive/immersion learning.
Taking the slower route, but keeping a consistent rhythm with your classes back home, could have you speaking fluently in 2-3 years, less if you spend at least a couple of weeks in Spain.
We’ll leave you with some useful tips to help you maximise your learning!
1. If you can spend time in Spain, do it!
2. Go to classes as often as you can. Daily is best.
3. Get a language exchange partner. In person is great, and online works too.
4. Listen to Spanish every day – radio, podcasts or even music.
5. Watch Spanish films – even films with subtitles can increase your understanding.
6. Keep translating simple words and phrases in your head, and keep a pocket dictionary on you all the time.
7. Remember why you are motivated, then keep reminding yourself. Put a post it note on your fridge door,
8. bathroom mirror or office computer to remind yourself why you want to learn Spanish fluently!