How Long Does it Take to Learn Spanish | What’s a Realistic Timeline

Learning a new language is mostly about consistency including if you are attempting to learn Spanish.

It can seem daunting at first to learn a whole new language and open up the possibility of conversing with millions of new people, but it’s essential to take small steps on your foreign language journey. Sooner or later, everybody reaches a point of frustration where they feel that their progress has stalled.

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How Long Does it Take to Learn SpanishChances are, if you’re learning a new language or any new skill, you’ll inevitably ask yourself, ”how long will it take before I master it?”

While this is understandable, it’s also a tough question to answer. As unglamorous as it is, the truthful response to this is simple – it will take as long as it takes.

The speed at which you learn Spanish is dependent mainly on your mindset and attitude to learning. Suppose you’re a proactive learner who is adept at setting goals and maintaining schedules. In that case, you can expect to master Spanish within 600 hours of study time (168 hours of conversational learning), according to the CEFR. 

Related: How long does it take to learn a language

That’s a daunting thought for beginners. Six hundred hours is 25-full days. Of course, nobody is going to be learning Spanish 24/7 for a month. That’s a totally unrealistic and overwhelming expectation for beginners.

Obviously, people have other commitments in life, and nobody can dedicate each waking hour to learning Spanish. Six-hundred hours may be the official figure on paper, factoring in others’ obligations makes the process considerably longer. 

Furthermore, whilst 168 hours of speaking time are the CEFR’s guidelines, they also maintain that one should be immersed in Spanish for around 340 hours on top of that. Seems like a lot, right?

The trick here is to break down the studying process into smaller, more manageable chunks. If an hour each day is all you have, aim to maximize that hour in the best possible way with a productive, intense Spanish lesson. You’ll still make brilliant progress, just at a slower rate. 

Related: How to learn Spanish by yourself in 13 simple steps

There are some folk out there who advocate ‘the 5 minute daily lessons’ approach to learning Spanish. Although this makes for great marketing, it’s mostly ineffective. 

Five minutes is not nearly enough time to construct a worthwhile lesson. You’ll have to dedicate more time than that if you’re serious about Spanish. 

There is, however, a possibility of burnout if your lessons for too long. Studies have shown that a person only has around 3-5 hours of serious, productive work in them, aiming to study for approximately 60-90 minutes each day or weekday. 

This will give you the most ‘bang for your buck‘ in learning Spanish. You’ll have plenty of time to learn new challenges, and you won’t risk overworking yourself and potentially getting frustrated at the process. 

If you follow that path, you can master Spanish in just under a year. Although that may seem like a long time, it’s perfectly manageable if you take it day by day. 

Latin American or Castilian

One thing about learning Spanish is deciding what type and dialect of Spanish are worth your time. Irrespective of the which you choose, Spanish is on the whole very similar, whether you are in Europe or the Americas, but there are some definite differences, let’s talk about some of them below:

Spain and Mexico

Spanish from Spain (Castilian) is the more traditional of the two. It typically has variations in pronunciation as well as some grammatical differences. Some specifics can be found below:

Related: How Is Spanish In Spain Different From Spanish In Latin America

  • Pronunciation: The difference in Spain between the pronunciation of “TH” and “S,” especially when there is a “C” followed by an “I” or “E whereas Latin Spanish doesn’t always make these distinctions.”
  • Automotive context: In Spain, a car is nearly always referred to as a coche. However, in Latin America, depending on location, the preferred term is usually carro or auto/automóvilGenerally, auto is used mostly in countries like Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, while most of the countries located further north will use carro.
  • Differences in slang, etc.: Guay in Spain could be Chido in Mexico to mean cool or Groovy. The dialect differs a lot between the 2 Spanish types.
  • Differences in accent between regions: e.g., Gratias vs. Grasias for thank you.

As an American, this decision is a key one to make. It can make more sense to learn Latin Spanish due to the proximity of central and south America. On the other hand, if you plan on a trip to Europe (Post Covid-19), then traditional Spanish may be a better option for you. The choice is yours. 

What Does it Mean to be Fluent?

a chalkboard with the question hablas espanol? do you speak Spanish? written in Spanish, a pot with pencils and the flag of Spain, on a wooden desk

This is where the question ”how long does it take to learn Spanish?” gets difficult 

What one person considers ‘fluent’ may vastly differ for someone else. 

This is all due to personal goals. If you’re looking to engage in brief, formal conversation with natives on holiday, then achieving fluency may mean being able to ask basic questions and engage in brief pleasantries. 

However, if you’re planning on spending months in a Spanish-speaking country due to recreation or business, then ‘fluency’ will mean holding long, detailed conversations about relevant topics and matters. You’ll need to learn more technical language and phrases and sayings that are unique to that area. 

This is why it’s so hard to put a time-frame on achieving fluency. It all depends on your definition of the word, and the context of your learning is. True fluent speakers are able to express their views and opinions on some issues and bring their personality to the language. 

Related: Top 6 Tips to Become Bilingual

There’s a difference between merely knowing conversational words and knowing which words to use in a conversation to illustrate your thoughts and feelings best. Words don’t dictate true fluent speakers, they use their words to dictate the conversation. 

Of course, reaching this level of mastery when attempting to learn Spanish takes considerably longer than learning the language on a superficial level. You’ll need a lot of immersion in the language and will have to be surrounded by it on a daily basis to reach a level on-par with native speakers truly. 

Ask yourself why you’re attempting to learn Spanish. Figure out if you need to learn the language on a surface-level or on a deeper level, and then structure your learning accordingly.

How Can I Speed up My Progress?

There are a plethora of ways to skyrocket your progress in learning Spanish. 

Services such as Rosetta Stone, Babbel, and Rocket Languages can allow you the privilege of learning from home, or on-the-go, at your own pace. 

Not only will this give you supplementary training, but it will also aid in the most crucial factor in language-learning: immersion.

Immersion means being surrounded by the language for long periods of time. This can range from hearing real-time conversation first hand, listening to audiobooks, or watching television and Spanish films. 

Related: 13 Incredible Spanish Movies on Netflix in 2020 That You’ve Gotta See (+7 Old Favs)

Although it may not feel like it at the time, your learning will dramatically improve if you immerse yourself in the language as much as you can. Your subconscious mind will absorb the language like a sponge, which will help your learning tremendously. 

Think back to when you learned how to speak. Sure, learning to read and write are mechanical and technical skills that require classroom-based learning, but you learned how to speak primarily by overhearing others. 

I’m willing to bet you don’t remember this process because it gradually happened over a period of time. You heard your parents speak, you listened to the radio, and you watched television. All of this process played a part in your learning in your formative years.

The great thing about immersion-based learning is that it isn’t taxing, and you can do it anywhere. You can listen to podcasts in Spanish where ever you are. Each evening, you can listen to audiobooks in Spanish, and so on. 

You don’t have to leave the country to be immersed in Spanish. In fact, you don’t even need to leave your home.

What Kind of Learning Should I Do?

An individual’s progress when trying to learn Spanish is mainly dependent on the quality of their training. Boring, soulless lessons can drain somebody’s motivation and may alienate them from language-learning altogether.

A huge component in somebody’s Spanish journey is the quality of their lessons. This means partaking in engaging, fun lessons, and are neither too easy nor too difficult. 

The problem with academic-based learning is that they teach you language that is overly-formal and rarely used in real-life. Most of these institutions don’t allow the students to interact with the language fully and merely teach them words on a page. 

This is not a fun or effective way to learn Spanish or any other language for that matter. Students may know how to say ”hello, how are you?” in Spanish – but aren’t taught how to participate in more down-to-earth and informal conversations with natives. 

It’s vital that, if you’re self-teaching, listen to conversations in Spanish and identify what is said and what isn’t said. Learn the nuances and unique components of the language. Learn vernacular. Join in with the language rather than recite stilted, wooden lines. 

This, of course, all leads back to immersion. The more you place yourself in the language, the more confident you will feel in expressing yourself in Spanish. 

Final Thoughts

So far, we’ve learned several things about the age-old question ”how long does it take to learn Spanish”? and we can conclude: 

  • It takes around 600 hours to learn Spanish
  • Spanish lessons should be neither too short nor long
  • The word ‘fluency’ is subjective
  • You must figure out what your definition of the word is before you learn
  • Immersing yourself in Spanish will skyrocket your learning
  • Most academic bodies only teach languages at the surface level

A novice can thoroughly learn Spanish in just under a year. Studying for 60 to 90 minutes each day will see them make fantastic progress if they remain on track and approach lessons with a positive attitude. 

Of course, being able to fully articulate your opinions on subjects like politics, sports, and current events will take much longer due to the complexity of the topics. 

Learning any language has its challenges. In comparison to other languages, Spanish is quite similar to English and uses the same alphabet – so learning it doesn’t present too hard of a challenge. Of course, it still has its difficulties, and it is easy to feel frustrated at times.

The key here is to supplement classroom training as much as possible. Immerse yourself in the language as much as possible, and allow the language to speak to you rather than the other way around.

Remember,  using services such as Rocket Languages and Babbel are great additions to your learning, as they have a deep variety of online learning materials to help you in your quest to learn Spanish and master it. 

Have a fantastic time inn your learning. It would be great to hear how you’re all getting on.

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