Directions in Spanish
I’m sure you don’t need telling that learning a new language is an exciting, eye-opening experience. Every time you learn a new language, you open doors to new cultures and communities that you would never have been able to interact with before.
According to the online language learning tool Babbel, nearly 450 million people around the world speak Spanish. That makes the Spanish language the second most widely spoken language in the world, second only to Mandarin Chinese.
As an English speaker, you already have certain advantages when it comes to gaining proficiency in Spanish. Even though the Spanish language derives from Latin, whilst English is actually a Germanic language, there are many similarities.
In fact, you probably know a lot of Spanish words already. Everybody knows words like ‘hola’ and ‘adios’ but does the Spanish word ‘minuto’ mean anything to you?
It sounds a whole lot like the English word ‘minute’, and that’s exactly what it is! Hundreds of words in Spanish sound and look a lot like their English language counterparts.
If you want to become fluent in Spanish then remember it’s a very achievable dream. But, only if you’re consistent.
Honestly, the amount of time required to learn conversational Spanish depends on a number of factors and there is no straight, direct and obvious answer. I’ve listed those factors for you and provided 6 ways to learn Spanish fast.
How Long it Takes to Learn Spanish Depends on the Other Languages you Speak
New language learners tend to have a few common questions in mind when they’re starting out – how long does it take to learn a language? How many hours does it take? How can I learn fast?
This is quite nuanced. How fast you progress in Spanish depends entirely on you. That is to say, it depends on your history with languages, whether you’re already bilingual or not and how committed you are to learning Spanish.
Many people struggle when it comes to learning new languages. It’s not unusual for people to go into learning Spanish with zest and enthusiasm, only to lose interest after a few months.
Learning any new language is difficult, even when that language is similar to your own. However, if you speak any other languages, particularly Latin languages such as French, Italian or Portuguese, then you already have a distinct advantage.
That’s because you know what to expect. You’ve already had to learn new vocabulary, grammar, sentence structures and forms of pronunciation. What’s more, your brain is used to doing so.
Ultimately, the amount of time you’re willing to dedicate to Spanish on a daily basis will directly impact and determine how long it takes you to learn Spanish.
How Many Hours Does it Take to Learn Spanish?
This is a legitimate question. After all, we’re all busy, and learning a new language properly requires not only a financial commitment, but also an investment of time. It is estimated that it will take a native English speaker anywhere between 575-600 hours to gain a proficient level of fluency in Spanish.
In a study conducted by the Foreign Service Institutes’ School of Language Studies, researchers studied native English speakers who were students at their institute.
These native English speakers were between the ages of thirty and forty. Classes at the institute had no more than five or six students in each class. Researchers were trying to understand how long it took their students to gain a general level of fluency in a foreign language.
After the study, and based on their findings, they divided all languages into five different groups.
The languages in each group were selected based on how close to English that language was, as well as how easily a native English speaker could learn it.
They also assigned a timeline for language learning, depending on which category that language fell into.
Interestingly, Spanish was placed in Category 1, which contained languages that native English speakers find easiest to learn. The institute revealed that it takes roughly 24 weeks, or 600 classes to gain proficiency in Spanish.
Despite this statistic, there are a number of things you need to keep in mind here. The control group used in this study was provided with the ideal conditions for language learning.
They spent 24 hours a week, every week, learning a new language through classes alone. They also took part in independent language study for three hours a day.
The reality is that most new Spanish language learners simply won’t have that much time to dedicate towards study. Unless, of course, you’re studying Spanish at a university. In the U.S and the U.K, most foreign language degrees take four years to complete. This, again, shows how much time and effort is required to become fluent in Spanish.
So, the general consensus is that it will take you 600+ hours to become fluent in Spanish. Now, how you distribute these hours are again up to you. If you study for one hour a day for 600 days then you’ll need to wait two years to be able to speak proficiently. If you study for 2-3 hours a day then you’ll reach the 600 hours you need in under a year.
Another factor to take into account is that fluency is a pretty subjective term. Let’s look at the differences between conversational Spanish and native Spanish.
Levels of Fluency: Conversational vs Native
When you think of being fluent in Spanish, what do you envision? Are you looking for a level of fluency with which you can interact freely with Spanish speakers? To have them understand you and vice versa? Or are you looking for a level of fluency which enables you to pick up any book on any subject in Spanish and have no difficulty at all in understanding it?
Let’s talk about Fluent vs Conversational…
For many Spanish language learners, a level of knowledge that enables you to be conversational is more than enough. You’ll be able to read, write and understand what others are telling you, which is enough to ‘get by’ whilst travelling in Spain and South America.
For others, however, optimal fluency is required. I believe this can only truly be achieved through cultural immersion. Usually, this means moving to or working in a relevant Spanish-speaking country. When this is not possible, spend as much time as you can with native Spanish speakers.
What's the Best Way to Learn Spanish?
Like the amount of time you invest in language learning, the ways you choose to learn Spanish will also have an impact on how fast and how well you are able to learn it. Simply opening a textbook and memorizing vocabulary day after day will bore you and does not lead to true fluency. Nor will it provide you with the ability to converse naturally with Spanish speakers.
Unlike many language learners online, I do believe understanding grammar is important in your language learning process. That said, I am of the opinion that textbook learning is a thing of the past. For the reasons mentioned, it’s just not an effective route to go down.
Today, we live in a word with so many incredible online language learning resources available to us at the click of a button.
So, what’s the best way to learn Spanish with these online tools?
6 Ways to Learn Spanish Fast
I hope the points above provide you with the answers you’re after regarding how long it takes to become fluent in Spanish. Now that you know what’s required and how long it might take you I’ve put together six ways to learn Spanish fast.
As a Spanish speaker and tutor myself, I know that if you are able to stick to the six points below as much as you can then you give yourself a great chance of mastering fluency in Spanish. Or, at least becoming conversational.
1. Make Friends with People who Speak Spanish
As mentioned, the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it. You can find Spanish speaking friends online from Facebook groups.
When you’re conversing with a Spanish speaker, you’ll learn new vocabulary, cultural expressions and develop your understanding of common and more complex Spanish words.
2. Get an Online Tutor
There’s no escaping the value that a good Spanish teacher can bring to your language learning experience.
A good tutor can provide structure to your path from beginner to fluency in Spanish. There are literally thousands available online on sites like Italki. For as little as $5 per class, you can find great teachers here and filter them before booking based on your learning style and preferences. Finding a tutor who can provide you with one or two lessons per week will make a real difference to the amount of time it takes you to become fluent in Spanish.
3. Use Flashcards for Vocabulary
The Anki app is a popular resource among language learners. It’s essentially a virtual flash card that you can use to improve your vocabulary. On one side of the card is a Spanish word, and on the flip side is its meaning.
Anki is a great tool that can help you memorize new words and their meanings. You can form different study sets and, as you repeat your study sessions on the app, you’ll get better at memorizing Spanish words each time.
4. Use Language Learning Apps
If you’ve ever wondered whether apps like Duolingo can make you fluent in Spanish, then the answer is no.
However, Duolingo has excellent features and a structure that will help you become fluent in conversational Spanish. Language learning apps are especially useful for students who are teaching themselves Spanish.
Also consider Babbel, Memrise (another flashcard resource) Pimsleur (to improve listening) and SpanishPod101.
5. Listen, Read and Watch
An unavoidable and extremely enjoyable part of your language learning experience will be actually engaging with Spanish content. This will become more and more true the further you progress with your Spanish.
So, next time you start a Spanish show on Netflix, don’t change the audio to English. Keep the audio in Spanish, switch on English subtitles, and get used to listening to the language. This helps you improve your pronunciation and your understanding of how the Spanish language is used, even if you only understand 5% of the dialogue!
Adopt this approach and eventually you won’t even need the subtitles anymore.
6. Read And Translate as Often as You Can
Translating short passages from Spanish to English can help your comprehension skills. If you are a complete beginner, you should also try to read children’s Short Stories in Spanish, and work your way up to more difficult books.
The only way to learn the Spanish language properly is to dedicate yourself to it every day. You don’t need more than an hour, and you don’t need more than a year. If you can focus on studying the Spanish language for an hour a day for at least a year, then conversational fluency in the language is absolutely yours. Read, read, read!
If you stick to this then by the end of the year, you’ll be able to read and write on most general topics in Spanish with ease.
You’ll also be able to hold conversations on everyday topics with native Spanish speakers, and you won’t have any difficulty understanding what they’re saying to you.
As you spend more time using the Spanish language, you’ll naturally develop more fluency over the years. Learning the Spanish language is an extremely rewarding experience and one that you’ll find very enjoyable.