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How Long Does it Take to Learn Spanish

How long it takes to learn Spanish depends on your personal experience and level of engagement, but you can estimate that it takes the average student about 600 hours of study to gain fluency in Spanish.

As the 4th most spoken language in the world, Spanish has over 500 million native speakers. You may want to learn Spanish to improve your job prospects as a teacher or social worker, to make traveling abroad much easier, or to communicate with friends and family in their native tongue. 

Whatever your motivation, the amount of time it takes you to learn Spanish depends on both your background and your drive.

Quiz Yourself to See How Long It Will Take You to Learn Spanish

The average student takes about 600 hours of dedicated study or classroom time to learn Spanish fluently. This means that if you study for one and a half to two hours every day, you can achieve basic fluency in one year. This estimate comes courtesy of the United States Foreign Services Institute

The FSI classifies languages into categories of difficulty based on the languages’ similarity to English. Since Spanish shares Latinate roots with English, it has many similarities to English and it takes less time for an English speaker to learn.

Most language-learning programs adopt the FSI’s estimate of language-learning time frames, though you will soon find that your own personal study methods can speed up or slow down your progress significantly!

Answer the following eight questions to find out how long it will take you to learn Spanish.

Why Do You Want to Learn Spanish?

Your personal motivation for learning Spanish may speed up your language-learning time frame. For example, are you a college student getting ready to spend a semester studying abroad in Mexico or Spain? Or perhaps you simply love the beautiful language and want to enjoy your favorite telenovelas without subtitles. 

If you have a deadline for achieving basic fluency, you will likely commit more dedicated time to your language study. A consistent study schedule will speed up your Spanish-learning process significantly because your brain needs repetition of new words and ideas in order to truly learn them.

This consistent repetition, called Spaced Repetition Learning in the language-learning field, allows your brain to build new neural connections and place words and phrases in your working memory. You can find out more about how spaced repetition helps your brain form permanent connections in this article from Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

How Well Do You Want to Speak Spanish?

Fluency in a language can mean different things to different people. If you want basic travel Spanish so you can ask for directions, tip a waiter, or flirt with a handsome stranger in a Spanish-speaking country, you may only need basic fluency.

If you want to work in a Spanish-speaking company, counsel Spanish-speaking teens in a public school, or hold in-depth conversations with a Spanish friend, you will need a much higher level of fluency.

One way to figure out how long it will take you to learn Spanish is to pick the level of fluency you want to achieve and estimate how long it takes to reach that level. Fortunately, the Council of Europe has compiled a standard for fluency called the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or the CEFR Levels.

You can see an in-depth table of the CEFR levels here. Or check out this quick overview for an easy guide!

CEFR Levels A1 and A2

It usually takes about 70 hours of dedicated study to achieve level A fluency in Spanish, and an additional 100 hours to reach level A2. This means you can often reach a basic level A fluency with three to six months of study.

Spanish fluency at an A1 level means you have learned a selection of practical words and phrases and you have mastered the basics of Spanish grammar. At this level, you have basic Spanish fluency, meaning that you can understand everyday expressions and hold simple conversations if your conversation partner speaks slowly.

Spanish fluency at an A2 level looks more like what you might hope to achieve after a good high school or college Spanish course. At this level, you have the conversation and literacy skills to comfortably go shopping in a Spanish store, directly exchange information with a stranger, and hold conversations on familiar topics.

CEFR Levels B1 and B2

Reaching a level B1 fluency in Spanish takes roughly 180 more hours of study, and achieving a level B2 fluency in Spanish requires approximately 250 hours more! Completing the B levels can take anywhere from a year to two years, depending on how much time you can commit each day.

This may sound overwhelming, but the CEFR B-level really describes what most people mean when they say, “learning a new language.” At the B levels, you will achieve a great understanding of Spanish and the ability to converse easily in most situations.

In fact, if you have done the math, you will have realized that it takes just over 600 hours to reach level B2, according to these metrics. The FSI language learning time frame you read about earlier considers a level B2 sufficient fluency, so that is where your 600 hours of study will get you!

Mastering Spanish at a B1 level means the ability to express your opinions and thoughts clearly in work, school, or home situations. At this level, you should feel comfortable communicating in any travel situation in a Spanish-speaking location.

Gaining fluency at a B2 level of Spanish means that you can read and write proficiently in your subject areas, and that you can hold conversations with ease, speed, and spontaneity. Reaching this level also requires an intense understanding of Spanish grammar, a grasp of thousands of vocabulary words, and consistent conversation practice.

CEFR Levels C1 and C2

If you want to speak Spanish like you grew up immersed in the language, you can carry on for another 200 hours to reach a C1 level of fluency and then an additional 240 hours of study to reach the final level of C2. Reaching a C level of fluency in Spanish often takes an additional year and a half of study. 

But honestly, this level of perfect fluency requires life-long, continual study for true mastery. 

If you plan to move to a Spanish-speaking country, your continual exposure to the language will help you reach this level naturally. You may also want to devote yourself to this intense level of language learning if you plan to study Spanish literature for a graduate program or if you fell in love with a native Spanish speaker.

Reaching a C1 level of fluency in Spanish means that you can read complex texts and understand the hidden meaning behind certain expressions, and that you can write professional, complex texts. It also means that you can think in Spanish, allowing you to respond flexibly and quickly in social and professional conversations.

A C2 level of fluency in Spanish means that there is basically no distinction between your Spanish speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills and those of a native speaker. You can read, write, paraphrase, argue, and reconstruct complex texts. You can communicate on any topic with precision even on complex subjects.

Is English Your Native Language?

Whether or not English is your native language can also impact how long it takes you to learn Spanish. English shares a basic grammatical structure with Spanish, which makes learning Spanish easier for an English speaker than for someone who speaks a non-romance language like Mandarin. Both English and Spanish also use many of the same words, called cognates. 

A cognate is a word that means the same thing in two languages because it comes from the same root. For example, the word “animal” means the same thing in both English and Spanish, because both languages draw much of their vocabulary from the same root language of Latin.

Western Michigan University estimates that there are over 20,000 English-Spanish cognates in use today!

This means that if you speak English or another Romance language like French that also shares many similarities with Spanish, you already have a foot in the door that will speed up your language-learning time.

If your native language does not share roots with Spanish–for example, if you speak Korean or Mandarin–it will probably take longer for you to learn Spanish, because the linguistic parts of your brain do not already recognize the grammatical structure of Spanish sentences, and you will not already know those thousands of cognates.

Do You Already Speak a Second Language?

Are you bilingual? If so, you will probably learn Spanish faster than someone who only speaks one language. Science Daily reports that bilingual students can master a third language more quickly than non-bilingual students.

Even if you did not grow up speaking two languages, have you taught yourself a second language? Your ability to learn new languages grows with experience. This is mostly because you can pinpoint what learning tactics work best for you. For example, if you learn best through context, you may want to try a Spanish course like StoryLearning.

StoryLearning Spanish starts each lesson with a story told by a native Spanish speaker and follows this immersive experience with grammar, literacy, and vocabulary-building activities. 

How Much Time Will You Spend Studying Spanish?

If you go by the FSI average of 600 hours of dedicated study to achieve fluency in Spanish, it makes sense that you can learn in a shorter time frame if you commit more time each day to study!

If you attend a Spanish class or sign up for a comprehensive Spanish language course like Pimsleur’s Spanish app, you will have regular lessons and a learning schedule laid out for you. This can help you move through the basics of the language in an orderly fashion.

A course like Pimsleur also helps you focus on the essentials first, instead of getting bogged down in memorizing lists of vocabulary or grammar rules. Pimsleur provides context-based, practical conversation skills as well as pronunciation practice to help you master all the basics of Spanish.

Signing up for a comprehensive course will also help you progress through Spanish grammar in a logical way. Spanish and English share many grammatical similarities, but Spanish features particular challenges for an English speaker like gendered nouns and articles. 

Every noun in Spanish must have either a male or female gender and a male or female article to go with it! This can seem confusing to an English speaker. For example, un zapato, a shoe, has a masculine gender, while una casa, a house, has a feminine gender.

You can also boost your language-learning speed by devoting time to auxiliary activities in Spanish. Try watching Spanish TV shows, listening to podcasts in Spanish, or even downloading a playlist of Spanish tunes for your commute to work. 

While not necessarily part of your study hours, these immersive activities will help your brain recognize the flow of the Spanish language and will speed up your listening comprehension abilities.

Can You Spend Time in a Spanish-Speaking Community?

The absolute best way to increase your Spanish-learning speed is to visit a Spanish-speaking community or even live there if you can! Immersing yourself in a community that speaks Spanish will force you to practice your pronunciation and listening comprehension skills.

Cambridge University explains that immersion speeds up the learning process through repeated exposure to the sounds of the new language. On top of this, an immersive environment also helps you to learn more quickly because it provides social and emotional context, which helps your brain place value on the new language.

This matters a lot in learning Spanish because one of the things many Spanish newbies struggle with is the rapid-fire speed of native Spanish speakers! When you visit a Spanish-speaking community you will quickly discover the difference between textbook conversations and trying to understand fast-paced natural conversation in Spanish.

Do You Have a Language-Learning Conversation Partner?

You can still practice your Spanish conversation skills even if you can’t afford to travel to a Spanish-speaking country like Peru or Argentina! Do you have a friend who grew up speaking Spanish? Perhaps you have a Spanish-speaking co-worker. 

Forbes reports that over 13% of the United States population speaks Spanish fluently. Based on these statistics, there is a good chance that you already know a native Spanish speaker.

If not, you can also find an online partner to help you practice your speaking skills. Spanish apps like HelloTalk provide a great way for language learners to connect with native speakers. Speaking conversational Spanish will help you put new words and phrases in context. 

Plus, Spanish has several sounds that English does not, such as special R, G, and J sounds. For example, Spanish has both soft and hard R sounds in words like caro vs carro (“expensive” and “car”). The hard double-R sounds rolls, which can prove very challenging. Practicing your pronunciation is the only way to master these tricky sounds!

Another great reason to find a conversation partner is that Spanish sounds a little different from one country to another. In fact, ALTA Languages states that there are ten official Spanish dialects spoken around the world, such as Castillian vs Latin American Vs Caribbean Spanish. On top of this, every country or even every city uses its own slang and idioms. 

Learning how real people talk in your target country can help your listening comprehension and speaking fluency increase by leaps and bounds.

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