Ah, the age-old question: How long does it take to learn Spanish?
It's not easy to answer, as there are a lot of factors involved.
However, in this post I'll do my best attempt and include a lot of examples and supportive documentation.
Let's dive in!
Note, while this article is about how fast you can learn Spanish a lot of the advice and suggestions are applicable to any language.
Table of Contents
- Table of Contents
- The Short Answer: 1-2 years
- The Foreign Service Institute Estimate: 575-600 hours
- Spanish Learning Factors that Influence how Fast you Learn
- What Does it Mean to LEARN Spanish?
- Hours vs Months vs Years – only ONE of them is useful.
- Beware of Burnout in Rapid Language Learning
- Techniques for Learning Spanish Fast
- Private Language Tutoring Online
- Spaced Repetition is AMAZING
- What Other Languages Take the Same Amount of Time as Spanish to Learn?
- Now it's your turn!
The Short Answer: 1-2 years
(In case you don't want to read the whole article!)
For most English native speakers, the time to learn Spanish to a good conversational level is probably around 1 year, assuming about 1 hour per day of serious study.
Note, this isn't mastery, or anywhere near the level a native speaker would be at.
For that you're probably looking at 600+ hours in total, so at least 2 years with 1 hour a day.
It all depends though, so let's look a little deeper into the question, and discover what influences the speed of which you learn Spanish!
The Foreign Service Institute Estimate: 575-600 hours
The Foreign Service Institute (or FSI) is responsible for training all U.S Government Personnel for their work abroad as diplomats, spies, and agents.
For some reason, their evaluation of language difficulty has become somewhat of a golden standard in the language community, to compare languages and give an estimate of how many hours it would take an English native Speaker to reach “general professional proficiency” or higher.
The FSI puts Spanish in category 1, which is the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn.
They estimate it requires 575-600 hours of training to reach the “general professional proficiency” as explained above.
As a comparison, Japanese is considered extremely difficult, requiring 2200 hours to reach the same level of proficiency for an English native speaker.
Or over 3.5x as many hours as Spanish.
It's worth noting that FSI has very intensive training programs, often requiring over 8 hours of study per day.
This is for class room classes (no more than 6 students) and the expected workload outside class as well.
What this means is that regular learners doing it on their own might have to add some hours to the estimate.
This is because the high intensity allows the students to retain more information before it's lost, saving time on recall sessions later on.
Spanish Learning Factors that Influence how Fast you Learn
- What is your native language, and what other languages do you know? An English native speaker with knowledge of Portuguese would learn Spanish 100 times faster than a Chinese native speaker with no knowledge of a European language.
- Do you have any experience learning any foreign languages as an adult?
- How much time can you work on Spanish every day? The more time you can devote, the faster you can learn it.
- How “good” do you want to be? – if you just want to have some nice conversations in Spanish, then you could achieve this in your first 6 months of study.
- What is your budget? If you have money to invest in your Spanish learning you can hire the best tutors, more often, than if you don't have any money to spend.
What Does it Mean to LEARN Spanish?
One of the problems with the question: “How long does it take to learn Spanish” is that the definition of “learn” is very subjective.
Do you want to master Spanish, as in passing for a native speaker? Or, do you just want to have conversations, and ‘get by' in Spanish?
Where you set your goalposts will greatly affect how long it takes you to reach them.
Most people underestimate how much Spanish they can learn in 3 months, don't be afraid to go out there and use whatever you learn as soon as possible.
This will speed up the learning process too.
Hours vs Months vs Years – only ONE of them is useful.
Another important distinction to make, is that measuring the time it takes to learn a language in months and years is largely useless.
The only metric that matters is hours.
So, instead of asking how many months and years it will take you to become fluent in Spanish, ask yourself how many hours you can dedicate to the learning and move backwards from there.
Beware of Burnout in Rapid Language Learning
It can seem enticing to jump head first into your new language mission of learning Spanish really fast.
But, be careful.
Language learning for us normal people (and not Government spies and diplomats) is a marathon, not a sprint.
I see so many people go all-in in their first couple of months, burn out, and then lose interest entirely.
Focus on setting a daily target that doesn't feel overwhelming, but make it your number one priority to reach this goal. Every day.
Then soon, you'd be surprised at how quick you will be speaking Spanish!
Techniques for Learning Spanish Fast
Okay, now that we've established how long it takes to learn Spanish fluently, let's explore some techniques that anyone can use to turbocharge their Spanish learning.
I've picked up most of these techniques by interviewing hundreds of language learning experts and polyglots on the podcast.
Private Language Tutoring Online
(The best way to learn Spanish fast!)
By far the biggest ‘secret' of the big polyglots and highly successful language learners, is that they work with teachers 1-on-1 from a very early stage in their language learning.
With platforms such as italki offering private lessons for as little as $5/hr there's really no excuse anymore not to take advantage of this ridiculous boost to your language learning.
Why 1-on-1 private lessons online are amazing for learning Spanish fast
There's no doubt in my mind that private 1-on-1 lessons are amazing for learning a new language fast.
INSTANT feedback and error correction in vocabulary and pronunciation
When self-studying a language, or even in a language class environment it's extremely easy to pick up bad habits, or develop bad pronunciation because there just isn't enough practice for the individual learner.
In a 1-on-1 environment you can't hide.
If there are any problems with your Spanish your tutor/teacher can point them out right away.
No more waiting for slow students, or getting lost behind fast students
The teacher focuses 100% on you and your Spanish, so you don't need to wait for other students to understand it.
You also get hyper-targeted feedback and help on exactly the struggles you have in Spanish, not what a school curriculum says you need to work on at that point.
It's a lot cheaper than comparable group lessons, or in-person private lessons
Going to group lessons at a language school is way more expensive than hiring your own online private teacher.
It absolutely boggles my mind that people commute to evening language classes to be in a classroom with 10-20 other students, and pay hundreds of dollars/euros for the privilege.
Unlimited Monthly Spanish Lessons (for a flat fee!)
Just to round off the tutoring chapter of this post, I wanted to give a shoutout to the Spanish tutoring service Baselang.
If you're a super serious Spanish learner who wants to learn it as fast as possible, then I highly recommend Baselang.
Baselang offers unlimited private lessons for just $149 per month.
You can book 8 hours or more of lessons per day, if you can handle it!
For the rest of us I recommend italki, as it gives greater flexibility and you can just book the lessons as-needed.
Spaced Repetition is AMAZING
When I was learning Russian a few years ago I first encountered online flashcards.
And oh boy, was I amazed at the effect this technique was having on my vocabulary.
In fact, I was comparing doing flashcards as downloading a new language in the matrix (remember how Neo “downloads” Kung-Fu?)
The two golden rules of spaced repetition:
The best time to review a card/word/sentence is JUST before you were about to forget it.
Guessing at the correct result before answering a card will help the memorisation of that card (whoa?)
Yup, so if you see a card with a strange Spanish sentence on it – having a guess at what the strange sentence means actually means you will retain that memory better.
Pretty cool, huh?
There are a lot of spaced repetition services. These are best for supplementing your learning in between your lessons with a teacher.
Here are some my favourites:
Memrise – Freemium
Anki (slightly more old-school, but more flexible) – Free for Android and Desktop
Lingvist – Paid, but extremely modern.
What Other Languages Take the Same Amount of Time as Spanish to Learn?
According to the Foreign Service Institute again, here are the rest of the languages in group 1.
So, if Spanish isn't to your liking but you still want to learn one of the least challenging languages, take your pick!
So, there you have it – with about an hour a day you can reach upper intermediate Spanish within 2 years of starting from the bottom.
Some people might see that is a disappointingly slow, others might be pleasantly surprised.
But, let me leave you with this last piece of advice.
Whilst Spanish is a relatively easy language for English native speakers to learn, it's still a huge task to learn ANY foreign language.
Don't be worried if your progress isn't always tangible. If you stay consistent and study every day, you will be improving!
It's just not always possible to say exactly what you improved on that day.
Best of luck with your Spanish – you can do it.
Now it's your turn!
Leave a comment below if you're starting on your Spanish journey, or how long it took you to learn!
Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.
Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.