How Fast Can You Learn Spanish?

Learning a language is an enormous challenge that can take months or years and never really ends once you’ve reached a high proficiency level. This makes answering the question ‘How fast can you learn Spanish?’ less than straightforward.

It first makes sense to define what is meant by “learn”. The word doesn’t imply fluency necessarily.

A critical point in the language learning process is when you can comfortably have conversations with native speakers. It doesn’t mean that you can make conversation in every topic that comes up, but you’re comfortable communicating in general. Let’s call this conversational fluency.

Conversational fluency is going to be reached at an upper intermediate or B2 level. This is the level we’ll consider to be the point where you’ve “learned” a language.

Now let’s get into the question ‘How fast can you learn Spanish?’ I’ll answer it based on my own recent experience learning the language.

I began studying Spanish in the first week of June 2021 and have been studying for roughly a month as I write this. My progress has surprised me, although I’m struggling through conversations with my Spanish tutor, I can still confidently call them conversations.

The quick progress that I’m making is due largely to my knowledge of Portuguese and the large amount of shared vocabulary between the two languages.

Seeing my progress has made me consider the question ‘How fast can I learn Spanish?’ or become conversationally fluent.

There are two main inputs to consider when predicting my progression. Those inputs are the amount of time I spend on the language and the tools or resources I use to learn.

Since I began studying Spanish, I’ve taken 17 hours of lessons with a tutor on italki and have had maybe an additional 20 hours of informal speaking practice if I were to make an educated guess. On top of that I’ve maybe spent roughly 20 minutes a day on average studying Spanish on LingQ. There has also been some additional exposure to the language like watching sports broadcasts in Spanish or flipping through phrasebooks.

A snapshot of the Lingq interface displaying content from the Spanish podcast Radio Ambulante by NPR

The amount of time I’ve put into the language has been somewhat idealistic.

Typically, when actively studying a language, I aim to have a weekly lesson on italki and spend on average 20 minutes reading on LingQ every day. This is what I often did with Portuguese in the first year I studied it, but in the long run I likely averaged 2 or 3 hours of italki lessons per week.

In addition to that, I also spent roughly 3 months in Brazil where I often had opportunities to practice Portuguese. Only after 15 months did I consider myself conversationally fluent. I say this because it was at that time, while at a churrasco (BBQ in English) in Brazil, I realized that I could follow and participate in group conversations with native speakers confidently.

It’s difficult to say for sure how quickly I can reach this level of proficiency in Spanish but the number that continues to come to mind is 3 months. The number is somewhat arbitrary but seems realistic or at least not out of the question to me when I consider the progress that I’ve made in my first month.

The biggest differentiating factor in this case is the fact that I could already understand some degree of Spanish vocabulary before I even began studying it.

Although I couldn’t speak Spanish a month ago my listening comprehension was maybe at a low intermediate B1 level, after learning Portuguese I would already occasionally catch bits of Spanish conversations while out in public.

My reading comprehension was at an upper intermediate, B2, level from the start. Cognates are even more visible when reading because pronunciation isn’t a factor. These are big reasons why I’ve excelled with a large amount of speaking practice.

For someone that doesn’t have a serious background in a romance language, I think becoming conversationally fluent with Spanish in 12 months with a routine similar to what I had with Portuguese is a realistic expectation. There are some features of Portuguese that might take it longer to learn like pronunciation, however, in practice they might end up being trivial.

Many Americans as well as people in other countries have had some experience learning Spanish and that’s also likely to translate into lower required study hours.

The amount of experience you’ve had learning languages is also likely to be a factor. You get a better sense of what techniques and methods work best for you each time you learn a new foreign language.

How quickly can you learn Spanish? The answer isn’t straightforward, but to summarize, if you already know a romance language then 3 months is a realistic timeline to conversational fluency if you work at it. 12 months or 1 year with consistent practice can be enough time to learn the language for someone that speaks English but not any romance languages.

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