There is a reason why so many people don’t speak more than one language. It’s not because they don’t want to.
It is because learning a language is so unbelievably difficult. That is why so many people give up trying.
But I believe anyone can learn a language if they have the will to. I became fluent in Spanish working a 50 hour a week job with a busy social life (I know that might sound like peanuts to your schedule).
Ok, let’s get to the question at hand.
How long does it take for an English speaker to be fluent in Spanish?
This, of course, is extremely difficult to calculate as everyone learns at a different pace and some use more effective methods than others.
But let me hit you with a concrete number that can probably be used as an average for everyday Joe's like me.
How Many Hours Does it Take to Be Fluent in Spanish?
The US Department of State says that it takes an English learner 575–600 class hours.
That’s quite a long time! In case you are doing the math at home that means you would need to work for a little over 10 hours a week for an entire year to achieve Spanish Fluency!
Going off my own personal experience, I reckon it took about that time, 600 hours.
During my year of self-study, I never tracked my hours, but if I was to estimate, I put in around 7-15 hours a week and about 600 hours total.
Maybe less though and to be honest, many of those hours didn't feel like "work."
And to think, Spanish is classified in the “easy” category for English speakers. Good thing you aren’t learning Arabic!
How I studied was fundamental.
I never went with the boring class hours’ approach and because of that I believe I was much better off than those that go the traditional lecture and textbook route.
I know how lazy I can be and how quickly my mind can shift to other things so likewise I am positive that if I didn’t enjoy the process and had fun learning Spanish, I never would have reached advanced conversational fluency.
Before we get into the best ways to study Spanish let’s take a look at what it means to be fluent.
What Does It Mean to Be Fluent in Spanish?
Dictionary.com defines fluency as the ability to speak or write quickly in a given language. Thus, fluency doesn’t have anything to do with your pronunciation or accent.
It primarily has to do with your ability to communicate yourself comfortably in a given language.
Thankfully, I at least pass this test. I can communicate myself with just about any Spanish speaker I come across and likewise understand what they are saying in response.
But that’s not to say my speaking doesn’t come with a typical gringo accent. My pronunciation is pretty suspect at times mainly due to the fact that I never really focused on it.
Don’t believe me check out our weekly Spanish Podcast and you will hear me embarrass myself every Monday.
But that’s okay. Even if I still can’t roll my R’s that doesn’t mean I am not a fluent Spanish speaker!
Perfection is an unreachable goal that nobody attains.
Eventually there is only one person standing in a Spelling Bee. I probably only use 90-95% of the English language (perhaps less) and I am far from perfect in it.
Even as a Native English speaker, I make mistakes here and there and am far from perfect.
So why do we have this feeling that we need to be perfect in another language?
Why not just get to that 85% range, enjoy the fruits of our labor, and slowly improve over time?
I would say that is worth it and aside from a few embarrassing mistakes here and there, worth it.
Ok so now that we defined what it means to be fluent, I am going to give you a quick roadmap on how to get there.
Below is a tried and true approach that I have used to get to Spanish fluency in about a years’ time.
Follow these study habits and I can guarantee you will make solid progress over time and get to that Spanish fluency that you are so eagerly seeking.
How to Study Spanish (Efficiently)
Early on in my Spanish journey I followed a popular language blogger and polyglot, Benny Lewis.
He has a very straightforward approach to language learning and certainly one I resonated with.
The dude speaks 11 languages (several of them very well) so I would be a fool not to listen to him.
The thesis of his teaching is to Speak From Day 1. On the surface that seems preposterous!
How can anyone speak words that they don’t know?
Well, first off, if you are learning Spanish, which hopefully you are if you are reading this blog, then chances are you are starting with an already basic understanding of the language.
Everyone knows “Hola,” “Como te llamas” and many other phrases that you probably picked up in High School Spanish class.
The point is anyone who wants to learn Spanish in a short amount of time should begin to start using it. This is the basis for the five methods that I lay out below.
What follows is not a recommendation to enroll in the next Spanish class at your local community college or to start watching a bunch of movies in Spanish! (as fun as that may be)
As a whole, I have found class hours to be a total waste of time.
Case in point, how much do you actually remember from your high school or college classes?
Classes are regularly taught in large gatherings where you listen to a teacher talk on a particular topic.
They are such a passive experience.
You are just sitting in a seat and listening as opposed to engaging with what you are learning.
If you are lucky, maybe you speak 1% of the time in class.
My methods below point to actually using the Spanish language and getting your feet wet with the most efficient methods I know.
5 Best Ways to Learn Spanish
Before I lay out the top ways to learn Spanish, I recommend you checking out this article which goes much more into depth with how you can learn the Spanish language in less time.
It focuses on 80/20 efficiency and truly going after the most essential methods to level up your language learning.
Studying smarter beats studying harder any day in my book (although you need both).
1) Find Spanish Friends
You certainly won’t be speaking much Spanish if all you ever do is hang around English speakers. It is easier than ever to meet new friends from overseas with a click of a mouse.
Most of the time the people on the site want to learn English so you can easily arrange to speak half the time in English and half the time in Spanish.
I have met some incredible people in many different countries from all over the world with this approach. I was able see and hear from people in other cultures and begin to understand what they are going through and what they struggle with.
Hey, I even met my wife, Andrea, with this method!
2) Learn With an Online Tutor
You might be thinking, “This sounds a lot like taking Spanish classes.”
There is a huge difference here. While a class is focused on you and 20 or so odd students (sometimes more, sometimes less), an online tutoring session is 100% focused on you!
For $10 or less you can get fantastic personalized lessons focused on your Spanish goals.
You will be able to speak Spanish with a native correcting you in real time and encouraging you along the way. This is so incredibly vital to attaining fluency.
I found an excellent Spanish tutor from Mexico on Italki.com and had 2-3 weekly lessons for less than $10/hour.
My improvement from day 1 to day 180 was tremendous, mainly because of tutors like him.
3) Use a Flashcard App With Spaced Repetition Software
Let’s not forget if you are going to speak Spanish you must know some Spanish words. It’s for that reason that I use my trusty Anki app on my smartphone and have learned many new vocab words.
You can easily download someone else’s public flashcards and start studying them right away. I found a couple sets of free flashcards and learned a lot of new words in my spare time.
Here’s a quick recommendation. Try and use flashcards that have pictures on them or full sentences with the target vocabulary words in the sentences.
It is much better to learn full sentences as opposed to just single word definitions.
We tend to remember things better with imagery and stories. So make sure to implement them into your daily flashcard routine.
Finally, if you can’t find the flashcards you are looking for, create them. Anki has an easy to use tool to do that within the app.
4) Listen to Spanish Podcasts
Another great way to start hearing the language spoken is with Spanish language Podcasts. I love Podcasts and listen to them all the time as they can be incredibly educational.
You can listen to them whenever you have free time like when you are folding clothes or taking a walk around the block.
They are perfect to listen to when your mind doesn’t have to be overly engaged, like when you are writing a research paper.
Coffee Break Spanish is always my number one recommendation as Radio Lingua does a great job teaching the Spanish language. They break down all the essential elements and even have superb stories in Spanish for those higher intermediate language learners.
If you are looking for a more advanced conversational Podcast I recommend Notes in Spanish for those learning the Spain dialect.
Of course, we recommend the Spanishland School Podcast and Españolistos Podcast, for those learning the Latin American dialect.
5) Read in Spanish
Of the 5 methods outlined here, this method is the one that I used the least. Reading can be very difficult in another language.
I didn’t enjoy reading all that much in Spanish and for that matter didn’t do it very often.
But I do highly recommend it and I wish I would have done more of it early on. Nowadays, I try to read a small passage each day in Spanish.
There are many great short stories and dialogues out there that you can use to follow along and hear the language written out.
Once you get to a more advanced level, try reading your favorite book in Spanish. I did this with one of my favorites, Love Does, and had a greater appreciation for it after reading it in the Spanish language.
Since you already understand most of the book it will make more sense when you are reading it in Spanish and don’t understand every word that is on the page.
How Long Will It Take You to Be Fluent in Spanish?
If you follow the 5 steps above with some sort of consistency I have no doubt you will speak fluent Spanish in less than a years time.
That's assuming you can put in an hour or so a day semi-consistently.
Consistency is key. If you can’t be consistent and don’t have the motivation to stick it out, I would recommend quitting right now.
It’s not worth it to get only halfway there in my opinion. Although that does have value.
The best way to stay consistent is to truly enjoy the process and have a strong why statement as your reason for learning the language.
Finally, if you could do only one thing from the above list, my recommendation would be to get an online tutor and start speaking with a Native teacher right away. This is so, so crucial to improving your speaking and listening.
Next time you think about taking class hours to learn Spanish, think twice.
What ways have you used to learn Spanish and how long did it take you to get to fluency?