The question is a bit tricky, since it actually depends on people’s motivation, capacity, mother tongue… and lots of other factors. You want to know how long does it take to learn Spanish? Let’s tackle a few points before answering that question.
“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”
– Frank Smith
First, if you want to learn “fast”, you are mistaking. Learning fast does not actually mean learning well; the learning process, no matter what subject it is, takes time and must be taken seriously. Some people will tell you they’ve learnt Spanish in 3 months, others 2 years, so you will tend to listen to the ones who took less time to learn than the others. But ask for details. How many languages did they know before starting learning Spanish? Have they lived in a Spanish speaking country? What is their mother tongue? Are they currently studying or working? As I told you before, there are lots of factors that can have an impact on the time it takes to learn a language in general.
Stack the odds in your favour
Do not set the bar too high
Yes, you will have to set goals and make the most of your time to achieve them. But you will also have to avoid being over eager.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
True story. Don’t set the bar higher than you can possibly reach; being rigorous is okay, but you do not want to get frustrated. For example, do never compare yourself to others. If you are studying Spanish in high school, university or even in a private academy, do not compare your language level to your comrade’s, you will only increase frustration feelings and get discouraged very fast. On the contrary, you should focus on your own progress, and even ask your colleagues to help you out if you have difficulties understanding some things. Another explanation than the teacher’s can be very useful, overall by someone who is learning at the same time as you.
Now is a perfect time to learn a language because the internet provides us with very useful tools and resources, so let’s take advantage of it. You really don’t want the school book to be your unique tool! Learning Spanish can be fun, and a little entertainment will help your memory be more efficient.
Video, audio, literature …
What is good with videos is that you get to listen to people speaking Spanish, which is important when learning. Focusing too much on the writing is not okay, because it won’t help you learn how to talk, only how to write. In France, language teaching is overly focused on writing; that is why after 8 years studying Spanish at school, I was really good at writing, but once I arrived in Spain I couldn’t even align 3 words without making a mistake. I wish we had had more oral speaking and listening material back then.
There are lots of Youtubers who try to combine learning and humour, here are my three favorites:
- Joana Rants from Flama, who makes videos on various topics, including Spanish, and gives a funny overview on the culture and language of Spanish speaking countries.
- Webspanish, that offers entertaining videos on a wide range of situations.
- Bueno Entonces, that offers to learn conversational Spanish in only 5 weeks, with funny characters, dialogs and situations.
If you are also a fan of TV series, you can check out our article on Spanish TV series to improve your Spanish. It is always great to use TV series and movies as listening material because you get used to the characters accent and start understanding more and more with time.
You can also learn Spanish through music, if you are a music lover. Have a look at the lyrics and their translation on the internet, and start singing Spanish songs under the shower!
Reading also helps a lot, since it gives you a lot of new vocabulary. You can take a look at these 15 books to learn Spanish if you like, and if you prefer reading short stories or articles here is a list of resources where you can find what you are looking for:
- Habla provides articles on various topics such as gastronomy, art and culture, news, tourism…
- Spanish for dummies which you probably know, provides useful tips and information on pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
- Study Spanish provides good tutorials on a plurality of topics, according to your level.
Keep a notebook
Important! You want to learn new words and expressions? You often have chats with natives? Try to always carry a notebook with you, so that you can note the interesting things you hear during a conversation with a Spanish speaker. In no time you will see the miraculous benefits of keeping a language notebook. It can be anything: movie titles, jokes, artists names, vocabulary, expressions, proverbs… Anything!
When I first went to Spain I remember I always had a notebook in my bag, and I would use it almost everyday. Then at night when I was home, I would take a look at it and try to remember all I had learnt that day. Now it is full, and sometimes I like to take a glance at it and see if I finally learnt everything that is in there, and you know what? I did! I don’t even think about it now, it has become natural. And that, my friends, is very rewarding!
External factors that can affect your learning process
Is Spanish a difficult language to learn? I would say not really, but I’m French, and both languages share the same roots. They are part of the latin languages which are composed of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. If you are an English speaker, your language has its roots in the Germanic languages, along with German, Dutch, Swedish and Danish, amongst others. What does that mean? It means that you will probably have more difficulties in learning Spanish (if it is the first Latin language you are learning) than Latin speakers do. Here is a list of the main differences between English and Spanish:
- Genders and numbers
- Words order
- Ser and estar
If you want to increase your chances to learn faster, try to focus on these differences first, which will be what will take you more time to assimilate.
Learning a new language is accessible to anyone, but people’s skills are different. You can be a genius at drawing, mathematics, sports or else, and have more difficulties at learning a language. If Spanish is the first language you intend to learn, then it will probably take you more time to learn than someone who already knows two or more languages.
“The tongue is the only tool that gets sharper with use.”
– Washington Irving
No worries if you do not live in a Spanish speaking country
First, let me say that you don’t need to live abroad to learn a new language, of course it helps, but don’t get discouraged if you start learning Spanish while staying in your hometown. The most important part is motivation! Obviously, foreign people living in a Spanish speaking country will be confronted to the language in their daily routine and will get to practice with natives. But who said you couldn’t do exactly the same? There are many Spanish speaking students and workers around the world, and language exchanges have become quite common; try and look for one or several language partners, so that you get to practice every once in a while with a native. It can be intimidating at first, but remember that your interlocutor is also here to learn a language: yours. So gather your courage and let’s go.
Of course, it is possible to learn by yourself, but speaking with a native will accelerate your learning process, moreover you will learn specific vocabulary, slangs and expressions that Spanish speakers use everyday. A must!
So, how long does it take to learn Spanish?
It actually takes as long as you want it to. I can’t tell you that if you spend two hours on Spanish per day you will be fluent in one year, or six months, or even less. Everything depends on you. My advice is to try to be in contact with Spanish everyday and in different ways, that way your brain will get used to its presence and will assimilate faster.
Do you use another method to improve your Spanish level? If so, please share it with us in a comment and do not hesitate to share the article with your friends learning Spanish.