When you first set out to learn Spanish, you might ask yourself a simple question.
Well, a question that seems simple, anyway:
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
The amount of time it takes you to learn Spanish will depend on how a number of different factors play out in your life. It might take you longer than your cousin who already knows three Romance languages, but less time than your neighbor who can only study on weekends.
We’re all Spanish learning snowflakes, in that way.
The good news is: understanding factors that influence the language learning timeframe can help speed up the process.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the key factors that influence how long it’ll take you to learn, so you can fit your Spanish studies into your lifestyle and achieve your goals at a reasonable pace.
10 Factors That Influence How Long It Will Take to Learn Spanish
Here are some of the top factors that’ll determine how long it takes you to learn Spanish. For an in-depth look at these and other considerations, check out Stephen D. Krashen’s research on second language acquisition.
1. The Level of Fluency You’re Aiming For
The level of fluency you’re aiming for plays a huge role in how long it’ll take you to achieve your Spanish learning goals.
If you just want to learn Spanish to use on your adventures abroad, you can pick up basic phrases/questions and common travel vocabulary in a few days.
If you want to be conversational, this will take longer. The exact length of time varies based on the other factors in this list, but generally speaking, you can expect it to take between a few months and several years.
Being fully fluent—in other words, being able to navigate any situation in Spanish and speak with native-sounding pronunciation—takes the longest. It generally takes several years, but if other learning factors are ideal, you might be able to cut down on the standard timeframe.
2. The Amount of Time You Put into Studying
You’ve heard the old saying. “Practice makes perfect!”
If you put more time into your studies, you’re likely to learn more information more quickly—whether you’re learning Spanish, learning to drive, mastering quantum physics or anything else.
While you can improve your skills in just a few minutes a day, dedicating a larger block of time each day will allow you to learn the language at a faster pace.
After all, if you study five minutes a day, it would take you twelve weeks to get as much practice as someone studying an hour a day gets in one week.
Of course, even if you put a significant amount of time into Spanish studying, it’s possible to lose what you’ve learned if you don’t keep up the practice. So it’s not just about time but also consistency—we’ll get to that later in this post.
3. The Effort You Put into Studying
While the amount of time you practice matters, so does the amount of effort you put into that practice.
Casual exposure to Spanish can improve your skills over a long period of time, but if you’re looking for quick results, you’ll need to engage with the language actively through reading, writing, speaking and listening activities.
Most Spanish courses and other learning materials will provide these focused activities (such as written quizzes, vocabulary games or voice recording drills for pronunciation). However, it’s up to you to ensure you’re using these resources to their maximum potential.
If you want to learn quickly, setting clear learning goals, minimizing distractions and focusing on your study materials are essential.
4. Your Motivation to Learn
What’s the best way to increase the effort you put into learning Spanish? Getting motivated to do the work. Your motivation for learning the language can actually affect how quickly you learn.
If you’ve ever tried to learn Spanish or another language and gotten stymied, you might already know that losing focus or interest is one of the biggest obstacles to the process.
One key way to keep your motivation up is to find study buddies and native Spanish speakers to help you along. In fact, research indicates that social interaction in the target language is a key motivator in language acquisition.
Maintaining your motivation will help keep your studies on target and keep you learning at a good pace. For more tips on how to do this, check out this starter guide to motivated Spanish learning.
5. Your Familiarity with Other Languages
This will be good news to anyone who’s learned a second (or third, or fourth…) language already. Familiarity with other languages can improve the speed with which you learn Spanish.
For one thing, if you’ve learned another language through focused study, you’ll already know what strategies and learning tools work for you. That means no more trial and error cutting into your learning time.
Studies have also shown that knowing multiple languages can reinforce the cognitive processes of foreign language acquisition. Additionally, being able to compare and contrast rules between languages often makes it easier to understand and remember these rules.
But even if you haven’t studied another language, if your native language is Latin-based, you have an advantage in learning Spanish. That’s because many of the sound systems, spellings and grammar rules between these languages are similar, since they share the same root language.
6. What Tools You’re Using
What tools you’re using to learn Spanish can shape how quickly you learn, especially since they also affect motivation and focus.
For maximum speed, you’ll want to use tools that you enjoy, since this will increase your motivation. However, they also need to contain exceptional Spanish learning material.
Here are some resources you can try out based on your learning needs:
- Are you the kind of person who benefits from the structure and focus of a formal language course? Try out an online Spanish course. Speed Spanish at ed2go is a 6-week course that teaches you practical “recipes” for building Spanish sentences and is designed to help you start speaking Spanish faster. By maximizing the vocabulary you learn, you’ll be able to build a firm foundation for continued studies.
- Maybe you want to get small bursts of Spanish practice throughout your day. Download some Spanish learning apps onto your phone.
- How does learning Spanish while getting exposure to authentic Spanish-language culture sound? FluentU’s Spanish video program is an ideal balance of fun and function.
FluentU uses real-world Spanish videos like movie trailers, music videos, news and more, and transforms them into targeted, personalized learning lessons. Each video has interactive captions that come with a definition, example sentences and an associated image. You can even see other videos that use that same word with just a click.
Since the content is fun and entertaining, you’ll stay motivated to learn Spanish. Plus, FluentU offers a “learn mode” that turns videos, pictures and example sentences into flashcards and exercises, to ensure you retain what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes App store or Google Play store and enjoy FluentU’s innovative features on any of your Android or iOS devices.
7. Frequency of Use
Remember when we said consistency is crucial to learning Spanish? If you studied Spanish for a month straight but then took a six-month break, you could wind up back where you started. The old saying “use it or lose it” rings true.
And if you study every day but only for two minutes at a time, you’re unlikely to make much progress—at least not for a while.
How frequently you use Spanish will influence how quickly you learn the language. Whether you’re conversing with native Spanish speakers, reading Spanish texts or writing in Spanish, frequently using your skills makes sure you stay engaged with the language and keep that learning momentum up.
Once you know a little Spanish, you’ll retain and build on what you’ve learned quickly if you find more and more opportunities to use the language.
8. The Level of Spanish Immersion You Experience
“Immersion” is a method of language learning where all speaking, listening and writing happens in the target language. The idea is to get yourself thinking in Spanish, rather than translating back and forth from your native language.
Since immersion is how we all learn our first language as babies, it’s the most natural and effective technique. As a foreign language learning method, it requires the most interaction with and practice in the target language, making it faster than other learning methods.
You’ll learn most quickly if you travel abroad or use home immersion techniques. This will make Spanish part of your everyday routine, so you’ll have no choice but to learn and improve. The constant exposure will make you rapidly acquire new vocabulary, improve your pronunciation and build grammar skills.
9. Natural Ability
Research has suggested that language learning competency is shaped somewhat by innate abilities. Much like some people are naturally better at math or sports than others, some people are naturally better at learning languages.
But if you don’t consider yourself “a natural” at Spanish, don’t panic! This isn’t to say that someone who lacks significant natural ability can’t learn Spanish. It’s still completely possible. Having a greater natural ability can just make the learning process faster.
10. Your Age
Age can also play a factor in how quickly you’ll learn Spanish. But that doesn’t mean if you missed out on Spanish as a kid, you’ve got no chance now.
There are benefits both to learning a language as a child and benefits to learning as an adult.
It’s theorized that children can often pick up languages (including Spanish) more easily due to biological factors. After all, young children’s brains are designed to learn language quickly in order to acquire their native languages.
Adults, however, are at an advantage when it comes to understanding grammatical rules and comparisons to other languages (namely, their native languages).
The lesson here? Regardless of your age, learning Spanish is worth your effort, but the effort you have to put forth may be shaped by your age.
With so many factors, no one can truly tell you how long it’ll take you to learn Spanish. The only way to find out for sure is to dive in and see what happens!
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