Learn Spanish
Learn Spanish: The Spanish Language Learning Community
Created on: 17 August, 2009 Members: 1706 | Community Link: http://spanish.wiziq.com

How long does it take to learn Spanish?

by Vikrama Dhiman
Posted on 18 August, 2009

I know it can take a lifetime to learn the nuances of a language. I wanted to know, just how long does it take to master enough to be able to speak with a native speaker?

Tags: Spanish, Languages, Beginner Spanish

by Harman Singh posted on 18 August, 2009
Wow! So there is some study like it (3000 hours). Interesting.
by Vikrama Dhiman posted on 18 August, 2009
3000 hours? Is there anyone who teaches that long?
by Vikrama Dhiman posted on 19 August, 2009
30 hours seems more like it :p

Thank you all for your responses. I guess a Beginners Course for 30 hours and then a user practicing on his/ her own or graduating to a more advanced course later - could be a decent strategy.
by Reema Aggarwal posted on 19 August, 2009
I would not dare to say a number of hours since it's a different language. It really depends on how long you are willing to practice. A full immersion course would be great in order to learn it fast, although not many people have got the time to do so. In a language school..mmm here, we are told that in a year in 1.5 hour lessons from Monday to Friday, we become intermediate speakers, but as I said it depends on you.
by Graciela posted on 19 August, 2009
@Edith: you are right! It depends on approaches and goals and how much time students can devote to studying and practising!
by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 18 August, 2009
Algunos maestros y lingüistas creen que un adulto tendría que invertir aproximadamente 3000 horas para aprender un segundo Idioma, Creo que esto puede ser aplicado también al Idioma Español.

Some linguists believe that it would take around 3000 hours to learn a second Language. I believe that could also be applied to Spanish language learning. But you can talk with a native Spanish speaker as soon as you manage some basic skills, maybe when you are at intermediate level
by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 27 August, 2009
How long does it take to learn English? How long should students receive support in language? These are the most frequently asked questions by administrators, school board members and classroom teachers. The most comprehensive work done in this field is the research conducted by Wayne Thomas & Virginia Collier. Thomas&Collier studied the language acquisition of 700,000 English language learners in a longitudinal study from 1982 to 1996. They wanted to find out how long it took students with no background in English to reach native speaker performance (50th percentile) on norm-referenced tests. In addition, they looked at variables such as socioeconomic status, first language, programs used to learn English, and number of years of primary language schooling. In their study, Thomas&Collier found that the most significant variable in how long it takes to learn English is the amount of formal schooling students have received in their first language.
by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 27 August, 2009
In one study, Thomas & Collier researched a group of Asian and Hispanic students from an affluent suburban school district receiving 1-3 hours second language support per day in a well-regarded ESL program . These students were generally exited from ESL in the first two years. All of the students researched were at or above grade level in native language literacy. Here are the results for students in this study.

Those students who were between 8-11 years old and had 2-3 years of native language education took 5-7 years to test at grade level in English. These were the lucky ones.
Students with little or no formal schooling who arrived before the age of eight, took 7-10 years to reach grade level norms in English language literacy.
Students who were below grade level in native language literacy also took 7-10 years to reach the 50th percentile. Many of these students never reached grade level norms.
This data holds true regardless of the home language, country of origin, and socioeconomic status. (Thomas & Collier, 1997).
by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 05 September, 2010
This is an interesting link regarding learning languages.

by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 18 August, 2009
To Vikrama: 3000 hours may include 600 hour teacher classes and the rest you would practice by yourself by different ways like listening to the radio, watching movies, and so forth, Of course if you can live in an Spanish speaking country and could immerse yourself in the language that means that maybe you could learn the language in less than one year.
by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 20 October, 2010
This is an interesting article about the discussion.

by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 17 August, 2011

Sarah Elaine Eaton wrote this:

How Long Does it Take to Learn a New Language?

How long does it really take to learn a second language? The short answer is, it depends.

Most language teachers will tell you that what you put in, is what
you get out of language studies. Companies that sell language learning
products or software may claim that their method or materials will
guarantee fluency in a certain period of time. Usually, that time frame
just happens to correspond to their particular program. Language experts
tend to be skeptical of claims that a certain method can guarantee
fluency in a short period of time – and with good reason.

The reality is that language acquisition is a complex process that
involves communication, grammar, structure, comprehension and language
production along with reading, writing, speaking and listening, just to
name a few of the simpler aspects of language learning.

John Archibald and a team of researchers at the University of Calgary
conducted a study in 2007 that examined a number of questions relating
to second language learning. The found that students who learn other subjects in a foreign language are likely to gain fluency and competence faster.
The method, known as content-based language teaching (CBLT), involves
teaching subject matter content such as math, geography and other
subjects in a foreign language.

“Students in time-intensive content-based language
teaching (CBLT) programs, such as French immersion, are typically able
to master complex content material effectively, despite less than
native-like proficiency in the language of instruction.

In programs where students have limited second-language proficiency
and less time is devoted to second-language learning, the concrete and
highly-contextualized content." (Archibald et al, 2007)

by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 17 August, 2011

Their work also found that the age at which a person begins to learn a language matters. Children who grow up learning more than one language at home essentially have two mother tongues (Archibald et al., 2007 and Swain, 1972).

For those that don't have the privilege of learning more than one language from a young age at home, there are other factors.

The age of the learner

Language learning follows different patterns depending on when you start. Citing a study conducted by Birdsong (1999), Archibald and his team found that: “If second-language acquisition begins at age 5, it follows a different pattern than when second-language acquisition begins at age 25 or at age 15." (Archibald et al., 2007, p. 3).

Notice that the researchers are careful not to judge if one's ability to learn a language becomes better or worse at a certain age. It simply follows a different mental and cognitive pattern.


It also makes a difference if you're learning a minority language or a majority language (Archibald et al, 2007; Cummins and Swain, 1986). For example, if you live in an English-speaking country and you are learning Italian, you are learning a minority language. But if you are an Italian living in England who is learning English, you are learning the language spoken by the majority. If you're submersed in a language, the learning process is different because you're being exposed to the language more for more hours per day, on a consistent basis
by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 17 August, 2011

Language learning in school

A key finding of the research by the University of Calgary team found that students who take foreign language classes at school are unless to receive sufficient exposure to the language to gain deep fluency:

“Learning a second language for 95 hours per year for six years will not lead to functional bilingualism and fluency in the second language. Expectations must be realistic." (Archibald et al., 2007, p. 3)

Language learning in terms of hours – Apply the “10,000-hour rule"

Though the researchers don't say how they arrived at the number of 95 hours per year, we can figure it out. Let's look:

4 hours per week of language classes x 12 weeks per semester x 2 semesters per school year

= 96 hours per year.

If a student begins learning a language in grade six and continues on through to high school completion in grade 12, that constitutes 6 years of language learning.

96 hours per year for 6 years = 576 hours of language instruction

In his book, Outliers, author Malcom Gladwell highlights a study orirignally published in the Harvard Business review by Ericsson et al. The general premise has become known as the “10,000 hours to become an expert rule". In the book Gladwell explains the research behind the notion that true expertise is achieved after an individual has invested 10,000 hours in learning or practicing a skill. This may be a sport, a musical instrument or the study of something.

There are many ways to define “fluency".

If, for the sake of argument, we consider fluency to be the same as being an “expert" in speaking a language, then a learner may well invest 10,000 hours in their language studies to attain fluency.

People will shake their heads when they hear that. No one wants to believe it really requires that much work.

Let's look at some different scenarios:

Scenario #1: One 2-hour adult education course over 8 weeks = 24 hours

Scenario #2: One year of language learning in school = 4 hours per week x 12 weeks x 2 semesters = 96 hours

Scenario #3: 1 year of consistent, dedicated self-study (or homework) at 1 hour per day = 365 hours

Scenario #4: One year of total immersion in the new language (Assuming that in a 24-hour day, we allow 8 hours for sleeping per day) = 16 hours per day x 365 days = 5840 hours

If we use Gladwell's of 10,000-hour rule,  here's how long it would take to achieve “expert ability" in a foreign language:

Scenario #1 – Adult education classes – 416 courses of 24 hours per course. If you did 2 courses per year, you'd need 208 years to become fluent.

Scenario #2 – Foreign language studies at school – 96 hours of classes per year = 104 years to achieve fluency.

Scenario #3 – Dedicated self-study – An hour a day, every single day of the year = 365 hours per year = 27 years

Scenario #4 – Total immersion – Approximately 2 years

Let's be clear. This is one very simplified way of looking at language learning. I openly admit that this way of looking at the question may be a bit reductionist. I said at the beginning of this post that language learning is a complex activity. This way of looking at how long it takes to become fluent doesn't take into account individual differences or abilities, and nor does it address the effectiveness of different language teaching methods. It is simply one way to answer the question, “How long does it take to learn a new language?"

Some argue that immersion is the “best" way to learn a language. Others argue that there is no one “best" way. It may not be about the methods used, but simply the amount of hours spent learning. Learning can be done in formal, non-formal and informal contexts. Language learning doesn't always take place in the classroom. Trained teachers can offer strategies and guidance that the self-directed learner may not have.

The bottom line is that mastering a foreign language takes time, dedication and hard work, regardless of whether it is done in a classroom or in an immersion setting.

However, the benefits of learning how to speak a second language are certainly worth the effort. The challenges of learning another language are immense. Yet millions have achieved some degree of fluency in at least one other language. Those who achieve true fluency do so because they put in dedicated, consistent effort over a long period of time. Claiming otherwise is tantamount to fraud.

Instead of asking “How long does it take to become fluent in another language?"

perhaps a better question is

“How do I get my 10,000 hours of study and practice to become fluent in a new language?"

The answer for most people, in practical terms of every day life, may well like in some combination of formal or non-formal classes, self-study, practice with others in informal contexts and immersion experiences through travel or living abroad.

by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 03 September, 2011

More about this topic

Cleve Miller, Founder and CEO, English360

Achieving the fluency of a college-educated, native Spanish speaker is a very tough project - many if not most adults would never achieve native-level fluency even with years of study. You really need to start as a child to get to native level. That said, some people do have the ability- when I lived in Buenos Aires a friend of mine got to near-native level in about 2 years (but then she lived there).

That said, having a high intermediate or advanced level is perfectly fine for almost any situation (in the Council of Europe (CoE) level framework, a C1 or C2 level). I achieved a B2 level (strong intermediate) while living in Bs As and was able to do about anything in Spanish, including running a business. What was most difficult was being in a group of Argentines in a bar or at dinner and managing the rapid paced idiomatic back-and-forth, especially humor.

But, if your question is "how long to learn Spanish?" and Spanish is defined as an intermediate level that would be sufficient for most any situation, an estimate is around 1000-1500 hours of study to reach B1-B2 in the CoE framework (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Com...). So much depends on context, environment, and individual aptitude.
by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 03 September, 2011
Kelly Erickson:

Problem with the question (to me): Not sure what "college-educated" has to do with being a native speaker... all natives are fluent in their mother tongue.

Aside from that...

The answer, part 1, is "it depends." It depends on:
  • what age you are when you start learning (harder when you're older),
  • what you're doing to learn (taking private lessons/ tutoring, going through classes at school, learning online or through tapes/CDs/books),
  • what level/intensity of classes at school (middle school, high school, college level),
  • who's giving the lessons (a native speaker or a decent-sounding non-native),
  • how much practice you're putting in outside of formal lessons,
  • whether you have the opportunity or make the opportunity to listen to fluent speakers regularly (visiting/ living in an immersion situation, having a friend/ tutor who'll engage in normal conversation to let you sink or swim on your own, etc.).
Any of those factors can make the difference between "quickly," "Slowly," or "never at all."

For me, I'd say I achieved functional-fluency, but I'd never call myself native-level-fluent.

What it took for me: Starting at about age 10, classes at school at a pretty high level in which I regularly enjoyed going beyond what was being taught, intensive practice outside of school, listening as often as I could to Spanish-language t.v. to sharpen (and quicken) my ears, a chance to spend immersion-time in Spain, and reading Spanish literature frequently (not watered-down stuff for students). If you want to put in that kind of dedication, it's possible to get close: I was at a functionally-fluent level in about four years.

(The nice thing about fluency is that unlike learning for a class, as long as you keep on listening, practicing, etc., it doesn't really go away. I might have to speak a bit more slowly now, 20 years after my last college classes, and a few specialty words may be lost to time, but I still hear and read just fine and slow speaking doesn't bother people, as long as you know what you're saying and have a good accent—because somewhere around year 3 of learning, I started thinking in Spanish when speaking Spanish, and I still do. Once you make that switch, you're fluent.)

The answer, part 2, of how "to achieve the fluency of a college-educated, native spanish speaker," is "not very likely no matter how long." Because if what you're hoping for is to be undetectable by natives, that's a very high bar that very few learners ever achieve in any language.
by Ricardo E.Valenzuela Ruiz posted on 03 September, 2011
I would say that there are 3 main factors here:

  • Method - there are a huge amount of options available to people, online/offline, paid/free, immersion/non-immersion, tutor - guided/ autonomous etc. The list goes on. Each learner will have a different set of criteria which will determine which one they go for (time, cost, accessibility, awareness of options)
  • Approach - by approach I mean mental approach, learning a language is a time consuming affair. If learners have a sufficient level of intrinsic motivation and motivation and find the method that suits them then not only can the acquisition process be accelerated, but it can be very gratifying. If the intrinsic motivation is not there then the only road to success is finding the perfect solution, which to this day has not been created (I'm working on it!)
  • Learner background - previous language learning experience and the meta-cognitive (awareness) benefits that an additional language implies increases the likelihood of success and the rate of acquisition.

I think the bottom line is that for one reason or another, some people are more likely to achieve their general life goals than others (and no I don't have the answer to this - I wish!) and this flow over into all of the little or large goals that we set ourselves.
I'm sure there have been people who went from 0 competence to fluency in a 3 month period, just like I know that there are people who can struggle with language learning for a lifetime and never reach fluency.
by Fabiana Giron posted on 18 August, 2009
Hi everyone,

Vikrama, many people spend less or more to learn Spanish. Anyway, it depends on your needs. I think speak like a native speaker is too large a goal to start. As a teacher , I would focus on medium term achivable goals for the students.
You can take 30 to 50 hours, and study on your own another 20 to 40 hours.
That will take you to a level that will allow you to communicate at a lower intermediate level.
Then you can continue with another set of 30 hours, minimum.
Hope that answers questions, and it is in my experience the best way to put it.
by EDITH LUNA VILLANUEVA posted on 18 August, 2009
uh...that is a good question
I can say now that any learning, foreign languages included depend on a number of variables that include students', teachers', approaches', materials', contexts', among others.
If the teacher aims at a communicative, cooperative, constructivist, learner-centred combined approach and students devote quality time to practicing, interacting, being immersed or exposed to the language, luckily, times are shorten.
Vikrama, you say "to speak with a native speaker": that is achievable from start if students are "faced" with situations where to use the language being learnt. "To master the language or "To speak like a native speaker" is a different issue.
I would prefer to say "to interact in communicative situations", that is having acquired the basics and having received plenty of exposure for students to recognize situations varieties.
There are for instance, 30 hours intensive courses that, depending on the variables mentioned, can lead to an elementary level- same with survival level- that enable students to communicate successfully
That's why Spanish South America team and myself, as an active teacher of that network- have different options to suggest(Comunicándonos Course, Language Awareness and Practice with Native speakers, I-can-speak-series, Survival Spanish being the most popular).
by EDITH LUNA VILLANUEVA posted on 19 August, 2009
It depens on students...teachers...and approaches used, all combined and connected to other factors.
by EDITH LUNA VILLANUEVA posted on 19 August, 2009
As regards the time issue, it is not quantity but quality and frequency what matter. I referred to the 30-classes beginners course bec. it is one of the commonest or preferred ones. There are many other options, and I consider them all valid as far as they aim at communication
by EDITH LUNA VILLANUEVA posted on 21 August, 2009
I agree with you on that:
-individual classes;unless they are meant for Specific purposes, small-group tutoring enhances more interaction- the key to acquiring communication skills
-materials and teachers have not the central role but help the learning process
by EDITH LUNA VILLANUEVA posted on 27 November, 2010
Gracias por compartir el artículo Ricardo
by EDITH LUNA VILLANUEVA posted on 04 October, 2010
Hola a todos, ¿Cómo están?
the question of how long is still worrying many-
remember, it is quality, rather than quantity. So despite an appealling ad telling u to learn in X number of hours (classes), be curious about how u r going to be taught or better said, guided to learn.
by Pam Vass posted on 20 August, 2009
I would really focus on the student and student´s needs here. There are persons with different types of intelligences; people who prefer learning only through songs, or grammar or translation; others who prefer just to read, write or chat; people who need to travel soon and need survival Spanish or people who need vocabulary on a specific area because of their jobs. The amount of time a student can devote to learning (taking classes, reading, listening, writing, doing homework in general, making contact with Spanish speakers), the frequency of the sessions (a 30-hour course in a year does not really does it), the creation of a good teaching environment and some other internal factors (like inner motivation) and inner times. Individual lessons tend to be better allowing the teacher to focus full attention on a learner, but they tend to become boring for higher levels where there is more conversation and growth can also come from learning from peer mistakes.
Teachers and materials are simple guides in the path of learning, but the real actors and actresses are the learners!
by Pablo E. Pittaluga posted on 28 August, 2009
Hello Vikrama et al,

Regarding your question, I'd definitely agree with Mr Ricardo Valenzuela; the more you know about your mother tongue, the more you will learn about any other you face.

It has been said that it is easier to learn a language related to yours (e.g. any given two Indo European languages, such as English and Spanish, quite connected) than some other belonging to a different family such as Sino-Tibetan, Semitic, etc.

So, if you speak Hindi and/or English well, some Spanish concepts are going to be easier for you to learn. Being an intermediate speaker would sound a reasonable goal. Three hours of study a week, plus plenty of practise from you, might serve you well in, let's say, one year and a half.

Best wishes and nice learning!

by Kenneth Hall posted on 22 September, 2010
It depends on the type of course you are getting and on the time you can get to study at home by yourself. For example what I`m doing is try to read as much Spanish as I can and when I try to find a film I`ll try to find it in Spanish with subtitles and try to watch Spanish TV channels for now. As from next month I`ll start in another school.

The most diccult part for me is learning the verbs, as for grammar I will start trying to write something when I`ll get a spanish keybord for this computer.
by Kenneth Hall posted on 22 September, 2010
I just found this article that may be helpful for you.

by Kenneth Hall posted on 23 January, 2011
yes Nicky as with everything else you keep learning all the time but I think what Vikrama is asking is how long does it take to start understanding , writing and speaking the language.

the more that you are scared of making nistakes the longer is going to get you so don`t be afraid to make mistakes and practice when you can and you will find out that you will learn from your own mistakes.
by John Smith posted on 19 December, 2010
Lifetime.. Even those who are born in Spain learn spanish every day..No one knows all the words.
by Rocky Rama posted on 23 December, 2010
I think that you will learn in 1 or 2 year.s
by Nicky Nir posted on 23 January, 2011
Indefinetely, no one can learn the whole language.
by Micky Mon posted on 03 February, 2011
I think a 2 or 3 years to speak fluent spanish.
by Allan Rek posted on 22 February, 2011
This is very hard question, it depends on the willingness and determination of the student.
Would you like to Reply:
Sign Up, or  Sign In (if you are existing member) to join this community!

See Virtual Classroom in action

Get a hands-on look at how WizIQ Virtual Classroom works.

Try Virtual Classroom Now

Request a free demo