There is no single answer to this question, but this blog post will give you an idea of the most common variables that can determine how fast you can learn Spanish. Once you take these factors into account – and see where you fit in – you will have a better idea how long you will need to study, and more importantly, HOW you ought to study if you want to learn Spanish as quickly as possible.
By the way, for the purpose of this article, I am considering only adults whose native language is English and the time estimates that I make are based on 10 years of experience of running an online Spanish school.
What do you mean by “learn Spanish”?
First things first. The question “How long will it take me to learn Spanish” is deceivingly vague. Do you want to learn to speak Spanish like a native? If so, be prepared to spend years studying the language of Cervantes. But most people have more humble – and achievable – dreams. Maybe all you want to reach a level of ‘social niceties’ and some survival Spanish for travel. You know, the level where you can toss around phrases like “Hi, my name is such and such and I live here and there; waiter, give me the bill; where is the market place, etc.” If that’s your case, than for you “learning Spanish” means completing a Basic 1 level of Spanish study (considering a six-level program from beginner to upper advanced). However, if your goal is to break out of the present tense and be able to manage basic everyday situations (albeit in slow motion) for you “learning Spanish” means completing a Basic 2 level of Spanish. In other words, the statement “I want to learn Spanish” is entirely subjective, since everything depends on the level of Spanish you want to reach.
What kind of learner are you?
Some people who are studying Spanish for the first time have zero idea how they learn best, but once they discover what works for them, they board a fast-track train of progress. How about you? Do you learn and remember best through trough listening and repeating, using images, or writing down what you hear? No doubt your optimal learning pattern will include a mixture of these areas, but if you want to learn Spanish quickly, you need to apply the recipe that is right for YOU. How about your learning environment? Smart learners will determine whether they learn best in the morning, afternoon or evening and program their classes accordingly. How about the type of classroom scenario that fits your style and personality? Do you benefit from being in a class with others because you are competitive? Or maybe you are motivated having peers share your experience? If that’s the case, a group class might be your best bet. On the other hand, maybe you think you get distracted by other students or daydreams and you think you would do your best studying with a private Spanish teacher on line, or face-to-face. So, figure out HOW YOU LEARN BEST, and apply it to your studies, and will learn Spanish faster than if the learning model is imposed. Proactively shaping how, when and what you study is key. In summary: understand yourself, and use this knowledge to build a Spanish program that is tailored to your individual needs. Another huge shortcut to learning!
Am I good at learning languages?
You might ask yourself: “Do I have a natural ability to learn language?” Quick answer: of course you do! We all do. Sure, some people are particularly gifted for learning a language (lucky them), but the vast majority of us common folk just have a good old ‘normal’ ability, and we end up making average progress. But you know what? Average ability is plenty and it will get you to where you want to go – especially if you apply some of the tips in this article. In other words, don’t get hung up on whether or not you are “good at learning languages”. Yes, you are! And if you have had trouble in the past it is because you didn’t apply simple learning techniques such as using imagery and relating similar sounds to remember words and rules, or using cognates to expand your vocabulary. Note: these tricks are not intuitive –you have to learn them, but once you do, you will supercharge your progress and do wonders for your motivation.
The previous point segues nicely into the next: What is your level of motivation? In other words, how badly do you want to learn Spanish? Is it being forced upon you so that you can fulfill professional or academic requirements? Or, do you really, really, really want to learn. In my experience, highly motivated learners advance at twice the speed of others! This is because motivated learners search out and recognize learning opportunities, and because they are keen to learn, their class becomes a vivid and pleasurable experience. Work on your motivation and keep yourself psyched, you will learn Spanish much faster than the poor schmuck who takes the couch-potato approach. Learning Spanish is an ACTIVE process and trying to fill your head through a passive process of osmosis just doesn’t work.
How intense is your Spanish program?
Have you ever taken a class and been distracted by your daydreams, the other students in your class, or your smartphone? It’s a common occurrence, and the more students in the class, the more likely it is for students to ‘zone out’. On the other hand, logic dictates that a student who is studying one-on-one with a live Spanish tutor has little or no opportunity to be distracted from the task at hand, especially when compared to a student sitting in the back row in a Spanish classroom shared with 30 other students. There is no doubt about it: the greater your involvement, the faster you will learn Spanish.
Besides your level of mental involvement in the learning process, there is another kind of intensity that is important to consider, and by this I refer to the amount of hours you dedicate to study over a given length of time. This ratio is hugely important to your rate of progress learning a language and the general rule is that you will learn faster in terms of the total number of hours studied if you compress your study hours into a shorter period of time. For example, if you study 2 hours per day 5 days a week for 10 weeks (100 hours total) you will progress faster than if study 1 hour per week for 100 weeks (also 100 hours). Why? Because the longer you wait between classes, the more chance you have of forgetting freshly learned vocabulary and grammar which means you will then need to spend valuable time going back to refresh and relearn in order to keep building. This is why homework and self-study also play a strategic role in the process of foreign language acquisition. Listening to pod-casts and class audios, reviewing course work and completing exercises are all valid and necessary ways you can push your abilities forward between classes, as opposed to losing ground. In our experience at Web Spanish, the optimal intensity for students who take private Spanish classes over Skype through our Spanish class website (considering that these are adult learners who need to maintain a work/study/home life balance) is 8 to 12 hours of Spanish classes online and between 4 to 6 hours of self-study per week.
If you want to learn Spanish, there is clearly a time and financial commitment to be made, but students who reach their goals say that the benefit was well worth the sacrifice. In the case of Web Spanish we see that students who maintain an intense rhythm of study, who take time to review and do homework, and who are motivated and goal oriented move through each of our levels in 60 to 80 hours of class time. So, how long does it take to learn Spanish? That depends on you, but you have the power to make it happen faster if you play your cards right.