As an expat living in Costa Rica, learning to speak Spanish allows you to gain confidence by understanding your new, adopted world better. One of the first questions I get from clients is how did I learn to speak Spanish? How long does it take to learn Spanish? A month? 3 months? A year? Two years? More? Less? When it comes to learning a language you’ll hear countless different estimates for how long it takes to achieve language fluency. And Spanish is no exception.
Spanish is generally considered one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. After all, it shares the same alphabet as English. And Spanish is a phonetic language (words are written the way they sound) and there’s lots of similar vocabulary to English. But does that mean it’s easy to learn? No, of course not. Fluency in Spanish depends on what you’re trying to achieve and how dedicated you are to achieving it
When learning Spanish measure your study time in minutes and hours rather than in months and years. Studying Spanish for 2 hours a week for 3 months is not the same as studying 2 hours a day for 3 months.
The time it takes to study Spanish needs to be thought about in terms of hours invested. The FSI (the US Foreign Service Institute) estimates that it takes 480 hours of study to achieve what they call ‘limited working proficiency’ in Spanish. This would basically be a conversationally fluent level where you can comfortably express your ideas in social situations on a pretty wide range of topics. So let’s say you’re spending 2-3 hours per day studying Spanish, that would mean you could reach conversational fluency in about 5-8 months.
The length of time it takes you to learn Spanish will depend on a few main factors:
What you’re trying to achieve
The intensity of your study
The method you use
What are you trying to achieve?
Most people will say ‘I want to be fluent’. But what does ‘fluency’ mean to you? How do you define it? This question is incredibly important because without knowing the answer it’s impossible to define how long it will take you to learn Spanish. Are you learning it so that you can watch Spanish TV shows and movies? Do you want to be able to work in Spanish? Are you learning so as to socialize with native speakers? For travel? Start with the big goals and work towards making your objectives as specific and clear as possible.
If you’re studying intensely for a number of hours every day, there’s no reason you can’t learn Spanish in a matter of months, but perhaps you don’t have that much time. Most of us will go through periods of quite intense learning, interspersed with lapses where we lose focus or take a break entirely from the language. For most 2-3 hours a day is the most we’ll ever be able to invest in language learning. And at times, it may be even less. Whether it’s work, university, kids or something completely different, life has a way of taking up your time!
If you put in the time and refuse to give up and then your Spanish will gradually improve no matter what method you use. But that doesn’t mean that some methods aren’t better or faster than others. A classic example is the traditional classroom environment that most of us experienced at school. The simple truth is this: large group classes are a very inefficient way to learn a language. By taking one-to-one or small group classes you’ll advance more rapidly than in a large group. You’ll also have more time to practice speaking and more opportunity to receive correction and feedback from your tutor. Work with a private teacher. Having a personal teacher who has worked with dozens, if not hundreds of students, can significantly accelerate your path. Just like having a private fitness trainer will give you a boost in results versus trying to learn how to workout from scratch. It’s a no-brainer, especially if you want faster results and a more real-life interactive way to learn Spanish.
How you study is just as important as how long you study for. This concept also applies to how consistently you practice Spanish. How often you practice is just as important as how long you study for. To learn Spanish quickly and make fast progress, you’re better to study for a small amount of time every day than for a longer period of time once or twice a week. By practicing every day you train your brain to start thinking in Spanish. You make the language an integral part of your life and when you do this you’ll start to notice that you stop translating and start thinking in Spanish.
Learning Spanish is not a race. It doesn’t matter how fast you learn the language but that you enjoy the process. The number of total hours it takes to learn the language will be more or less the same, whether you spread those hours out over 3 months, 6 months or a year. The hours you invest in learning Spanish will be worth it and the end result will be a skill that quite literally changes your life. The formula of learning anything faster comes down to how frequently you practice, how long you can sustain this frequency of practice. Make learning Spanish part of your lifestyle! There are several language schools in Jaco, no better place to learn than the beach in Costa Rica!