How Fast Can You Really Learn Spanish?

How Fast?

As you may know, I am attempting to learn Spanish in preparation for my trip to Colombia. I have really been working hard at it during the last 2 weeks… trying to avoid things that slow me down, and often studying over an hour a day.

Now, if you think about it, an hour a day consistently is a really hard thing to do. It requires significant discipline.

Consider…

I mean, if you worked out hard at the gym for an hour a day consistently, you could drop your body fat to below 10% and be totally ripped.

Yet how many people actually do this?

Or how many people do something that requires a similar level of commitment every day?

Answer: probably less than 10%.

So, if you are one of the 90% of people who never set a goal and achieve it with dedicated perseverance, you will not achieve fluency in 6 months. You will not even get close. Just forget it. You might as well go bury your head in the ground and eat dirt.

What you should realize is that learning a language is a major undertaking that requires daily effort. It requires continuous trial & error, significant periods of undivided attention, and a boatload of patience.

Most people cannot stay with something consistently. Only a small percentage will follow through with their goals… I’m not saying that no one does it. I’m just saying for every 1 person I know who has followed through with something, I know 9 who haven’t followed through– or worse yet, haven’t attempted anything.

So, one of the things you must realize is that it is imperative to do something every day that relates to the overall goal. I recommend a minimum 30 minutes per day if you want to make any progress at all. And you need to keep this up for at least 6 months.

The Irish Polyglot

Now, perhaps you’ve heard of a blog called Fluent In 3 Months. Using his language hacking methods, Benny claims that you can be conversational in your target language within 3 months. And, I agree with him. If you hack the language by speaking it for 2-4 hours per day like a language enthusiast, you can do it in 3 months.

Seriously, you can… If you’re really passionate about your target language, then go for it. Try doing 2+ hours per day along the lines that Benny recommends and you probably will succeed, if you are consistent.

But, my question is, how many people can or will suddenly go from zero hours per day in a foreign language to 2+ hours per day over night?

…AND keep it up for 3 months?

If you can do this, you are either a) a full time traveler or b) an extremely disciplined person.

If you are a full time traveler, I am happy to read your blog.

If you are an extremely disciplined person, I would love to come meet you. You are Master Yoda and I’d like to become your apprentice. 🙂

But the fact is that most of us are neither of these two things. Adding 2 hours per day in a target language is a very tough act to follow. Again– some can do it. Anyone could do it. But most won’t. That’s why I want to give you an idea of how long it has taken me.

My Experience

I have mainly worked with the Pimsleur language series, as well as LiveMocha and multiple Skype conversations with native Spanish speakers. I have averaged a solid hour per day for the past 90 days, and yet I am nowhere near fluency.

Though I am not where I started, as far as basic fluency goes (by that I mean instantly understanding Spanish TV, newspapers, websites, music, and other native Speakers in everyday conversations), I am probably only half way there.

Now, I presume that the speed at which you can learn a certain language might be different from language to language. And, if you are already multilingual you could probably pick up a new language faster than one who is picking up their first foreign language. And, of course, if you find yourself in the country with the target language, things can move a lot faster.

But if you are seriously thinking about fluency, and you cannot practice 2 hours a day or more, and you are not in the country that utilizes the target language, you need to plan on a minimum of 6 months to learn any new language.

>>> Stay tuned to my blog for more tips on learning languages. You can subscribe to the RSS feed, or you can follow me on twitter.

  • Ryan,
    I really admire your effort to learn so quickly. In my experience, I stammer about in the host country for a few days and then all of the sudden the language makes sense. No doubt you’ll learn so much on the ground when you get there and will be totally surprised at your fluency by the time you leave. Good luck!

    • Ryan

      Hey Mary!

      Yea, I definitely think I will pick up Spanish faster once I am in Colombia. It’s something I really look forward to… My experiment has been to try to become fluent without going to the country, though. I’m not sure how well this can be done, but with the internet & Skype, it seems possible. Not sure how well I could ever learn the Asian languages where you are!

      • Keith NSA is watching

        Bang a few columbian senoritas and you will be fluent.

  • I think you’re operating with a few misconceptions.

    You seem to be talking about full-bore study. I am against that (and I’m pretty sure Benny agrees with me on this). Study is difficult, tedious, boring. Study uses up a lot of your time, but it yields disproportionately low results as far as speaking ability.

    Unlike Benny, I learn without going to the country, as you said you want to do. Moreover, I spend ZERO hours per day studying. Yet I reach fluency in less than one year (with a language like Spanish, MUCH less).

    In my opinion, the key — which ties together both Benny’s method and my own — is that there are ways to get exposure to a language without spending that time studying.

    You just have to stop compartmentalizing the language into blocks of “learning time”, and start converting sections of your life into that new language. You use GMail? Use it in Spanish. You go to the ATM? Choose Spanish. You call a customer service number? Press 2 for Español. You listen to music? Listen to Spanish music. You watch movies? Watch them in Spanish. Go out for a beer? Go to a Mexican bar. Etc.

    It’s not hard to get much more than 2 hours of exposure this way. In fact, a person could reasonably expect to get 2 hours on a really “off day”, and as much as 5 hours or more on a good day, without studying and without the risk of burning out.

    I see no reason you couldn’t be pretty well fluent in 3 months this way. In fact, I think my time to fluency in Spanish was somewhere around 3 months. Without evern leaving the US.

    • Ryan

      I see your point, Randy. I have tried many tactics like listening to Spanish music, watching Spanish TV, etc. But after about a week straight of doing them, I didn’t feel like I understood them any better. Because my knowledge of the language was limited, it just sounded to me like gibberish over and over again… I am trying to increase exposure though (just changed my Gmail to Español, thanks for the tip). Also, there are the ways you mention of going to a Latin restaurant or go Latin dancing, etc., which I have done as well.

      But what we’re talking about is not just one time… we’re talking about a large degree of exposure, with consistency. A change to 2 hours a day (even if it is not full bore study, but the kind of changes you suggest) seems to me to be a significant lifestyle change. I just don’t see that happening with most people. Most people are not language enthusiasts… and, though they could make the changes, in all reality, they won’t because they aren’t willing to make the changes consistent. (I suppose I am only a moderate language enthusiast as of now). So, given this tendency, I think it is unrealistic to expect fluency so quickly.

      Keep blazing the trail, though, Randy! I am glad to be subscribed to your blog.

  • Great post. Im traveling in Latin America but I’ve come to a bit of a plateau with my Spanish and it’s because English is seeping into the day. I think I need to dedicate the afternoons to Spanish only!

    • Ryan

      That’s a good point, Ayngelina: just going to Latin America doesn’t necessarily get you to Spanish fluency; you have to intentionally stop speaking English. It’s definitely a challenge! Let me know how you get along.

  • Lachat

    One more thing I found that helps let all media be in your taget langauge and you will be there very quickly but you may loose some of your mother tongue.

    • Good points, Lachat! I agree, the big key is not speaking your native language at all. You acquire the new language so much faster that way.

  • Renee Davies

    Wow! Just found this blog. Love it, and very well written post. I completely agree. To learn a new language you have to practice, practice, practice, and then pracitice again about 10 more times! I think you can achieve fluency, but only to a certain degree, without going to the country, and it takes more effort on your part as far as putting yourself in situations where you are surrounded by Spanish, and I think balancing that with good classes. In the end, if you are really serious about learning a language, the best way to do it is to go live in that country for as long as you can. Take an immersion course, talk to the people, and do you best to push English out of your head for as many hours a day as you can. However, like you said, many people don´t have the luxury of being able to get up and move to the country for a few months. I think speaking with natives via skype is great too! I actually work at a Spanish language school in Mexico, and we offer both things, immersion courses, and classes via skpye for those who can´t afford the trip. If you, or anyone else, is interested, check out our website http://www.escuelafalcon.com Best of luck on your journey learning Spanish! It will open up a whole new world 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Renee! 🙂

  • This is worth checking out – I’ve been using it and it’s actually pretty good. https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/language-immersion-for-ch/bedbecnakfcpmkpddjfnfihogkaggkhl?hl=en

    It’s a plugin through chrome that translates words into your target language at varying degrees of difficulty. Like east would target the easier vocab and the rest of what you’re reading would be in its original language.

    Kind of a cool way to trick yourself into a wider vocab so you can string together more of what you want to say.

    What’s helped me a great deal is thinking in the language so I get out of the terrible habit of thinking of what I want to say, then trying to translate from English to Spanish in my head, then remembering the whole thing and reciting it lol

    It’s much better to put English to the side and make do with the pieces of Spanish you can string together, That’s where I’ve been able to get back to the basics and get a real grip on the fundamentals.

    Like if you’re thinking “and” is “y” in spanish you want to get to a point where “y” is “y” in the same way you think “and” is just “and”.

    For years I was running into the wall with that faulty approach, but recently I’ve been getting more and more fluent because I’m really appreciating the meaning of each word in its own context. So if I don’t have that word in spanish context I’ve gotten savvier at figuring it out how to say it in a different construct but I’ll be more motivated to know what that missing piece was that could have made that moment easier.

    I really think fluency comes from the click in the mind where you stop depending on matching words to words. In school one bit of enlightenment I received was that idea that they are completely different words.

    When I say “house” and they say “casa” it’s not a one on one comparison because we each have a different image that pops into our head when some one uses the word.

    That example isn’t the best, but I think “gustar” is a good one. We want to say “I like” so we learn how to use the word “gustar” it’s not uncommon to leave it at that. Eventually you learn “me gusta” really means something like it’s pleasing to me and think ‘oh that’s interesting’ and don’t really think of it beyond that.

    But I think that’s the fork in the road, either:
    – ‘oh that’s cool’ => “gustar” === “like”
    – ‘why?’ => “gustar” === “gustar”

    • Great points, especially about thinking in terms of the language. Thanks Ryan!

      PS Yeah, that’s a good plugin worth checking out… Turns out Google Translate has failed me on numerous occasions, and I’m a Firefox user too!

  • Corey Kennedy

    I dont know man. Ive been banging away at Spains for about 30 min a day for a year and can put sentences together but my verb congs are horrible. That’s the toughest part of speaking it. In terms of understanding, the locals speak so quickly, i almost never understand them the first time. Somebody told me 3 months until i was fluent…not a chance! It’s been tougher than i though. Any tips on memorizing verbs endings???

    • Hey Corey – In my experience, it’s too boring to memorize verb endings, man. Just connect with natives through Livemocha or italki and practice having Skype conversations. Then when you need to say something in particular, they can correct you and you’ll remember it because it’s used in a convo. More real conversations, less ‘hard’ studying. Cheers! 😀

  • Rownak Khan Ressal

    Thanks mate for your blog. Now I want to show you all a guide which also help you to lean Spanish easily. You can speak Spanish like a native in no time. Learn basic Spanish the easy way. This guide will solve your problem. I’ve been using it and it’s actually pretty good. Check this out: http://tr.im/5kx49

  • Diaa Attia

    You can learn Spanish faster if you practice it with native speakers, here is one of the websites that offers that http://preply.com/en/spanish-by-skype

  • Keith NSA is watching

    Have a 2 year torid affair with a married bonita senorita and you will become fluent in 3 months and very fluent in everything within 6 months. Everything. Te Amo?

  • Michael Zerzycki

    Re-kindling a 5 yr old discussion!

    Hi Ryan,

    Hopefully your still active and traveling. This is my first step (well second) to acclimating to a South American Culture. The first thing I did was marry a Colombian traveling abroad to America. This journey should be fun. December 20th 2016 I’ll be arriving to Bogota. I’ve added you to Twitter, started a blog, priced some GoPro equipment and I’m rekindling 4 years of Spanish I took in high school. Happy travels Ryan. Thanks for all the insight on your blog.