Learning a new language can be overwhelming and many beginners in their eagerness to reach fluency often impatiently ponder the question ‘how long will this take?’ Many self-proclaimed polyglots will have you believe that you can speak Spanish like a native in a month or even less. But learning a language is a process that takes up much of your time and energy in a world where we are so used to instant gratification. Essentially how long you take to acquire certain skills in Spanish will depend on how motivated and committed you are. To be successful in your studies, you need to have the discipline and willpower to set you through. However, if you have a passion for Spanish or any other language committing your time towards it becomes effortless.
Learning Spanish: What’s your Native Language?
Spanish originates from a spoken variety of the Latin language in present-day Spain. Spanish, along with Italian, Portuguese, French and Romanian are classified as Romance languages. For native speakers of any of the mentioned languages, Spanish would be easier to pick up since they belong to the same language family and share many similar words and grammar structures.
However, for English speakers, the task of learning Spanish isn’t harder than other Romance language speakers. According to Dictionary.com over 80 per cent of entries in the English dictionary can be traced back to Latin despite English being classified as a Germanic language. The influence of Latin on non-Romance languages cannot be underestimated and you are likely to encounter words of Latin origin even in Semitic languages. Further down below are some examples that illustrate the similarities between Latin-based languages and English.
Both Spanish and English also share similar syntax and make use of is the SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) structure. Take the following sentence as an example.
English: Luis reads the book.
Spanish: Luis lee el libro.
The subject in both sentences is Luis; the verb is read or leer and the object is the book or el libro.
Some languages have a variety of rules as to when the capitalization of certain words applies. However, native English speakers need not sweat as Spanish adheres to the same capitalization rules. Proper nouns, place names, titles, and the initial letter in a sentence are all capitalized. You can see this in the following example:
English: Paul lives in Spain.
Spanish: Paul vive en España.
In the above example, the proper noun Paul is capitalized along with the name of the country España or Spain.
As mentioned earlier, English has a substantial amount of words of Latin origin and you can often find the corresponding word in Spanish that shares the same root. Let’s look at words to illustrate this.
affectar: to affect
observer: to observe
limitar: to limit
admirar: to admire
calmar: to calm
Next, we will be comparing Spanish and French, another Latin-based language. As Spanish and French are both Romance languages, they naturally share many grammatical features and lexicon. It is estimated that the two languages share about 75 per cent of the vocabulary and we will be looking at some very similar words.
el teléfono: le téléphone
el vino: le vin
la biblioteca: la bibliothèque
el pais: le pays
la luna: la lune
Besides sharing a good chunk of vocabulary, French and Spanish also share a lot of grammatical similarities like nouns that are gendered, two past tenses and the conjugation of verbs. French and Spanish also have informal and formal variations of the word ‘you’. In French ‘tu’ is used when speaking to another person, usually, a friend or a person one is well acquainted with, while vous is used in more formal settings. In Spanish, ‘tu’ is used informally, while ustedes or vosotros is used to address people formally.
Similarities between different Romance languages
Below you can get a clue of just how many similarities there are between Latin-based languages. You will see that many of the words begin with the same letters and keep some of the core sounds although some variation may occur here and there.
Learning Spanish: Where do you live?
It is estimated that there are around 543 million Spanish speakers around the world, with more than 400 million of the total being native speakers. As of 2021 according to Statista, Spanish is the fourth most-spoken language in the world. Most Spanish speakers are concentrated in North and South America, with the U.S. hosting the second largest population of Spanish speakers (neighbouring Mexico takes the top spot). The presence of the language is not something new. Spanish has always had a footprint in the U.S., with many places such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Florida, and El Paso owing their origins to the Spanish language. The future for Spanish in the U.S. also looks bright and by 2050 it is estimated that one in three people in America will speak the language.
Most Spanish speakers in the U.S. reside in California, Florida, Texas, as well as New York, to name a few. If you live near Spanish speaking communities, you have the added advantage of being able to practice your Spanish while you are learning. Making the effort to surround yourself in spaces where Spanish is spoken will help integrate all the grammar and vocabulary you have memorized. The more you use the language, the better you will retain it. Native speakers may correct you many times on your pronunciation of words and grammar but that should not deter you from seeking out social situations. The more you make mistakes and learn, the more opportunities you have to sharpen your fluency.
If you don’t live in an area where Spanish speakers are numerous, you can also find plenty of online communities where you can practice your Spanish and make new friends in the process. Rote learning is not a very effective way to learn and while you may think that you have gained some mastery over the language by memorisation, you can very easily forget all you have learnt if you do not make effort to speak. Below is a list of recommended sites where you can do this.
- Duolingo.com offers many Spanish meet-ups worldwide where you can interact with other learners. The app is easy to use and you can quickly learn new words and practise your pronunciation. You can also add your friends and make your Spanish learning interactive and enjoyable.
- Busuu.com offers plenty of opportunities to interact and chat with native speakers while you are learning on the platform. You can choose to learn Spanish for travel, business or for general use.
- Lingoda.com has courses that are taught by native speakers and students have the opportunity to learn through online groups or one-on-one sessions with tutors.
Learning Spanish: How motivated are you?
Another important aspect that is often overlooked when learning a language is motivation. How passionate are you about Spanish? Do you listen to or watch Spanish music or films? Are you curious to learn more about a certain culture or country where Spanish is spoken? Learning a new language should be a pleasurable activity and something you look forward to doing in your free time. If you are emotionally invested in learning Spanish, you will progress much faster.
Setting goals is also important and outlining your reasons for learning Spanish will put things in perspective and motivate you in your journey. Your goals can be anything from getting a promotion at work, being able to converse with your in-laws or simply impressing people at a party. Your goals can guide you as to how much you are willing to learn and how many hours you can devote to your studies. It is also helpful to constantly remind yourself of your goals to stay on track. You can do this by making a list of all your goals and placing them somewhere where you can always see them.
Learning Spanish: How long will it take?
The natural aim of all beginners is to reach a level of fluency, but what does being fluent in Spanish mean for you? Most people set their goals very high and aim to be as fluent as a native speaker but that option may not be as useful if you are mainly interested in being able to converse and understand people in everyday life. In general, there are two levels of fluency: conversational and native-level.
Conversational fluency means that you can understand around 90 per cent of what people are saying in common everyday settings. By aiming for this type of fluency you will be able to converse with others and improve your pronunciation and Spanish as you learn from native speakers. If you study for one hour each day it is possible to reach conversational fluency within eight to twelve months.
According to a study done by the U.S. Department of State, it would approximately take English speakers around 24 to 30 weeks (600 – 750 hours) to learn Spanish in a classroom setting. However, learning in a formal environment does not guarantee that you will acquire the language more quickly or even be able to hold a basic conversation after a year. In the traditional classroom, passive rather than active learning is usually practised. If you can actively involve yourself whilst learning the language through speaking, reading aloud and writing, you can progress so much faster.
It is important to set aside a time slot where you dedicate all your time to learning to read, write and speak Spanish. You can do it by listening to music, watching videos, reading children’s books, and seeking out people you can converse in Spanish with. Exposing yourself to all of the mediums will greatly enhance your learning and help you absorb information faster.
If you are learning by yourself, you need to decide how many hours you are willing to learn Spanish. The fewer hours you decide to allocate for studying, the longer it will take to master the language. But most of you will need to set goals for yourself and the timeframes you want to complete each one of them. Below is a timeline of language goals you can copy and amend to your liking.
In a few weeks:
You should learn the Spanish alphabet and focus on your pronunciation of Spanish words. During this time you will learn various greetings and common questions you will use in everyday life. You should also know how to describe the weather, the days of the weeks, numbers and the time.
In a few months:
You would have mastered the sounds of the Spanish language, basic expressions like greetings, forming basic sentences describing yourself as well as questions. By now you should be able to know how to conjugate a few verbs and know how to use the present, future and past tense.
Half a year:
During this time you should learn more about the wider Hispanic world and be able to read basic texts like children’s books. You should also be comfortable writing basic sentences in Spanish.
After a year you should be able to comprehend rudimentary texts and communicate on an elementary level. You should also have a grasp of basic grammar and reading skills. At this level, you should seek out as many opportunities as you can to practice your Spanish even if you are a little shy. Taking time to practice your basic Spanish will cement the foundation of your knowledge and make learning so much easier as you advance.
Now that you have an idea of what it takes to become fluent in Spanish, you can plan your learning journey step by step. Remember that learning a language is a process; there is no magic trick besides patience and dedication that will guarantee you decent mastery over the language. Keep on engaging with the language as much as you can through a variety of activities in your everyday life.
One of the best ways of practising Spanish in your everyday life is through making an effort to speak the language as much as possible, and one of the best ways to do this is through one-on-one tutoring at AmazingTalker.com.