How Long Does It Take to Become Fluent in Spanish?
So, you’ve decided to work towards becoming fluent in Spanish. ¡Felicidades!
You have chosen well! Why? Because Spanish is spoken in over 21 countries and territories. And by becoming fluent in Spanish you can communicate with over 572 million more people. This opens up job and travel opportunities, friendships with new people, and so much more!
Way to go toward expanding your horizon and taking on the challenge of learning something new!
Keep reading to discover just what fluency means, questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are fluent in Spanish, and when you can achieve fluency if you practice every day.
Fluency is a Process
Working towards fluency in a foreign language can feel like trying to catch running water with your bare hands. Sometimes, most of it slips away. Now and then, you hold your hands just right and you can cup a handful of water easily.
Most people who learn a foreign language have good days—where they are able to speak well, recall the proper words and verb conjugations, and carry on a good conversation with fluency.
….and then there are the bad days. This happens when the words are hard to grasp and difficult to recall. Sometimes you are stressed, tired, or the words are just plain stuck in your mind. This can lead to you trying to translate what you are hearing from Spanish to English and this just further slows down the communication process.
These variances are normal and are not a setback. It’s all part of the fluency process.
What Does it Mean to be “Fluent in Spanish”?
Your dictionary will mislead you and have you believing that fluency means you speak a language with the same ease and understanding as your native tongue. It will leave you thinking that you will only be considered fluent in Spanish when you can speak Spanish as easily as breathing.
Fluency, however, is not a concrete achievement where you check a box and are set for life. It is fluid, just as the term fluency implies. Fluency comes in varying degrees, much like the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days that you will have along the way.
Use CEFR as a Benchmark
The Common European Framework of Reference, or CEFR, is an internationally recognized language evaluation tool that determines your language fluency level. Unfortunately, many language classes and books are divided into generic and ambiguous language levels that are often too vague to be useful. When evaluating how fluent in Spanish you are, you will want to look to the CEFR for guidance. Luckily, Homeschool Spanish Academy (HSA) uses the CEFR to design curriculum and evaluate students’ performance so there is no confusion.
- spoken interaction
- spoken production
You will fall into one of six levels:
- A1 (basic user)
- A2 (beginner)
- B1 (intermediate)
- B2 (advanced intermediate)
- C1 (fluent)
- C2 (mastery)
Just like that! You can determine your fluency level in Spanish.
Now, what if you want to check your fluency level without the CEFR? That leads us back to vague and ambiguous assessments, but there are some questions you can ask yourself. Let’s take a look.
I am Fluent in Spanish If…
Generally speaking, you are fluent in Spanish if you can answer ‘yes’ to the following six questions.
But there is a giant caveat; you may be fluent in reading and writing (such as placing C1 on a CEFR placement exam) but beginner level for spoken interaction and production (placing A1 or A2 on the CEFR placement exam). As I mentioned, this is a fluid process and is as easy as catching running water in your hands (wait, that is not easy…).
1. Can native speakers understand me?
Part of being fluent in Spanish is pronouncing el alfabeto, las vocales, y las palabras with correct pronunciation. You are generally not considered fluent if a native speaker cannot understand what you are saying. This is not to say that you have a native Spanish speaker’s exact accent because that can be difficult to achieve. However, you enunciate the words so that they are understandable.
2. Is it easy for me to think of what I’m going to say next?
If you are stumbling around trying to think of what to say next in a conversation, then you are not considered fluent. Thoughts that will hinder your fluency could include:
- “Err, how do I say ‘nice to meet you’ again?”
- “Is the ‘h’ in hola silent?”
- “Is the letter a in Spanish pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘ate’ or ‘uh’ as in ‘above’? Oh no, I can’t remember!” (For the record a in Spanish is pronounced ‘ah’).
You are considered fluent if you can carry on a conversation without hesitation and quickly understand what is being said. You can also respond in Spanish without delay or without translating to and from English in your head. It also means you are secure in your alphabet and phonics.
3. Do I catch my own mistakes?
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t make a grammar mistake when speaking a language. The reality is that you will make mistakes. The less frequent the mishaps, the more fluent you are. Some examples of mistakes are:
- Inadvertently translating a verb to the tú form instead of the usted form
- Using the wrong pronoun, like lo instead of le
- Deciding that you can use a better adjective to describe what you are feeling
Catching yourself making a mistake is a step towards fluency.
4. Do people no longer simplify their speech for me?
People will modify their speech to help a language learner understand them better. If you find that people are slowing down their Spanish from a natural pace and using simple words when they speak with you, then you are not fluent yet.
As you become fluent in Spanish, native speakers will carry on a conversation at a natural pace and speak comfortably (such as not enunciating every single letter in a word and throwing in slang). ¡Vale, vale, vámonos mae!
5. Can I identify 90% of written words?
Reading smoothly and at a consistent speed and understanding what you have read is an indicator of fluency. Don’t confuse this with being able to read a paragraph quickly but not comprehending what you have just read. Fluency means that you are reading for comprehension at a consistent (not necessarily fast) pace.
6. Can I understand jokes and use humor?
This is a tricky measure of fluency, because understanding jokes and sayings in another language is so difficult even if you are considered fluent. Yet, this is a measure of fluency that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Fluency is not Mastery
Don’t be discouraged! Fluency does not necessarily mean speaking Spanish as easily as you speak your native language, nor is it memorizing the dictionary and every verb conjugation. Fluency doesn’t mean that you know every way to say everything.
However, fluency does mean that you can find an alternative way of saying or explaining something if you are stuck. Forgetting a word can happen in any language, such as a technical word that doesn’t come to mind, but finding a synonym is a good sign that you are fluent. Being fluent means that you fill in a few blanks or missed words by understanding the context of the conversation. And fluency means you can discuss many different subjects in different situations and carry yourself with confidence. You got this!
When Will I Become Fluent?
Nobody knows the answer to this. There are simply too many variables and different situations in each of our lives. However, in general you will become more fluent with daily exposure. Speak, read, write and listen to Spanish for at least an hour every day. The amount of time and effort you put into Spanish will directly improve your fluency.
Based on US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) research, if you start out as a beginner and spend an average of one hour per day working actively on Spanish—such as with a teacher or conversation partner, as well as doing homework—then it can take 480 hours to reach conversational fluency. This means you can reach fluency in just over a year!
Obviously, you could reach fluency in a shorter time period if you spend more time on Spanish daily.
How to Polish Your Spanish Skills
So, you are not yet fluent but want to polish those language skills and reach the goal of being fluent? The best advice is to practice every day! Let’s say you can practice 3 to 5 hours per day, what would that look like? Check out this sample schedule:
Spend 1 hour listening to the news in Spanish via TV, podcast, or radio while getting ready and commuting to work.
Spend your lunch break walking and listening to an audiobook or podcast in Spanish. Or use this time to speak to your online Spanish teacher.
- Spend 20 minutes speaking Spanish with a friend, or “oprima 2 para continuar in español” when paying your online bills or calling the phone company to change your plan.
- Spend 20-60 minutes studying grammar, verb conjugations, and vocabulary.
- Enjoy 30-60 minutes of your favorite TV show in Spanish.
Create a schedule that works for you! Read this article to learn more about fitting Spanish into your busy schedule.
Sign up for a free trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy to skyrocket your fluency skills through the roof! Talking improves your fluency and will help you get comfortable conversing in Spanish. Our teachers hope to meet you soon!
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- 7 Themes for Vocabulary Activities in Spanish for Preschool Kids - February 3, 2021