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How Difficult Is It to Learn Portuguese and How Long Does It Take?

So you’re starting to learn Portuguese and asking yourself how challenging your language learning journey is going to be. 

Put another way, how long will it take until you can speak Portuguese unhindered?

Well, how difficult it is to learn a second language hinges on several factors. 

One of those factors is what your mother tongue is. For those of you who are native English speakers, there’s good news.

According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), Portuguese is – along with Spanish, Italian, and Dutch, to name a few – one of the “easiest” languages to learn for English native speakers*.

* Learn more about how Portuguese and English languages compare: Portuguese Grammar Compared to English

As for the question about the time it takes to learn Portuguese, the FSI gives an estimate of 24 weeks (roughly 6 months) for an English native speaker student to reach the so-called “Professional Working Proficiency,” which roughly corresponds to the B2/C1 level according to the CEFR scale.

Now, I’d argue that 24 weeks is a debatable figure (it’s certainly an ambitious one). See, there are several factors at play that will determine how fast you will reach such a goal. 

To start with, there’s your natural ability for languages and, like it or not, there’s not much you can do about that. Let’s assume that you score average on this one as most of us do. Having an average talent for language learning is also the assumption in FDI’s calculations anyway.

Then, there’s your prior linguistic experience. This one is relevant. When it comes to learning Portuguese, it helps a whole lot if you have studied another Romance language before, let alone if you are a native speaker of, say, Spanish, Italian, or French.  

Last but not least, there’s the time you can commit to practicing your target language, that is, how intensely you’ll be studying Portuguese. 

It’s here that FSI might be professing wishful thinking. 

For instance, the 24 weeks figure they advance presupposes 25 class hours a week (600 class hours in 6 months). I am pretty sure that only a few of us will have all that free time to devote to learning a second language. 

So, let’s address the question again: how long, realistically speaking, will it take for you to reach the B2/C1 level in Portuguese?

All things considered, you are most likely to spend between one and two years of consistent language learning and practicing* before you break into the fluency level. This is, of course, provided that you are serious about it and you “show up” on a daily basis. 

* Consistency is a basic pillar of any serious language learning strategy. Find out more here: The Best Way to Learn Portuguese: Key Strategies to Become Fluent.

While it is not impossible to achieve fluency under the 1-year mark, I’d recommend you to start off your learning journey with realistic expectations so that you don’t get disheartened along the way.

Again, remember that the 24-week figure mentioned before assumes that you are practicing Portuguese 25 hours a week on average. That’s over 3,5 hours a day, 7 days a week! How realistic would that be for you?

It is already excellent if you can devote, say, 10 hours a week on average. If you manage to stick to that figure, and in keeping with FSI’s calculations, you’ll end up reaching your goal in 60 weeks, which is about 14 months’ worth of a learning journey. Impressive, I’d say.

If you only can make it up to 8 hours a week on average – which is also very good and probably what most of us will be able to commit to – you’ll reach your goal in about 1,5 years. To me, that sounds like quite a feat.

To sum up. In this brief article, we’ve been discussing how long it might take for an English native speaker to reach the B2/C1 level in Portuguese (the fluency breakthrough level).

I reckon that FSI’s estimate of 24 weeks (roughly 6 months) is unrealistic for most of us.

Here’s what I think is more plausible to posit. 

Assuming that you don’t have prior experience in Romance languages, anything that falls between 1,5 and 2 years is very reasonable.

Anything falling between 1 and 1,5 years is quite an achievement. 

Anything below the 1-year mark is, I’d say, outstanding.

Keep in mind that any of the above scenarios presuppose deliberate and consistent practice. Make sure that you use your time wisely by reading the following: The Best Way to Learn Portuguese: Key Strategies to Become Fluent.

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