How Long Does it Take to Learn Portuguese? Honest Answer

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Written By Jessica Knight

Founder of Linguatics. Passionate multilinguist.

Fair warning; we are opening this guide-style article pretty bluntly, if you are here it’s because you value your time. If not you wouldn’t ask a question like “how long does it take to learn Portuguese?”!

So to get straight to the point, there is no black-and-white time frame for learning Portuguese. How long it takes to learn rests upon a mixture of factors and ultimately comes down to the learners’ attitudes and motivations.

Learning any language takes time, as does learning anything new. The good news is that Portuguese is considered pretty similar to English and therefore quicker to learn in general than a language such as Arabic which is distinctly different.

Portuguese is spoken in countries outside of Portugal and there are many great reasons to learn it such as an invaluable cultural understanding for one.

Although it will take effort to become fluent in conversational Portuguese you might be surprised at just how fast it is possible to get there. So let’s look at how long Portuguese takes to learn analytically.

How Long Will It Take to Learn Portuguese?

Our answer is going to be vague for obvious reasons. We can’t give a categorically conclusive one. What we can do is take you through all the contributing factors that affect the speed at which you learn any language and see what the experts have to say.

The language learning process is different for everyone and there are many routes you can take to garner the skills needed. 

Although it boils down to the learning method and the learner’s capabilities we can examine the following factors;

  • Previous Language Learning
  • The Target Language
  • The Learning Method
  • The Dedicated Time 
  • Attitude and Motivation

Each of the factors above will make an impact on how fast you can learn Portuguese. Let’s look at each in detail before we go on to see what the lexicologists and educational professionals have to say on the subject.

Previous Language Learning

Unsurprisingly many linguistic studies show that if you have already learned another language other than your mother tongue then you have a leg up when it comes to learning the next. 

So if you already speak a foreign language you will learn Portuguese faster!

Bilingual and multilingual speakers will always find it easier to learn extra languages as they are naturally more accustomed to processing different sounds and understanding different grammar systems.

Fluency skills are transferable but being exposed to different languages is the key component so it doesn’t matter if you speak to fluent levels. A year of French at high school will still be a bonus. 

Surprisingly, even being exposed to other languages regularly that you don’t speak or understand can help. Your daily commute to work through multicultural areas of your town could count as exposure enough to prepare your ears for listening to sounds that are not in your own language.

Any previous language exposure will shorten the language learning process when you begin to learn Portuguese. 

Of course, having Spanish knowledge, in particular, will be a real boost as the neighboring countries share many linguistic similarities.

The Target Language

The language that you have set your heart on learning itself is a huge factor in how long it will take to learn. 

The main thing to consider about the target language is how much it differs from your native language. 

For English speakers, languages with Latin roots written in Latin lettering tend to be easier to learn. You don’t spend half as much time with the alphabet which is an important fundamental step when you learn any language.

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Portuguese is considered very similar, as we said Arabic as a target language is expected to take far longer

The Portuguese language is Indo-European, sharing many concepts with other European languages, and is very well structured.  It contains many borrowed words (cognates) that will cut down the learning time dramatically. 

You may already know many borrowed words that Portugues has adopted without even realizing it!

Take a look at this list for starters. Many of these words are written almost the same and for most, the translation isn’t necessary;

  • Banco (Bank)
  • Beisebol (Baseball)
  • Câmera (Camera)
  • Champanhe (Champagne)
  • Elevador (Elevator)
  • Doutor (Doctor)
  • Museu (Museum)
  • Restaurante (Restaurant)
  • Sofá (Sofa)
  • Turista (Tourist)

You will find there are many English words with Latin roots that you only need to memorize a suffix or prefix change for to be able to memorize huge vocabulary lists. So how long Portuguese takes to learn might surprise you.

The Learning Method

Regardless of how similar Portuguese is considered to be when compared to English, the way you approach learning the language will play a very important part in how long it takes.

When language learning is limited to educational settings it can take much longer. You are at the mercy of the course framework and unfortunately, the slowest person in the class dictates the speed of the group’s progress.

To truly cut down the time that Portuguese takes to learn you need exposure outside of the classroom as well.

The more the better!

Not everyone is in a position to go abroad and learn a language in the homeland.

Learning in the country in a fully immersive manner is the hands-down best way to master it.

But fear not! You can expose yourself to the target language from the comfort of your hometown if a trip is out of the question.

Today’s technology makes knowledge and learning accessible to everyone. Listen to Portuguese radio, eBooks, and podcasts. Watch movies in Portuguese, follow Portuguese YouTubers, listen to the country’s top music artists over the decades, and find an online language exchange partner.

Immerse yourself outside of the classroom as much as possible if you are serious about learning Portuguese quickly!

The Dedicated Time 

The time that you put into learning is one of the most crucial points. Sure you can be bilingual and naturally predisposed to being able to pick a language up but the general consensus is language learning takes time. 

That time can be fast-tracked and intensive or you can go a slow and steady route.

How long Portuguese takes you to learn depends on the time you put aside to focus on it.

Of course, an intensive course structure will ultimately be quicker but they aren’t for everyone and come with risks.

Amazingly dedicating just one hour a day has proven to be enough to get you well on your way to fluent. It ensures you aren’t overwhelmed and don’t reach burnout. 

Online programs and apps can help you make healthy daily practice habits. Studying daily also contributes to the immersion and exposure factors we have discussed so it is a win-win. 

Attitude & Motivation

Lastly and probably most importantly, attitude and motivation are going to dramatically impact how fast you learn Portuguese.

You can set aside all the time in the world, have the benefit of previous language exposure, and pick an easy language to learn but if you have the wrong attitude and lack motivation then you are going nowhere.

Curious learners make keen learners. When you are eager then you learn faster. 

If you have a good reason to learn Portuguese you will automatically approach learning the language with a more positive attitude.

Make learning fun, and be sure to see it for the opportunity that it is. The more enjoyable the learning process is the quicker it will fly by, as time often does when you are having fun.

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Granted, there will be days when your motivation wavers or dips, so make sure you keep your goals small and manageable to help encourage yourself. 

Lack of motivation is one of the top reasons that people give up on chasing their language learning goals.

So remind yourself constantly why you are trying to learn Portuguese in the first place!

Staying motivated is the key to learning faster. Just know that a very rewarding sense of accomplishment is awaiting you at the other end and power through the tougher grammar-heavy days.

Official Time Frame Guides for Learning Portuguese

So now you know what it takes to learn Portuguese in the shortest time frame possible. 

But we know that if you have found yourself here it is because you want more than factors spelled out. 

You are seeking a definitive timescale you- want numbers!

There have been many language studies over the years that have tried to give a definitive answer but full disclosure even the most reputable authoritative bodies on the subject aren’t crystal-clear!

For starters, there are disagreements about what constitutes language fluency.

Most experts believe you need a high-intermediate level of understanding. 

However, anyone who has lived abroad for a year or two can tell you it is possible to get by and have many conversations without a high level of proficiency. 

A low intermediate level in Portuguese will get you interacting way before you’re fluent. But let’s take a look at the estimated guided learning hours that have resulted from two important studies on language fluency.

The Common European Framework for Reference for Languages

The Common European Framework for Reference for Languages has its own framework which they call “Guided Learning Hours”.

It is the way they measure the amount of classroom time a student should need to get to a B2 level. 

B2 is considered a high intermediate level and arguably fluent.

The idea of the framework centers around education settings and structured course content. It also relies on the student putting in two hours of independent study for every hour of classroom time.

With that in mind, they believe reaching fluency will take a learner somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 hours to reach B2 proficiency.

However, you also have to consider that those hours could be intensive or spread out. 

The best way to demonstrate this is to present a few scenarios:

Scenario 1. One 

The student takes an 8-week course that teaches 3 hours of Portuguese during the week whilst setting a weekly homework task expected to take an hour.

Even with the additional independent learning on top, you are looking at 25-30 courses to reach the 1000-1200 hour mark.

This equates to 8-10 years of studying if you imagine the course is set to 3 per year!

Scenario 2. 

The student studies in a Portuguese language learning school. They spend 6 hours per week in class and are expected to complete 2 hours of homework and 2 hours of independent study. 

The course has a duration of 2 semesters, so the student would be looking at  5 years of learning.

Scenario 3

The student learns via independent study routes from home and puts in just one hour a day, requiring a total of 1000-1200 days.  In this scenario, you cut your learning time down to around 3 years.

Scenario 4. 

The student embarks on 8 hours of fully committed, active immersion every single day. This dramatically cuts the time down to just 3 months. 

Calculating How Long It Will Take to Learn Portuguese

As you can see the above scenarios still don’t give us an accurate calculation.

Scenario 4 is your quickest option but neglects to account for burnout or accessibility.  It isn’t viable for many people to study a language for 8 hours a day as many of us have employment and family commitments to contend with.

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An hour a day is far more reasonable and manageable. Still, you are going it alone as choosing and tailoring your learning method, which in itself could take longer than the dedicated hour to organize and you may feel 3 years is still far too long to learn Portuguese.

However, by looking at the differences that the scenarios present, you can ascertain along with the factors we explored earlier that Portuguese fluency could take you anywhere between 3 months and 10 years. 

But with a dedicated motivated learner this could feasibly be somewhere between 1 and 3 years- a much more realistic calculation

Now let’s compare The Common European Framework for Reference for Languages findings with the results of The U.S. Foreign Service Institute Timeline.

The U.S. Foreign Service Institute Timeline 

The Foreign Service Institute launched a study to help estimate how many hours languages take to learn. The results are regarded highly and often quoted.

The study examined students aged between 30 and 40 studying language courses with the institute. 

They used the Interagency Language Roundtable Scale to calculate how long each participating student took to reach “General proficiency”.

The FSI study results showed that the closer a target language is to the native language the faster it is learned-as we presented earlier.

With that, the FSI divided all languages taught into five language categories with category 1 being closely related to English and category 5 being the most different.

Here are their overall time estimates for proficiency in each language group:

Language Group I which includes; Afrikaans, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish

Takes learners 575-600 hours over 23-24 weeks.

Language Group II solely lists German which is expected to take a little longer than the above group, coming out at 750 hours over 30 weeks.

Language Group III lists languages that it considers to have linguistic and/or cultural differences from English which consists of Indonesian, Malaysian, and Swahili that the FSI estimates will take 900 hours over 36 Weeks.

Language Group IV is the category for languages that are significantly different. This list is much longer and includes:

Amharic, Bengali, Burmese, Croatian, Czech, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik), Pilipino, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Thai, Tamil, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, and Vietnamese. All of these are expected to take a minimum of 1,100 hours over 44 Weeks.

Language Group V is reserved for exceptionally difficult languages which are: Arabic, Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean

The estimated timeframe for which is double the group above at 2,200 hours over 88 Weeks 

So if you want to use the FSI finding to work out how long it will take to learn Portuguese then it will take an estimated 575-600 hours over 23-24 weeks as it is a category 1 language.

From the above, we see that 23-24 weeks which is 2 consecutive years fits in line with The Common European Framework for Reference for Languages estimates too.

If you remember we boiled it down to a realistic 1-3 years depending on the type of learner and method used to learn. 

How Long Does it Take to Learn Portuguese? – Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, you determine how quickly you master Portuguese. 

Hopefully, today’s analysis will have given you enough information to establish a relatively reliable timeframe.

You know what kind of a learner you are. But with the right methods you can learn to speak Portuguese pretty fast if you stay motivated

So don’t be discouraged by the lack of preciseness when it comes to calculating how long learning Portuguese takes.

Many people get to a decent level of fluency in well under a year and plenty of online programs promise great results in just 3 months.

How much time it takes to learn Portuguese is dependent on the factors that we have laid out as clearly as possible.

Reaching the agreed-upon levels of proficiency according to the experts can take anywhere from 575-1,200 hours spread across anywhere from 1- 10 years, only you can speed up your learning process. 

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