How long does it take to learn German fluently?

After 7 years of teaching German to enthusiastic students from across the world, I've heard every version of the question:

'Wie lange dauert es, fließend Deutsch zu lernen?' – How long does it take to learn German fluently?

It's understandable that learners ask this - after all, who wants to set out on a journey without knowing how long it would take to reach their destination?

In simple terms, you can become fluent in 10–12 months if you follow the most successful strategies and remain persistent in your approach.

In this post, I'll walk you through each of the steps you need to achieve fluency in German one by one. You'll get insider knowledge from my years of expertise teaching hundreds of people to speak this very expressive language.

My goal is to help you make achievable goals and stay motivated while you practise German over the course of weeks, months, and years. Lass uns gehen!

What Does It Really Mean to Be Fluent in German?

To understand how long it takes to become fluent in German, we need to define what fluency actually means.

Most people want to improve their conversational skills to a point where they can have a solid conversation with a native speaker. Conversational fluency is the ability to do this - to communicate on everyday topics without struggling for every word. You don't need a native-level of fluency (unless of course you're training to be an undercover international spy).

Conversational fluency is entirely achievable with 12 months of consistent effort. However, important factors that will affect how soon you get there include:

  • Your previous language experience and natural abilities
  • Level of effort: how much time you dedicate every day to actively using German
  • What tactics you use (some are more successful than others)
  • What resources are available (technology, money, etc.).

How Long Does it Take to Become Fluent in German?

Now that we've established our goal of reaching conversational fluency, let's discuss realistic time limits. Of course, various sources will provide different solutions to this topic.

One thing we can do straight away is dismiss claims of becoming proficient in days or weeks. These claims, offered by dishonest book or course marketers, are completely impractical.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) outlines the following milestones and time estimates:

  • A1 (beginner): 70–80 hours.
  • A2 level (elementary): 150–180 hours.
  • B1 (Intermediate): 300–360 hours.
  • B2 Level (Upper-Intermediate): 540–620 hours.

So, according to the CEFR, you may achieve conversational fluency, which is roughly similar to B2 level, after 540–620 hours of dedicated practice. How long this takes you will depend on the intensity of your study.

Meanwhile, the United States Foreign Service Institute (FSI) considers that fluency takes longer: around 900 classroom hours.

Of course, these estimates do not account for the effectiveness of your study methods.

They're based on classroom learning, which frequently relies on ineffective passive approaches, such as lectures. In my years of teaching students, I've discovered that active speaking helps you to remember far more vocabulary than passive listening, and language acquisition research supports this.

Prioritising active learning through frequent speaking practice with a German tutor can help you reach your objectives much faster.

The goal is to strike a balance between intense, demanding practice and consistent, passive immersion. By building a habit of practicing every day, you'll improve quickly.

Using this strategy, I've helped students to become fluent in 10 to 12 months.

Here's an overview of how you can make progress in this time frame.

Months 1–3: Survival German – Überlebensdeutsch

The first 90 days of studying German should be primarily focused on developing a survival vocabulary. Consider months 1–3 to be the time when you gather the necessary bricks for sentence creation.

Prioritise words and phrases that are often used and valued. For example:

  • Greetings: Guten Morgen! Hallo! HI!
  • Family terms: Mutter, Vater, Bruder, Freunde.
  • Directions: hier, dort, rechts und vorne.
  • Transactions: Wieviel kostet das? Danke! Gern geschehen.

At this point, do not try to understand complex grammar. Learning valuable and common words will help you make faster progress. Langua has flashcards of the 5,000 most popular German words you need to learn, which you can study for free.

Real-world conversations may also be an effective approach to acquire language. Pay close attention to how people speak and take note of any familiar phrases. Mimic native speakers to improve your pronunciation and above developing bad habits.

Within three months, the majority of my students have learned enough vocabulary to engage in brief conversations about basic biographical details such as where they are from and what they do, and can achieve basic tasks such as purchasing food.

Don't worry if you can't say whole German phrases yet. You're slowly but steadily assembling the building blocks for fluency.

Months 4–6: Solidifying Progress – Den Fortschritt festigen

The following phase focuses on building on your previous progress. During months 4–6, students can choose from two methods based on their personal learning preferences:

  1. Learn the essentials of German grammar.
  2. Learning from comprehensible input.

If you enjoy structure and don't mind studying grammatical concepts, now is the time to master the fundamentals. However, another method is also gaining in popularity: learning from comprehensible input.

'Input' typically means listening and reading materials. 'Comprehensible input' refers to material that is challenging yet understandable. Knowing what is being discussed allows you to assess the meaning of words and phrases based on your understanding.

Dr. Stephen Krashen, a linguistics expert, popularised this method of language acquisition by arguing that input should be the major emphasis and that real-life information would  teach you grammar and vocabulary in an organic way.

Listening to podcasts, watching videos, and reviewing a transcript for new terminology are all examples of comprehensible input activities. You may also find it helpful to explore new concepts in greater depth by looking up translations and creating flashcards to help you remember them. Fortunately, Langua provides all of this, as well as the ability to interact in German with an AI conversational partner whenever you have a moment free to chat.

Regardless of your strategy, give yourself a round of applause in month six for being able to describe your family, explain daily activities, answer queries about your academics or career, and communicate essential views or desires. Be patient with your limits and simply enjoy how far you've come in just half a year of learning German.

Months 7 to 11: Immerse Yourself in German – Tauchen Sie ein in die deutsche Sprache

After approximately six months of regular study, my most driven students go to the next level by immersing themselves in German language and culture.

Of course, this isn't feasible for everyone. If you are unable to visit a German-speaking country, try to spend as much time as possible with native German speakers in your home town or online.

When interacting with native speakers, pay close attention to speech patterns. Learn vocabulary not just in class, but also via authentic German media such as television episodes, music, café menus, and street signs.

Rather than translating, try to understand meanings via context and behaviours. And remember that making errors is natural; in fact, it demonstrates your bravery to keep trying even when things are challenging!

Almost all of my students notice a big jump in their speaking and understanding skills following a full immersion in months 7–11.

New neural connections are developed, allowing you to process German words as effortlessly as English without constantly translating sentences in your mind. Total immersion allows you to quickly move through several fluency levels in a short amount of time.

Month 12: Keep Working... and Overcome the Intermediate Plateau

This is something I, and many other instructors, have seen over and again. Following initial success, many students experience the unpleasant but temporary obstacle known as the 'intermediate plateau' or 'intermediate slump’.

Typical features of this time include trouble maintaining fluid discussions at native pace, difficulty comprehending native speakers and media, loss of motivation, and making the same mistakes over and over.

As you progress, you begin to grasp how vast the language is, which can be intimidating. Plus, when you continue to make the same mistakes, you may feel stuck and dissatisfied.

But there's some good news: this is just a temporary phase that may be easily overcome with hard work. Here are some ways to get over this unpleasant period:

  • Be consistent in your everyday study practices. Even 15 minutes every day will help you make progress.
  • Mix up your learning resources by speaking with a tutor, reading, listening to podcasts, and viewing videos.
  • Give yourself a break! Remember that language acquisition is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if it doesn't feel like it, practising German on a regular basis will result in noticeable progress.

With the right strategy and perseverance, you can overcome the intermediate plateau and start to make quick progress again. Continue to press ahead! Fluency is closer than it appears.

I guarantee that every hour spent learning vocabulary, fixing grammar errors, and practising new pronunciations will get you closer to your goal of fluent German communication.

Du schaffst das! - You can do this!

Melanie Abdo

About the author:

Melanie Abdo is an experienced German language teacher. She has taught German as a Foreign Language (DaF) at various institutions, including the Lebanese German School Jounieh, German Culture Center Jounieh, and online platforms, catering to students of all ages and levels (A1 to C2). She is skilled in preparing students for official language exams, such as Goethe Certificates. She holds a Master's degree in Export Oriented Management from the University of Applied Sciences and a Teaching Diploma from AUL University. If you're considering taking German classes, you can view Melanie's profile here.