How long does it take to learn Italian fluently?

After almost twenty years of teaching Italian to students from all over the world, I've heard every variation of the question:

'Quanto tempo ci vuole per imparare l'italiano fluentemente?' – How long does it take to learn Italian fluently?

Obviously, the question is understandable. After all, who likes to travel without knowing how long it would take to get to their destination?

In a word, you can become fluent in 9–12 months if you use the most effective tactics and are consistent in your approach.

In this article, I'll lead you through the process of attaining Italian fluency step by step. You'll gain insider information from my years of experience teaching hundreds of individuals to speak this extremely expressive language.

My goal is to help you set manageable objectives and stay motivated while you practise Italian over the course of weeks, months, and years. Andiamo!

What Does It Actually Mean to Be Fluent in Italian?

Let's start by defining what we mean when we talk about being fluent in Italian. If you're like most people, your objective is to gain conversational fluency. Therefore understanding Italian vocabulary and creating grammatically correct words is only half of the journey.

Conversational fluency is the capacity to engage in ordinary discussions with Italian native speakers and talk for long periods of time without straining for every word.

This level is completely achievable with consistent effort over time. However, significant aspects that will influence how quickly you get there include:

  • Your past language experience and natural ability
  • Level of effort: how much time you devote every day to actively utilising Italian
  • What techniques you are using (some are more successful than others)
  • What resources are available (technology, travel options, etc.)

So, How Long Does it Take to Become Fluent in Italian?

Now we’re clear on our aim of achieving conversational fluency, let’s talk realistic time frames. And of course, different sources will give you different answers to this question.

One thing we can do right away is ignore claims of becoming fluent in days or weeks. These claims are made by dishonest book or course marketers and are entirely unrealistic.

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

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

So, according to the CEFR, you can reach conversational fluency, which is more or less equivalent to B2 level, after 540–620 hours of focused practice. This objective may be achieved in 12–24 months with consistent hard work.

Similarly, the United States Foreign Service Institute (FSI) believes that achieving fluency requires 600 or more classroom hours. However, in my experience, the FSI dramatically overestimates the effort necessary for conversational proficiency.

Why? Because classroom learning is often based on inefficient passive methods like lectures. During my years of teaching, I've observed that active speaking allows you to retain significantly more vocabulary than passive listening, and language acquisition studies back this up.

Prioritising active learning through frequent speaking practice with an Italian teacher or a one-on-one conversation exchange will allow you to achieve your goals much faster.

The key lies in blending rigorous, active practice with casual, passive learning that seamlessly integrates into your daily routine. Through this balanced, consistent approach, I've guided students to fluency within 9–12 months.

Now let's dig deeper into a realistic roadmap outlining what to expect month by month.

Months 1 to 3: Survival Italian – Navigazione nel Basic

The first 90 days of studying Italian should be spent mostly on creating a survival vocabulary. Consider months 1–3 to be the time when you acquire the bricks needed for sentence construction.

Prioritise words and phrases that are widely used and valuable. For example:

  • Greetings: Buongiorno! Ciao!
  • Family words: madre, padre, fratello, amici.
  • Directions: qui, lΓ , a destra, di fronte.
  • Transactions: Quanto costa questo? Grazie! Niente di niente.

At this time, do not attempt to comprehend sophisticated grammar. Learning useful and common vocabulary can enable you to make quick progress. You can find the 1,500 most common Italian words and learn them efficiently using flashcards on Langua (for free).

Real-world conversations can also be a good way to learn vocabulary. Pay close attention and make a note of any familiar phrases. Mimic natural speakers to perfect your pronunciation from the very first things you say.

Within three months, the majority of my students learn enough vocabulary to engage in brief dialogues about simple biographical aspects such as where they are from and what they do, as well as to achieve important activities such as buying food.

Don't worry if you can't speak in entire Italian phrases yet. You're slowly but gradually putting together the building blocks for fluency.

Months 4–6: Solidifying Progress – Consolidare i Progressi

The next phase focuses on building on your past progress. During months 4–6, students frequently choose between two approaches depending on their own learning preferences:

  • Learning the fundamentals of Italian grammar
  • Learning with comprehensible input

If you like structure and don't mind learning grammatical principles, now is a good time to learn the basics. However, another way is fast gaining in popularity: learning via comprehensible input.

'Input' refers to listening and reading activities. 'Comprehensible input' refers to content that you can understand just enough to follow what's happening. Knowing what is being discussed enables you to guess the meaning of words and phrases based on what you do understand.

Dr. Stephen Krashen, a linguistics researcher, popularised this technique of language learning by suggesting that input should be the primary focus and that real-life content will naturally teach you grammar and vocabulary.

Comprehensible input tasks include listening to podcasts, watching videos, and examining a transcript for new terms. You may also find it useful to study new terms in greater depth by finding translations and making flashcards to help you recall them. Fortunately, this is all possible on Langua.

Regardless of the approach you take, give yourself a pat on the back in month six for being able to describe your family, explain daily routines, understand questions about your studies or job, and express fundamental thoughts or desires. Be patient with your limitations and simply appreciate how far you've come in just half a year of studying Italian.

Months 7–11: Immerse Yourself in Italian – Immergiti nell'italiano

After around six months of regular study, my most motivated students go to the next level by immersing themselves in Italian language and culture. Therefore the best possible thing you can do at this time is spend 1–3 months fully immersed in an Italian-speaking environment.

Of course, this is not possible for everyone. If you can’t get to Italy, try to spend as much time with native Italian speakers as you can.

Listen out for patterns when conversing with native speakers. Learn vocabulary not just via classes, but also through real Italian media such as TV shows, music, cafΓ© menus, and street signs.

Instead of translating, attempt to comprehend meanings from context and actions. And remember that making mistakes is normal – in fact, it’s a sign of how courageous you are to keep trying even when things are difficult!

Almost all of my students notice significant improvement in their speaking abilities and comprehension after a comprehensive immersion in months 7 to 11.

New neural connections are formed, allowing you to process Italian words as easily as English without continually translating sentences in your thoughts. Total immersion helps you to swiftly progress through several fluency levels in a short period of time.

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

This is something that I, and many other instructors, have witnessed time and again. Following early success, many students encounter the irritating but transitory barrier known as the 'intermediate plateau' or 'intermediate slump'.

Typical characteristics of this time include:

  • difficulty maintaining fluid conversations at native speed
  • problems understanding native speakers and the media
  • losing motivation and making frequent errors that become set.

As you study more, you start to realise how huge the language is, which is often intimidating. Plus it's common to feel stuck and unhappy when you keep making the same mistakes.

But there's good news: this is only a transient stage that may be easily overcome with hard work. Here are some solutions for getting through this annoying period:

  • Be constant in your daily study habits. Even 15 minutes every day will help you make gains.
  • Mix up your learning resources by talking with a tutor, reading, listening to podcasts, and watching videos.
  • Give yourself a break! Remember, language acquisition is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if it doesn't feel like it, practising Italian daily will see you make concrete improvements.

With effective methods and consistency, you can break past the intermediate plateau and resume rapid progress. Continue pushing ahead! Fluency is closer than it seems.

I guarantee that every hour you spend studying vocabulary, correcting grammar issues, and practising new pronunciations will get you closer to your goal of fluent Italian communication.

Ce la puoi fare! (You can do this!)

Anna Favaro

About the author:

Anna Favaro is a bilingual Italian and English teacher and freelance translator at Ca' Foscari University in Venice. She holds a Master's degree in teaching Italian language and culture to foreigners (ITALS), a CEDILS certification, and specializes in Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics. With a passion for teaching since 2004, Anna is also a podcaster and YouTuber, hosting "Una Storia ItaliAnna," available on LanguaTalk and YouTube. She is also an author of Italian language practice books, which can be found on Amazon. If you are considering taking Italian lessons, you can view Anna's profile here.