How long does it take to learn Portuguese fluently?

After more than eight years teaching Portuguese to students of all ages and levels, I've heard every way of saying:

'Quanto tempo leva para aprender português fluentemente?' – How long does it take to learn Portuguese fluently?

It’s a fair question. Who wants to go on a trip without knowing how long it would take to reach their destination?

So let me give it to you straight: you can become fluent in 9-12 months if you follow the most efficient strategies and stay consistent in your approach.

In this article, I'll show you all the steps you need to take to achieve Portuguese fluency month by month. You will get all the tips and tricks that I’ve accumulated from my years of experience teaching hundreds of individuals to speak this my beautiful language.

I'll help you set attainable goals and remain motivated while you practise Portuguese over a period of 12 months and beyond. Vamos!

What Does ‘Fluent Portuguese’ Mean Anyway?

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of how to become a fluent Portuguese speaker, we need to be clear about what we mean by ‘fluency’. For most people, this really means being able to have conversations with a native speaker on a variety of topics. Conversational fluency is the ability to do this - to communicate on everyday topics without struggling for every word. This is much faster to attain than native-level fluency.

Conversational fluency is achievable with 9-12 months of consistent effort. However, crucial elements that will determine how quickly you get there are:

  • Previous language experience and inherent ability
  • Level of effort: how much time you devote every day to actively utilising Portuguese.
  • What strategies you utilise (some are more effective than others)
  • What resources are available (materials, technology, etc.).

OK, How Long Does it Take to Become Fluent in Portuguese?

Now that we've agreed on our aim of obtaining conversational fluency, let's talk about realistic time frames. And of course, different sources will provide different answers to this question.

One thing we can do right away is ignore promises about becoming fluent in days or weeks. These claims, made by dishonest book or course marketers, are just completely unrealistic and only serve to give people false hope.

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

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

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

Similarly, the United States Foreign Service Institute (FSI) estimates that fluency requires at least 600 classroom hours. However, in my experience, the FSI somewhat overestimates the effort necessary for conversational proficiency.

In my experience, with the right strategies and consistent effort, many learners gain conversational fluency in 9 to 12 months.

Here's a summary of how you can make progress within this period.

Months 1–3: Survival Portuguese – Sobrevivência Português

The first 90 days of learning Portuguese should be spent mostly on building a survival vocabulary. Consider months 1–3 to be the period when you acquire the building blocks for sentence formation.

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

  • Greetings: Bom dia! Oi!
  • Family terminology: mãe, pai, irmão, amigos.
  • Directions: aqui, ali, certo, para frente.
  • Transactions: Quanto custa isso? Obrigado! De nada.

At this stage, do not attempt to learn sophisticated grammar. Learning useful and popular terms will allow you to make quicker progress. Langua offers free Portuguese flashcard packs for the 5k most often used words. This can help you pick up the basics in no time.

Real-world discussions may also be an excellent way to learn a language. Pay careful attention to how people talk naturally and keep track of any recognisable phrases. Mimic native speakers to nail down your pronunciation from the very first words.

Within three months, the majority of my students have acquired enough language to have short discussions about basic things like where they're from and what they do, as well as to doing simple chores like buying groceries.

Don't worry if you can't utter whole Portuguese sentences yet. You're slowly but gradually putting together the building blocks for fluency.

Months 4–6: Solidifying Progress – Solidificando o Progresso

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

  • Learning the basics of Portuguese grammar
  • Learning via comprehensible input

If you appreciate structure and don't mind learning grammatical principles, now is the time to learn the essentials. However, another approach is gaining popularity: learning from comprehensible input.

'Input' comprises listening and reading tasks. 'Comprehensible input' refers to content that is both demanding but intelligible. Knowing what is being discussed enables you to absorb the meaning of new words and phrases and retain them.

Dr. Stephen Krashen, a linguistics specialist, popularised this technique of language learning by suggesting that input should be the primary focus and that real-life material will teach you grammar and vocabulary in an organic fashion.

Listening to podcasts, viewing videos, and going over transcripts to learn new terms are forms of comprehensible input activities. Langua offers all of this, along with instant translation and the chance to engage in Portuguese conversations with an AI chat partner whenever you find a spare moment to talk.

Months 7–11: Immerse Yourself in Portuguese – Mergulhe em Português

After around six months of regular study, my most motivated students go to the next level by immersing themselves in Portuguese language and culture. As a consequence, the best thing you can do at this moment is immerse yourself in a Portuguese-speaking environment for 1–3 months.

Of course, this is not possible for everyone. If you are unable to go to a Portuguese-speaking nation, spend as much time as possible with native Portuguese speakers in your hometown or online.

When conversing with native speakers, pay special attention to their speech patterns. Learn vocabulary not just in class, but also via actual Portuguese media such as TV shows, music, café menus, and street signs.

Rather than translating each word, try to grasp meanings via context and actions. And remember that making mistakes is normal.

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

New neural connections are formed, enabling you to comprehend Portuguese words as easily as English without continually translating phrases in your head. Total immersion helps you make swift progress in a short period of time.

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

This is something that I, and many other teachers, have seen over and again. Following early success, many students face the uncomfortable but temporary 'intermediate plateau'.

Typical characteristics of this period include difficulties sustaining conversations at native speed, trouble understanding native speakers and media, a lack of motivation, and making the same errors over and over again.

When you study more, you start to see how big the language is, which may feel overwhelming. Furthermore, repeating the same errors may leave you feeling trapped and unhappy.

But there's good news: this is just a brief phase that may be easily overcome with hard work. Here are some tips for getting through this uncomfortable period:

  • Be consistent in your daily study habits. Even 15 minutes every day will help you make improvements.
  • Mix up your learning materials by talking to a tutor, reading, listening to podcasts, and watching videos.
  • Give yourself a break! Remember, language learning is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if it doesn't always feel like it, practising Portuguese on a daily basis will provide clear results over time.

With the right tactics and some patience, you’ll soon break through the intermediate plateau and resume speedy growth. Continue to move forward! Fluency is closer than it seems.

I promise that every hour spent studying vocabulary, correcting grammatical mistakes, and practising new pronunciations will get you closer to your goal of fluent Portuguese communication.

Você consegue fazer isso! - You can do this!

Alex Redfern

About the author:

Alex Redfern is the CEO of the language learning startup, LanguaTalk. Holding a BSc in Business Administration from the University of Bath, he is passionate about entrepreneurship and language learning. Whilst travelling across the globe has has learnt four languages to varying levels. His research on language learning has enabled him to help thousands of people build fluency via LanguaTalk. He has published articles in popular magazines; his article on rapid language acquisition went viral on Medium.