How long does it take to become fluent?

This is a tricky question, because fluency is a relative term. Fluent for what purposes in what contexts?  In our program, we have established the following “fluency goal” for two-years of Spanish (101-202): 33% of the students exiting 202 will be at the Intermediate-mid level of proficiency on the scale established by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.  Here is a brief description of what Intermediate-mid means:

Speakers at the Intermediate level are distinguished primarily by their ability to create with the language when talking about familiar topics related to their daily life. They are able to recombine learned material in order to express personal meaning. Intermediate-level speakers can ask simple questions and can handle a straightforward survival situation. They produce sentence-level language, ranging from discrete sentences to strings of sentences, typically in present time. Intermediate-level speakers are understood by interlocutors who are accustomed to dealing with non-native learners of the language.

The key terms here are “familiar topics” and “typically in present tense time.” This means you can have a very basic conversation with someone and say, describe your family to that person, but you will not be able to read a literary work or give a formal presentation on how you arrived at MSU, for example.

What is more, Intermediate-mid speakers tend to be what is called “reactive.” This means that they rely on the other person more to initiate and sustain the conversation. The idea is that Intermediate-mid speakers are fine with “sympathetic” other speakers who are used to non-native speakers of Spanish.

For more information on the nature of proficiency and levels, see the ACTFL website: