How long should it take to conjugate verbs without thinking about it?
I have been studying Spanish for several hours a day for quite some time now. I have also spent several weeks in Spanish speaking countries. How long does it usually take to be able to comfortably conjugate most verbs in any tense or mood? And by comfortably, I mean that it is almost automatic. Does anyone have any tips that could help me improve in this area?
How long... it depends on the person, the method, the attitude, the opportunities and the resources. Having every asset, a month or probably less; having none, up to a lifetime; on average, it depends on the hours used every day and how well they are used, but I'd say that roughly 6 to 12 months, no less than 4 or 5 hours a day (and I'm already making up too many figures here).
A tip: do not waste too much time with mechanical exercises with a single correct answer. No doubt you'll need some sort of exercises to ensure you are doing the correct thing, but make sure that you spend more time using the language to try to communicate. If you are just thinking on what tense to use to translate a sentence, your progress will be very slow; if you are thinking what do you want to tell others in Spanish, your progress will be much faster, for you'll give your brain more resources so it can do its proper learning without you analysing rationally and pointlessly how to say it. If you can't do this easily, you'll need some formal practice first, but always aimed at communicating.
It's the amount of time you spend learning, then applying what you have learned in my humble opinion. Immerse yourself in the culture. Speak as much spanish as possible whenever you can. Look for native speakers and use sites like this to improve upon your desire to learn and speak. Good luck.
You might try out a program called Verbarrator, which I found useful in developing automatic responses in conjugating verbs.