What is fluency? What does it take to be fluent in Portuguese? When exactly will that happen?
When I first came here I was obsessed with asking every single foreigner I came across in Brazil: So, how long it did it take you to get fluent in Portuguese?
Looking back, so many of the answers I got were ridiculous. Many would tell me that it they were fluent within the first 6 months or a year. Others would say things like, "It depends on your definition of fluency". In retrospect, I know that's the right answer.
Like a video game, fluency in Portuguese has many levels. There is no final level. But, you get to pick up prizes along the way, and the higher the level the better the prize.
(1) Fluent in x months. This is of course marketing-speak for the goal of memorizing key sentence & vocabulary patterns that can be quickly put into action. The goal is to be able to say things like, I want X, I want Y, Where is X, Where is Y, Do you have X, Do you have Y.... I approve of this as a starting point. It gets you speaking real sentences even before you have learned any of the grammar rules. It's a motivator, and reduces the FEAR of speaking.
(2) Able to put sentences together. Actually able to create new sentences using learned vocabulary plus grammar rules rather than memorized sounds.
(3) Able to listen and speak at the same time. Sounds trivial but it's a major step. Until reaching this point you're mostly making up sentences in your head before you speak them. In a real conversation, you're working much faster, building on the fly.
(4) Able to converse in a social setting. It's around this point that you start understanding conversation fragments - the talk that you hear on the street (background conversation). A Semantica student who recently moved here said to me, "I have no idea what people are saying on the street!". This is so tough to get because you're hearing a piece of a conversation without context. It took me 2-3 years to start making these out. Like a faraway radio station, it starts to come into focus gradually as you approach the source.
(5) Able to understand/speak in a HEAVY social setting. You know you have really arrived when you can go to a party in Brazil and handle the bizarre jokes and altered-state chatter.
Is there a final level? Yes. But the learning never really stops. You will never have the same vocabulary at hand that a native does. You will never get the cultural references that a Brazilian does. If you were learning English would it ever make sense to you if someone said, "Dude, you are so money!" (from the movie Swingers).
Getting to fluency is a marathon But you do not have to win the race. You just have to cross the finish line. Anyone can do it, but it takes motivation. If your reason for learning is to really discover Brazil and know it's people, that is motivation. Learning to speak any foreign language is a huge (HUGE) net positive in your life. Most people never discover what those are because it's not an easy thing to do.