This is one of the most frequent questions l get when people write me. My answer is usually the same. “It depends”. If you’re just passing by, with no intent to live in the country, then absolutely, you can get by with just English because you are likely staying in a tourist ridden area where the majority of the shop owners and staff will more than likely speak English as a send language.
For the rest of the people who are emigrating to Spain, I personally think it’s a must to speak the language. There are a few things that can affect your decision on whether or not to learn the local language. Here are a just a few.
MUST YOU SPEAK SPANISH TO LIVE IN SPAIN?
Some reasons why l think you must speak Spanish to live in Spain, or any other Spanish speaking country for that matter.
Speaking the language improves your quality of life:
I will start this off by saying that nothing will improve your quality of life better than speaking the local language. Speaking Spanish will not only change your outlook, but it usually changes the locals’ attitude towards you.
They can see the effort you’re putting forth and will fall over themselves trying to help. The best part is that they will encourage, and help you. This can increase your social interactions beyond your fellow expat circles, and give you a more rounded view of the place you call home.
Speaking Spanish might save you money:
It’s hard to believe, but a lot of shop owners will absolutely charge you a foreigner price when shopping in their stores. There is the misconception that all foreigners are wealthy, so therefore they can afford to pay more. This is especially true when you need service work done. We observed the same thing in quite a few countries, not just Spain.
A good example was when a Spanish speaking friend recommended a handyman for some plumbing work. We had been reassured that he was reasonably priced. He sounded like one too, but upon visiting the flat, and realizing we were not locals, the estimated price was suddenly almost double what he had predicted.
My husband got mad and started arguing with him in Spanish which took him by surprise. End result? almost 25 euros less than his phone quote. They talked about football over a beer. Another crazy thing we see here. They will accept a coffee, but beer is often even better. This would never fly in America!
Speaking Spanish can also save you money by eliminating the need for a translator. Tackling simple things such as changing your address, questioning your bill, visit the doctor, and so on means finding someone to accompany you, and for that, you often have to pay dearly, anywhere from 15-25 euros an hour. It adds up. That might be money well spent on taking Spanish lessons.
Check out my miserable attempt at Spanish here, but l try constantly :-).
You stop feeling like a foreigner:
Just like most people hate it when ex-pats come to their former home country and don’t bother learning the language, the same holds true for the way the locals think in Spain. Not making the effort will always make you seem like a temporary visitor.
One that they can’t be bothered to try getting to know because you can’t communicate with them. Eventually, it will lead to your frustration and might lead to you giving up altogether, and moving back home.
Work is closed off to you:
Not speaking Spanish means that at least 90% of available work, if not more is closed to you. You won’t be able to communicate with clients so no prospect of a job (low paying as they are). Speaking Spanish is a must for working in Spain.
You also have a much better chance of employment being bilingual. It might not be a big deal if you’re not dependent on the local economy.
Sense of accomplishment:
Nothing will make you happier than knowing you accomplished the goal of speaking a new language, especially one that is the second most popular language in the world. Just imagine what opens up for you.
You can visit other Spanish speaking countries and be able to communicate. You become one of the 460 million people worldwide who speak Spanish.
Learning how to speak Spanish, or another keeps the brain sharp. Studies have shown that learning a new language can rewire your brain and keep those little grey cells active.
The best part? Improvements can be made at any age. Count me in. This brain exercise in addition to memory stimulating games keeps me hopeful in avoiding ailments such as demetia or early onset Alzheimers.
With all the above being said, one can argue that you don’t need to speak Spanish to live in Spain if:
You are well-off: What’s it like to live in Spain without Spanish?
Being rich can eliminate pretty much any problems. More than likely, your days will be filled with golfing, eating out and various activities that don’t require the language because all those people catering to you speak English. There are whole enclaves of Spain where you are pressed to hear Spanish being spoken.
Coastal places like Fuengirola and Alicante for instance are filled with British people mostly. The stores, restaurants, cafes, etc. cater to them in English. If this is your case and your preference, then it’s all good. If you’re a retiree who doesn’t really want or need to acclimatize, then there is probably no need to speak the language either.
In my opinion, a little Spanish is better than no Spanish at all. A lot of times, you find yourself repeating the same things over and over again. I have sort of started the parrot method as l call it. It’s something that l learned from my husband, who has way less shyness than l do.
He vastly improved his Spanish by observing people at the butchers for instance. He watches how people order, then he repeats it. I mentioned this on the trial-run post and l recommend it. It works because it becomes second nature to you after so many times. I find myself making my own reservations, shopping and so on.
Do l need Spanish in Spain?
Yes, you do need Spanish in Spain to acclimatize yourself and have a deeper experience. In conclusion, speaking Spanish is a must in my opinion. It doesn’t have to be textbook Spanish, you just need to make yourself understood. Arms flailing, sweating, wrong grammar, it’s all part of the fun of language learning. Just do it!
Is Spanish easy to learn?
Younger people can learn Spanish more easily than older ones in my opinion. There are intensive courses that one can take, but from friends’ experiences, it doesn’t seem to “take”. I think a combination of progressive lessons and constant practice is more productive.
Do you speak a second language? Any interest at all in doing so?