After living in Spain for 5 years, friends and colleagues often asked me if English is widely spoken in the country. Interestingly, even though Spain is a popular tourist destination for English speakers, it turns out that a significant part of the population does not actually speak English at all.

During my time here, I’ve noticed that English proficiency varied depending on each region. For instance, in major tourist areas, like Barcelona, where I used to live, English is more widely spoken, making it easier for visitors to communicate with the locals. However, finding English speakers in most other parts of the country is more challenging, such as Asturias. A basic understanding of Spanish is a beneficial tool and, in some cases, a necessary way to communicate.

Hi, I’m Timon!

I’ve experienced the heartbeat of Spain firsthand. Over the last five years, I’ve immersed myself in the dynamic cities of Spain, truly living the Spanish way. My insights into this beautiful country are rooted in genuine experience.

How Many People Speak English In Spain?

La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain
La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain

In Spain, English is not as widely spoken. Based on research, I found that around 27% of the Spanish population speak English to some extent, but many of them may not speak it fluently (source).

Out of the total population of around 47 million people, approximately 13 million claim to speak English. These people are usually younger, well-traveled, and living in cities such as Madrid or Barcelona. Often they work in roles that require some interaction with foreigners, which helps develop their English-speaking skills.

12 Places in Spain Where They Commonly Speak English

I’ve noticed specific places in Spain where English is more frequently spoken than others. Here are 12 places I’ve visited where the majority of locals speak English:

  1. Barcelona: It’s a major tourist destination in Spain and one of the many cities where locals typically understand English better. If you’re looking to get a deeper understanding of the charm of this vibrant city, consider checking out this comprehensive guide on the unique experiences that make Barcelona a must-visit destination.
  2. Madrid: The country’s capital is huge and welcomes many international tourists. Because of this, many Madrileños have a good grasp of English, especially in areas like Puerta del Sol. If you’re considering visiting, this article about the best things to see and do in Madrid will give you many great ideas.
  3. Valencia: Known for its gothic architecture and vibrant nightlife, Valencia welcomes thousands of English-speaking tourists, influencing their skills in many languages. Valencia is truly a gem. If you’re thinking about living there, you might find this balanced overview of life in Valencia helpful. For those contemplating a visit, our guide on whether Valencia is a must-see destination might be of interest. It covers both the advantages and potential challenges in an easy-to-understand manner.
  4. Seville: This impressive city in Andalucía is a popular tourist spot because of its rich culture, and here you will find many locals with good English-speaking skills for assisting visitors, particularly in the hospitality industry.
  5. Granada: Famous for the Alhambra Palace, Granada is a tourist-friendly place where locals often speak English to accommodate their international guests. Find out the best time to visit Granada.
  6. Marbella: On the beautiful Costa del Sol, this city is a favorite destination for British tourists, and it’s an excellent place to find other people who speak English fluently.
  7. Alicante: Its stunning beaches and charming old town draw many outside visitors, leading to a strong English-speaking presence among the population.
  8. Malaga: It’s the gateway to the Costa del Sol and a common landing spot for English speakers, so navigating the city is much easier because many people speak English there. Discover the optimal time to visit Malaga.
  9. Ibiza: The party island of Spain is known for its legendary nightlife and gorgeous beaches. The island attracts many English-speaking tourists, and finding people who can communicate in English is easy.
  10. Mallorca: It’s the largest of the Balearic Islands and a popular vacation spot for English speakers. Locals here typically speak English in tourist areas. Considering a trip to Mallorca? Check out this helpful resource on the ideal travel periods for Mallorca to make the most of your visit.
  11. Gran Canaria: It features diverse landscapes and pleasant climates, this island off the coast of Africa is a favorite among English-speaking tourists, which has improved the language skills of the hospitality.
  12. Tenerife: It’s the largest of the Canary Islands and offers stunning scenery and year-round sunshine, attracting many visitors. Expect to find a good number of people that speak English here, especially in tourist areas.

Even though many locals in different places in Spain speak English, it’s a good idea to memorize a few basic Spanish phrases before visiting. It not only helps with communication, but it also shows respect and appreciation for the inhabitants. I have found that Spanish people really love it when you try to speak their language, even if it’s just a few simple words!

While Spain is known for its pleasant climate, remember that some cities in Spain can be colder than others.

Can I Travel to Spain Without Speaking Spanish?

Spanish translations with chalk on a blackboard

I frequently travel to various places and understand the concerns of navigating a foreign country without knowledge of the local language. In Spain, I can confidently say that traveling around easily without speaking the language fluently is possible.

Many people working in Spain’s tourist industry speak English. During my travels, I discovered that the staff members could understand and speak basic English in most restaurants, hotels, and local attractions, which allowed me to ask questions and be more comfortable in my surroundings.

However, when traveling around Spain, I have found it vital to remember that some locals might not be fluent in English, especially in smaller towns or rural areas. To enhance your experience and better connect with the residents, I recommend learning a few essential Spanish phrases before your trip. Knowing a few keywords like “gracias” (thank you), “por favor” (please), and “dónde está?” (where is?) can make a significant difference during your trip.

Here are a few useful phrases for visiting Spain:

  • Hola – Hello
  • Adiós – Goodbye
  • Por favor – Please
  • Gracias – Thank you
  • De nada – You’re welcome
  • ¿Cuánto cuesta? – How much does it cost?
  • ¿Dónde está el baño? – Where is the bathroom?
  • ¿Puedes ayudarme, por favor? –  Can you help me, please?
  • Lo siento – I’m sorry
  • Vale – OK (pronounced ba-le)

Armed with these basic phrases and a friendly smile, I discovered traveling in Spain without initially knowing how to speak Spanish was an exciting experience.

Can I Live in Spain Without Speaking Spanish?

Bottom view of blooming flowers on balcony

Based on my first-hand experience living in various cities in Spain, I can say that it is definitely possible to live in Spain without speaking Spanish fluently but knowing some of the language can be very helpful. Many Spanish people can speak basic English, but almost 60% of Spain’s population cannot speak it at all. This means that a language barrier could arise in certain situations, such as visiting more remote areas.

Although many expats live comfortably in Spain without being fluent in Spanish, by having Spanish-speaking friends or a local job in the community, you can significantly improve your Spanish to help you overcome the language barrier. Expatra says that some expats manage to navigate their day-to-day lives thanks to the support from their local friends.

Learning some basic Spanish phrases can improve your overall experience in Spain. It will help you communicate with local people and show appreciation for their culture. Language skills allow you to participate in local events, instead of feeling like a tourist.

Considering moving to Spain and wanting to find affordable places to live? Explore my list of the Cheapest Places to Live in Spain to help you find the perfect city to call home.

Apply for a Spanish Course

Image of the calendar with the text

I initially moved to Madrid without speaking any Spanish at all, and I can assure you that it’s possible to navigate and enjoy the country without knowing the language. But certainly, learning some Spanish can greatly enhance your experience and make everyday life easier in the long run.

Despite a significant portion of the population speaking English, it’s important to remember that Spanish is still the primary language in Spain. While navigating more tourist-friendly areas, it is relatively easy to find English speakers. However, stepping outside of these areas, I needed to rely more on my limited Spanish-speaking skills. This encouraged me to sign up for a language course in Valencia and learn some basic Spanish phrases to help bridge the communication gap and make connections with locals.

The Benefits of Learning Spanish

Mastering some basic Spanish phrases can help you feel more connected to the local culture, avoid isolation, and even save you from misunderstandings. For instance, knowing how to ask for directions, order food at a restaurant, or greet your neighbors correctly can make a difference. Also, Spanish is a widely spoken language throughout the world and that can be useful for your other future travels as well.

Where can you Learn Spanish in Spain?

There are plenty of options for learning Spanish in the country. Language schools, private academies, and official institutions offer courses for all levels. For two weeks I attended a beginner Spanish course in Valencia at Linguaschools. It was an amazing experience that helped me rapidly expand my vocabulary with the guidance of a local teacher. It was also a fantastic chance to make new friends!

Search online for nearby options to find a language school in your area. Alternatively, you can consider language exchange programs or attend language meetups in your area to practice your Spanish with native speakers in an informal setting.

Regardless of your chosen method, remember that the key to learning a language lies in consistent practice and real-life interaction. So, don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone and engage with the locals around you.

Final Thoughts on English Speaking in Spain

Spain’s overall English proficiency is lower than the rest of Europe. Still, the country is making strides in increasing fluency, especially with a greater emphasis on teaching English in primary and secondary schools. As an expat who loves to travel, I appreciate the efforts made by Spanish to accommodate the linguistic needs of visitors. The warmth and hospitality of the residents create a truly welcoming atmosphere for people who want to explore this great country but speak other languages.

However, I would still like to encourage fellow travelers to take the time to learn some Spanish before embarking on their journey. It enriches the travel experience but also demonstrates respect for the local culture. Communicating in the native tongue enhances one’s connection with the people and places encountered along the way.

FAQs: Do They Speak English in Spain?

As a former resident of Spain, one of the most common questions I have been asked is whether people in the country speak English or not. In this section, I’ll provide you with some insights based on my personal experience, and my own research.

Do They Speak English in Barcelona?

In Barcelona, many Spanish people speak English, particularly those working in the tourism, hospitality, and service sectors. Due to the city’s cosmopolitan nature and many international visitors, English is normally spoken there. However, it’s important to note that proficiency can vary. Some locals may only speak basic English and some don’t speak it at all. 

Do They Speak English in Madrid?

English is spoken in Madrid, but perhaps less than in Barcelona. Don’t worry, though; you’ll find plenty of people, especially in the city center and popular tourist areas, who communicate in English. But remember, it’s a great idea to pick up a few basic Spanish phrases to help you navigate the city and engage with the people of the city.

Do They Speak English in Malaga?

Malaga now has more English speakers, thanks to the thriving tourism industry and its appeal to expats. Keep in mind that some locals might not speak English, or they might only know just the basics. I discovered that picking up a few essential Spanish phrases sometimes came in handy.

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