DO expats in Spain need to speak the language to live an authentic Spanglish life?
Spanish is the mother tongue of nearly 500 million people, and is the world’s second-most spoken native language, only behind Chinese. As of January 2021, around 360,000 British citizens were registered as permanent residents in Spain, according to Inews, but how many of us expats actually speak the lingo? Well, according to a study conducted by the Foreign Office, some 58 per cent of the Britons living in Spain interviewed claimed to regularly use Spanish in their day to day lives, while a further 36 per cent said they were making efforts to learn.
On expat forums, the various Costas are often referred to jokingly as ‘Little Britains’, because of the high volume of non-Spanish residents, as well as bars, restaurants, cafes and shops that, if not staffed with native English speakers, certainly employ people who can speak our language fluently. So, for a person living in these areas, is it really necessary to speak the language? According to the vast majority of expats, the answer is a resounding yes.
Particularly in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, jobs in Spain are scarce, especially if one wants to live outside of the main ‘touristy’ areas, and knowing the lingo gives people a definite leg-up on the market. And let’s not forget Spanish bureaucracy: as one reader jokingly told EWN: “If you need to get something official done here today, apply last month!”
Both before and after Brexit, countless expats have been applying for residency, setting up businesses and dealing with the endless paperwork associated with legally living in Spain. Sure, there’s always someone you can pay to help with these things, but it certainly makes life easier if you can grasp the gist yourself.
So, why do some expats choose not to learn Spanish? Rebecca Bellafont-Evans who owns Mallorca Solutions told the Telegraph that some English-speakers arrive in Spain and simply find they don’t need to use the language:
“Many new residents from the home valiantly take lessons only to find that English is spoken wherever they go in Majorca and they subsequently feel inhibited.”
For others, it’s simply a matter of time.
Cabo Roig business owner Shane told EWN: “I’ve signed up for two different classes since I moved to Spain three years ago and I’ve had to drop out because business commitments have to come first. My best advice? Take some lessons at home before moving to Spain.”
And in fact, that’s just what the UK government advises of people considering a move to Spain. An embassy spokesperson said: “If you’re planning on moving to Spain making plans to learn the language is key to integrating.”
Whether expats are fluent in Spanish or learn just enough to get by, George Orwell, in Memoir to Catalonia, probably summed it up best when he said:
“I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most other countries: how easy it is to make friends in Spain.”