Barcelona is a really great city to visit, but also to live longer term, since it’s very easy to fall in love with. This leads a lot of people to want to move there, but can English speakers live there fine without actually needing to speak any Spanish? Can you get by in Barcelona only speaking English?
Unless you’re wanting to work for a Spanish company, the answer is overwhelmingly yes!
Speaking Spanish is not required to live in Barcelona long term, since English is also very widely spoken throughout the city. Spanish would be required to work for a Spanish company or in retail/tourism, but for working for an international company, or general daily life, Spanish is helpful, but not strictly required to live in Barcelona. English can get you by fine.
This adds another positive to a city that’s already full of positives – if you are self employed or have a job lined up there with a foreign company, you don’t even really need to know any Spanish to live in one of the best cities in the world!
That being said, knowing at least some Spanish will still be helpful, as it would be for living anywhere in Spain. We’ll analyze the benefits of this further below. But strictly speaking, Barcelona is one of the those rare Spanish cities that English is so common in that you don’t even need to speak Spanish to get by.
Let’s look at the issue of living in Barcelona as it relates to languages in more detail.
You Can Get By In Barcelona Only Speaking English
I’ve been to Barcelona myself and loved it, and I can confirm that you can get by perfectly fine there not speaking any Spanish. I spoke English pretty much the whole time and was perfectly well understood in all the central locations, shops, attractions, restaurants, train stations and so on.
It’s a very popular and cosmopolitan city that receives millions of tourists each year, so English is very widely spoken there to the extent you can pretty much get by without needing Spanish in all the of the central areas of Barcelona.
It’s also true that around 17-20% of the population of Barcelona (around 300,000 people) is foreign anyway, with many of these foreigners being able to speak English. This along with the general need for English speakers in all the central parts of the city because of the tourism, means that you can use English very widely without any problem.
Here are some aspects of daily life that are covered:
- A lot of the signs around the city are also in English as well as Spanish/Catalan, helping with directions.
- All the train stations and metro stops also have English language signs
- Restaurants almost always have English menus, plus at least some of the staff speak English when ordering.
- English is also commonly spoken even in smaller shops to some extent, and deli’s, pizzerias, kebab shops etc.
- There are also daily walking tours of the city which I really enjoyed, that are also fully delivered in fluent English by the guides.
- Staff at the tourist information centers/kiosks also speak English if you need directions to find something.
- There are always English speaking staff at major attractions, as well as English signs and leaflets/booklets.
Therefore, in terms of daily general life and leisure time, speaking English and/or not knowing Spanish isn’t a problem in Barcelona. This contrast with many other parts of Spain, where English is not so widely spoken. Barcelona has more of an international and cosmopolitan feel, with English far more common than many other northern Spanish cities especially.
Can You Work In Barcelona Without Speaking Spanish?
While it’s pretty clear from my own experience and other expat accounts that daily personal life in Barcelona is perfectly feasable without speaking any Spanish, what about working there? Do you realistically need Spanish to effectively get a job and work in Barcelona?
The answer depends on what type of work you are doing and who for, but here’s a general answer:
It is totally possible to work for an international company in Barcelona without needing to speak Spanish. However, for front line retail jobs such as bar/restaurant work, plus working for any Spanish company, you will need to speak Spanish.
But if you have the right qualifications and connections, it can be totally possible to work for a company there that only requires English. Amazon, Accenture, Deloitte, PWC and HP are just some of the big multi-nationals which operate out of Barcelona if you want to check out what opportunities they have available. And as we’ve covered, in your downtime, you can speak English fine in Barcelona without any real problems.
Spanish vs Catalan in Barcelona
Whilst Spanish is obviously the official language for most of Spain. But Barcelona, as part of the autonomous region of Catalonia, actually has both Spanish and Catalan as the official languages, with Catalan actually being preferred by many locals. There’s a strong sense of independence in the entire general region of Catalonia, and also a strong political drive to separate from Spain, although it hasn’t quite come to fruition yet.
Catalan and Spanish are not a million miles apart – they’re close enough (about 80-85% lexical similarity) that a Spanish person can learn Catalan without too much difficulty, and vice versa – but they’re still distinct languages.
But it doesn’t matter because locals in Barcelona will speak Spanish if needed, although there is a strong sense of independence there and many prefer to speak Catalan if possible.
So if by chance you do bump into someone less proficient in English, falling back on some basic Spanish should be fine, even it’s not technically the main/only official language there.
However, the local government in Barcelona do offer free lessons in Catalan if you do want to learn the official local language, although some prior proficiency in Spanish is needed, as the lessons are entirely given in Catalan and you can’t be relying on English to be spoken by the tutors.
Should You Learn Spanish Anyway If You Are Living In Barcelona?
Whilst it isn’t strictly necessary for many expats to learn Spanish if living in Barcelona, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to gain at least a basic level of proficiency in Spanish if you’re living there longer term, to help with general cultural assimilation and also open up more opportunities.
Also, whilst you can get by fine in Barcelona only speaking English, it’s not quite on the level of places like Marbella for having a really strong English expat community you can network, socialize and make new friends with. Whilst there are opportunities to meet fellow English speakers there, you can immerse yourself even better in the culture and make even more connections if you learn some Spanish as well.
Check out the video below for a good overview of the benefits of learning Spanish for expats living in Spain. It’s a more general overview that covers living in Spain in general, but is still useful if you’re living in a more English-friendly city like Barcelona.
Should you learn Spanish for longer term stays in Spain?
Key Points From Video:
- Whether you learn Spanish living in Spain depends in general on how much you want to integrate fully into Spanish life and culture (getting into politics, media, working at a Spanish company, making Spanish friends etc. For all these things, you will need to learn a good level of Spanish).
- If you do decide to learn Spanish, one positive is that it is largely a phonetic language – meaning that words are often pronounced as they read, unlike English. This makes it easier to learn.
- Learning Spanish verbs is a little more complex, but it still completely possible.
- If on the other hand you decide to settle in expat communities, like Almeria, Alicante, Marbella etc, you will not need to learn Spanish to get by. Radio, TV and Supermarkets are all available catered to English speakers in these areas. You can get by with English in these areas.
- However, regardless of where you settle in Spain, it is still considered courtesy to make some effort to learn the local language, even if just for basic greetings and formalities. Locals will always appreciate this as in any country.
- Overall, learning Spanish if you live in Spain longer term is perfectly achievable, and recommended regardless of where you settle. See the last section below for some resources on learning Spanish.
Learning Some Basic Spanish Phrases
If you decide to broaden your opportunities in Barcelona by learning some Spanish, or you have to because of your work there, there’s loads of options to do this. You can do it digitally with CD, apps or audio courses, or even take classes in person in the city (there are plenty to choose from, Spanish as well as Catalan).
See the table and video below for a very basic starter sample of everyday phrases that can come in handy when you first go there, although much of the time they won’t be necessary as we covered.
|See you later
|See you tomorrow
|What is your name?
|Cuál es tu nombre?
|Kwall es too nombrey?
|My name is.....
|Mi nombre es
|Me nombrey es........
|How are you?
|Nice to meet you
|Encantado de conocerle
|Encan-tardo deh cono-therley
|deh naa da
|Loh see en-toh
|Sorry? (didn't hear something)
|Excuse me, do you speak English?
|Perdon, yo sólo hablo Inglés?
|Per-dohn, yo solo hab-low in-glaze?
|Menu of the day
|Menu del dia
|Menu del dee-a
|How much is it?
|Where is the bathroom?
|¿dónde está el baño?
|Don-day estah el banyo
|I don't understand
|No lo comprendo
|Noh loh comprendo
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Useful Resources For People Living in Barcelona
Here are links to some other resources to help with common daily life issues living as an expat/worker in Barcelona or Spain in general:
- Vlog channels – For British people living in Spain, the Spain Speaks and Spainiacs YouTube channels are great for covering current issues for expats living in Spain, plus answers to common questions for people thinking of moving there. There are many other expats channels as well. Specifically for Barcelona, check out the Barcelona Life Blog. The Homelike Blog also has an excellent guide on living in Barcelona.
- Schools/Kids – See here for a useful article on moving to Barcelona with kids. See here for a good guide for international schools in Barcelona.
- Banking – If you’re using a foreign bank card to draw out euros at an ATM in Spain, you’re likely to get stung with high fees. See our guide on some good multi-currency card options to spend in euros for free, and also withdraw money from ATMs cheaply in Euro-using countries.
- Phones/SIM Cards – Many phones are locked and won’t accept foreign SIM cards. For getting a working local SIM card and number in Spain without spending loads of money, see this article.