Marbella in Southern Spain is a really popular place for Brits to retire or live long term. But regardless of where you go to live, one consideration is always how much English is spoken there. Is there much English spoken in Marbella? Can you live there fine while only speaking English, and not needing to speak any Spanish at all?
While the general answer for other parts of Spain isn’t always so positive, specifically for Marbella, luckily it is!
Due to the very high number of British expats living in Marbella, you can live with without any problems even if you only speak English. Speaking Spanish is not strictly necessary when living in Marbella, since it is very widely spoken everywhere due to the high prevalence of British tourists, expats and retirees.
Marbella is one of the those perfect places in Spain where it’s easier to “settle in” as an English speaker, because there are so many other English speakers there you can network/socialise with and help to solve problems. If you’re looking to move to a country with a better climate and quality of life overall, but don’t want to make too many adjustments all at once (including having to learn a new language to get by), then Marbella is a great option.
Let’s look a bit more into why the prevalence of English in Marbella can make it an attractive place to live.
You Can Get By In Marbella Only Speaking English
Because Marbella has such a high level of British people retiring and living there, you can actually live there speaking only English and never needing to use Spanish. Supermarkets, restaurants, TV/radio are all catered towards English speakers there, and therefore you don’t strictly need to learn Spanish to get by.
Firstly, you’ll bump into enough British people living there anyway, plus local residents (shops, supermarkets, restaurants etc) have to deal with so many English speaking people on a daily basis that they will also speak English.
Therefore, Marbella is one of the those places where you can live almost “as though” you’re still in England, but just with much nicer weather!
British ex bodybuilder Dorian Yates has lived in Marbella for a number of years now, and probably summed it up best:
“A lot of British people come to retire here in Spain, or live in Spain, in this particular area in Southern Spain (Marbella). So there’s a big British community here…..you can live here and you can speak English all day long if you want to be lazy and not learn Spanish.
And the weather’s perfect, the environment’s beautiful, you’ve got mountains, you’ve got sea, you’ve got sun most of the year round”
Dorian Yates – see here
In other words, Marbella is one of the those places that’s perfect for English speakers who want an easier transition to foreign life, not having too much of a culture shock or having to learn a new language.
Here are some good benefits to living in Marbella as an English speaker:
- English very widely spoken everywhere (Spanish not necessary).
- Great weather with around 330 days of sunshine per year
- Great location where you can be anywhere else in Europe within 2-3 hours (to see family/friends).
- Relatively low cost of living compared to many other parts of Europe.
- Good food with lots of locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables available in Southern Spain, plus seafood.
- Because of the large number of British expats, making connections is very easy, and there’s also always someone who can help you solve any problems you’re encountering (how to sort out paperwork, where to get stuff cheap etc). Contrasts very well to other areas/countries where there aren’t many expats and English isn’t widely spoken – you’re likely to feel a bit more isolated and harder to get problems solved. There will always be an English speaker nearby who can help in Marbella.
- Related to the above point, making friends and socialising for English speakers is much easier in Marbella than in other places where English isn’t so widely spoken.
The Overall Level Of English in Spain
Despite high levels of spoken English specifically in Marbella because of the large number of British expats living there, the overall level of English proficiency in Spain is not very high, standing at around a quarter of the population overall.
Despite being taught in many schools now, the overall level of English among the population (especially older generations) is still not very high. However, the goods news is that English will be spoken in the areas tourists are most likely to visit, since the British market is one the biggest tourist markets there.
Here’s an overall summary of spoken English levels in other parts of Spain:
- Rest Of Costa Del Sol – Apart from Marbella (including places like Fuengirola, Benalmadena, Torremolinos and Mijas), English is also generally widely spoken in the general area of the Costa Del Sol, because British expats are spread out from Malaga all the way round to Almeria. Torremolinos is another area with lots of Brits in it. You’ll probably be fine in most of Andalusia/Costa Del Sol only speaking English
- Madrid – Is widely spoken in the central tourist areas, but don’t expect as much English fluency outside these areas, as it isn’t really a popular expat area. Bigger restaurants and shops will have someone who can speak English, but nowhere near as commonly spoken as Marbella, especially further outside the centre. Useful to have some Spanish
- Barcelona – A decent level of spoken English – I’ve been there and never needed any Spanish to get by. Lots of young people and very popular with tourists, so English widely spoken, plus plenty of English language tours you can go on in the centre.
- Valencia – Some English spoken, but less so than in Andalucia. In central hotels, restaurants and shops, you should be fine with English, but don’t expect massive levels of English outside of that. Useful to have some Spanish phrases.
- Malaga – Most people in the service industry will speak some English – can usually get by, but some Spanish will be useful.
- See our article on spoken English in Spain for more information.
Should you learn Spanish for longer term stays in Spain?
Bottom line – whilst you can get away without speaking Spanish in Marbella, and probably most of the rest of the Costa del Sol as well, if you ever plan or traveling or moving elsewhere in Spain, it will be helpful to learn at least some basic Spanish to help you get by. Especially for living there long term and dealing with the famously bureaucratic Spanish system in getting paperwork etc. sorted.
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
Despite the fact you can get by fine in Marbella speaking only English because there are so many expats there, it still helps living in any foreign country to at least learn a bit of the local language. Even if they do speak English, locals always appreciate foreigners using a few Spanish words.
With Spanish, it’s true that getting really fluent in it isn’t very easy, but the basics are pretty straightforward.
Here are some basic phrases to help get you through daily interactions in Marbella or anywhere in Spain, as you will still run into some locals who speak little or no English.
|See you later||Nos vemos||Nos vemos|
|Good morning||Buenos dias||Bwenos dee-ass|
|Good afternoon||Buenos tardes||Bwenos tar-dez|
|Good night||Buenos noches||Bwenos notch-ez|
|See you tomorrow||Hasta mañana||Asta man-yana|
|What is your name?||Cuál es tu nombre?||Kwall es too nombrey?|
|My name is.....||Mi nombre es||Me nombrey es........|
|How are you?||¿Cómo estás?||Co-mo estas?|
|Nice to meet you||Encantado de conocerle||Encan-tardo deh cono-therley
|Please||Por favor||Poor favoor|
|You're welcome||De nada||deh naa da|
|Sorry||Lo siento||Loh see en-toh|
|Sorry? (didn't hear something)||Perdon?||Per-dohn?|
|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?||Cuánto es?||Kwanto es?|
|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 Expats Living in Marbella
Here are links to some other resources to help with common daily life issues living as an expat in Marbella 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.
- Schools – For an English school to send your kids to in Marbella, see the The British International School of Marbella for more info.
- 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.