Argentina is the eight largest country in the world by size with a population over just over 40 million. It has some amazing cities to visit such as Buenos Aires, but just how widely is English spoken there? Can tourists expect to get by with just English alone, or will some Spanish be needed?
English is not very widely spoken in Argentina, with around 15% estimated to speak it at a basic level, and 6% estimated to be fluent in English. The official language is Spanish, followed by Italian with around 1.5 million speakers.
English is way down the list, with some younger people under 40 being able to speak it, but overall proficiency is very low. You may be OK using English in the tourist areas of Buenos Aires but elsewhere in the country you will not find many English speakers.
It is actually quite difficult to get accurate stats on the percentage of the Argentine population that can speak English. A Wikipedia source places the number of high proficiency English speakers at around 6% of the population, with around 15% estimated to have very basic or low level English. Even this low figure is considered by some who have visited the company to be an over-estimation.
You Might Be OK Using English in Buenos Aires
Previous visitors there all report that you should be fine using English in the more central and tourist areas of the capital Buenos Aires, since they receive a large enough number of English speaking tourists each year to have staff on hand to deal with them. Here are some of the areas you should be able to find English speakers:
- Palermo Soho
- San Telmo
- Florida Street
Larger restaurants and shops in these tourist areas should have staff who can speak English, or who can call someone over quickly who does. Most of the bigger hotels in the center should also have a receptionist or another member of staff who can speak English to a basic level.
Similarly, if you need help with directions in these areas, try approaching younger people under 40 especially. You have a decent chance of them being able to speak at least basic English in these main tourist areas. Older people will likely not speak English.
Outside the big city and main tourist and shopping centers, English speakers are much harder to come by and you will need to pull out some trusty Spanish phrases and typical tourist gesturing and miming to help you out.
English is now a mandatory subject at school in Argentina, so you will have the best chance with the younger generation. The previously strained diplomatic relations between Britain and Argentina of course does not help here, with many Argentines still resenting Britain for various incidents and therefore reluctant to learn English as they see it is being connected to the old colonialism.
Other Languages in Argentina
Argentina is actually quite a complex and diverse country linguistically, with around 40 different acknowledged languages being spoken. A huge number of people immigrated to the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of them from Italy and other European countries, leaving a rich and varied language base there. Spanish is the main official language, with around 40 million speakers – almost the entire population.
Notably though the Spanish spoken here does differ slightly from the Spanish spoken in Spain for example, with some different words and pronunciation used. However, the two are mutually intelligible enough for you to be understood there just using basic European Spanish. You can always learn the specific turns of phrase and slang used in Argentina along the way.
Italian is also somewhat widely spoken in Argentina, with around 1.5 million speakers, the second most behind Spanish and more widely spoken than English. Interestingly, the dialect of Spanish spoken in Argentina also has some noticeable aspects of Italian in it, to the point people sometimes mistake it for Italian.
Therefore you may be able to be somewhat understood in some parts of Argentina using Italian, though Spanish is probably better. You have more chance of being understood in Italian than in English, so it may be worth trying if you have some fluency in it and English isn’t being understood.
Learning Some Basic Spanish
If you are going visit Argentina, then given the low prevalence of English it would be advised to learn some basic Spanish to help you get by. You might be OK with English in the more central and touristy parts of Buenos Aires but elsewhere some Spanish will really help.
Whilst there are differences between European Spanish and the Spanish used in Argentina – see this article for more on this – do not be too concerned by this. The locals will be helpful and appreciate you making the effort to use Spanish and as long as you speak slowly and clearly then you will still be understood with basic Spanish enough to get by.
|See you later||Vos vemos||Vos 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 andás?||Co-mo andas?|
|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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Language & Travel Essentials For Visiting Argentina
- Essential stats on Argentina:
- Population: 47 million
- Time zone: EST +2 hours; GMT -3 hours.
- Currency: Argentine peso (ARS) ($1 = 160 ARS; £1= 189 ARS at time of writing)
- International calling code: +54 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the right
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.
- Banking – If you don’t want to get stung with high ATM fees, check out our article on the Wise Borderless Card, which allows you to open up balances in many different currencies (including Argentine Peso) and spend for free on your card, plus draw out a certain amount of pesos for free each month at ATMs.