Gibraltar is a small, beautiful territory located just off the southern tip of Spain, and is home to around 30,000 people, but just how widely spoken is English there? Can tourists expect to get by there with just English?
As a British Overseas Territory, English is almost universally spoken in Gibraltar, and is the official language there for government, education and administration. As such tourists there will have no problems using English there everywhere, though Spanish is also very common there as well.
With it’s location in the south of Spain giving it a beautiful year round climate, this makes it an ideal tourist location for English speakers who want to easily get by without any language issues. In this sense it is very similar to Cyprus, having a distinctly British feel, great climate and English being widely spoken. This makes it an ideal place for English speakers to holiday, work and retire.
The history of why Gibraltar is a British territory is quite a complex one running back several centuries at least. Spain continues to lay claim to the territory and has taken steps take it back off the British. Local referendums continue to show that most Gibraltans want to remain part of the UK. Political tensions between the UK and Spain over this topic continue to rumble on.
Suffice to say here that for now Gibraltar remains officially a territory of the United Kingdom, and as such has distinctly British influences in terms of language and culture.
Let’s look at the topic of languages in Gibraltar in more detail.
Gibraltar is a British territory that lies on the southern tip of Spain very close to northern Africa
Spoken English in Gibraltar
The bottom line on this is that English has been taught in schools in Gibraltar for decades, and so basically everyone who lives there speaks English. This is good news for American and British tourists – literally no need to learn any languages going there. You’ll be understood everywhere using English, and Gibraltans seem to pretty much consider themselves British to this day.
See the video below for some examples of local Gibraltans speaking English. We aren’t really interested in the political topics being dicussed on this blog; it’s just to hear how Gibraltans speak.
Some samples of Gibraltan English
Basically, all Gibraltans speak perfect English, since it is taught in schools as it would be in England, but sometimes with a very slight accent.
With the older people especially, sometimes there is a distinct Gibraltese twist to the accent (seems to me almost like a French person speaking very fluent English) but you can only sometimes barely tell. Much of the time you wouldn’t be able to tell, and would think you were talking to a regular person from England.
With the younger people, sometimes there is literally no accent at all and they sound just like anyone else from England would. This is how widespread English is there in terms of education, media and culture.
So for English speaking tourists going to Gibraltar, there is nothing to worry about language wise. It’s just like being in your home country when going to shops, bars, restaurants etc, – only with much better weather if you are British at least.
Ex-pats and retirees wanting to move there longer term would also be able to do so easily and not need to learn any other languages, though in reality Gibraltar does not seem to attract many ex-pats – they instead prefer to settle in Spain, Italy & Portugal instead.
Working in Gibraltar for English Speakers
For people wanting to move there longer term, the good news is there are also job opportunities there for English speakers, which with the great climate can make it a very attractive place to move.
Because of the favorable tax regime there, some large well known companies have moved some of their operations there, and continue to recruit. Gambling companies especially have chosen to relocate there because of low corporate tax rates.
Here are some Ango-American companies with operations in Gibraltar:
- 888 Holdings (gambling)
- Belle Rock Entertainment
- Stan James
- William Hill Group (WHG) International
- Plus many more – see here for a full list.
Therefore Gibraltar offers work opportunities for English speakers who want to move there longer term. It’s worth checking out local recruitment sites, plus the company sites, to see what might be available
In addition to this, some British high street brands, such as Marks and Spencer & Morrisons having branches there. Some British banks like Natwest and Leeds Building Society still operate there as well
Therefore, for British people especially, you never feel too out of place in Gibraltar, with familiar stores and cultural influences. You just get much better weather than at home.
The Spanish & Llanito Language in Gibraltar
Whilst English is very common in Gibraltar, Spanish is also widely used because of the very close proximity to Spain. The use of Spanish though has gradually phased out since British rule officially began in the 1700s.
It tends to be more the older people that still can speak fluent Spanish. The younger generation tends to be more Anglo-centric and not so fluent in Spanish, only speaking a few basic words. See the video below for an little experiment where Gibraltese TV tests out whether young Gibraltans can speak Spanish (answer – sometimes not much!)
Spanish vs English in Gibraltar
Aside from Spanish there is also a common local vernacular called Llanito, which is a local dialect unique to Gibraltar. It is a complex mix of Andalucian Spanish and British English, so some words may be intelligible to native English speakers, but not all. It is a very idiosyncratic dialect, but nevertheless it isn’t necessary to learn it since standard English is spoken everywhere anyway.
Therefore, learning Spanish or other dialects shouldn’t really be necessary when visiting Gibraltar, though of course some longer term settlers do like to fully integrate, or maybe also visit mainland Spain a lot, or just like the challenge themselves by learning a new language even if they don’t strictly need to.
For readers who still want to have some Spanish ready, check out our Spanish article for some key words and phrases. See also our language courses page for some audiobooks and our Michel Thomas page also has a link to a Spanish course.