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Languages for Expats in Spain

Submitted: August 2013

The official Spanish language in Spain is also known as Castilian and although Catalan, Galician and Basque are generally spoken in certain parts of the country, Castilian is understood and spoken throughout Spain. Gaining a basic level of understanding of the Spanish language is an absolute must for any expat wishing to live and work in Spain.

Spanish language courses are widely available via the internet as distance learning projects and can enable individuals to gain the necessary standard.

The BBC website (https://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/) offers free Spanish language courses, while Open Culture (https://www.openculture.com/freelanguagelessons) lists a number of websites that offer Spanish language tuition.

Once an individual has gained a basic knowledge of the language, one way to practice and improve what has been learnt is to participate in language exchange sessions. Language exchange can be carried out in meetings, or over the internet. It usually involves between two and four people speaking in their mother tongue for half of the session and during the other half using the language they are learning. Some expat websites offer opportunities for language exchange, as does Language Exchange (https://www.mylanguageexchange.com/). Language Exchange offers free membership and provides opportunities for exchanges in 115 different languages.

Language lessons are also often available from other expats already living in Spain. As expats usually associate themselves with compatriots from their home country, this is an easy way to find a convenient way of learning Spanish. In addition, local Spaniards in areas with a high influx of expatriates often advertise Spanish language tuition in one of the many expatriate newspapers.

Some expat medical practitioners, legal professionals as well as builders, plumbers, hairdressers and other general service providers have set up their businesses in Spain and often serve expat communities. In theory, non-Spanish speakers are able to source all the necessary service from individuals who share their mother tongue.  However, it is never a good idea to rely solely on one’s native language when in another country. The time will inevitably come when Spanish language skills will be required. Accidents and emergencies are a fact of life and while in such a situation an interpreter could be employed, this will prove expensive and in the long run not conducive to a satisfactory relationship between the expat and Spanish speaking professionals.

Spanish language skills are essential when dealing with public servants or general service providers. The requirement to register with the local authority means that all expatriates will have to ensure that their Spanish language knowledge is sufficient to deal with these necessities. In addition, if an expatriate purchases a home without mains electricity or water supplies, arrangements to have these services connected will require sufficient knowledge of the language. Permits for planned alterations on a residential building will only be granted once plans have been presented to the local planning committee. Very often the committee will wish to question the applicant directly about the plans and the proceedings will inevitably be carried out in Spanish.

Bearing in mind the general bureaucracy that exists in Spain, expats wanting to make a new life for themselves in the country are well advised to learn the basics of the language prior to arrival.



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